I used to be deathly afraid of running, because it was hard and uncomfortable and I didn’t feel good at it.
I used to fear doing pull-ups because I was convinced I’d never be able to do them—there was no way I could have that much upper body strength.
I used to be scared to push myself to my limits in any maximal effort activity: sprints, nasty tempo rides in spin class, mountain ‘slider’ Tabatas (mountain climbers, but with a washcloth or sliding disc under your feet), first because I was afraid I’d barf, and second, because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do it.
I’d accepted that other people were stronger or tougher or more capable than I was.
I was utterly convinced of my own limits. For YEARS.
Then I started running regularly. Then I started running longer. I discovered I could go much further than I’d given myself credit for.
I started sprinting, well, to keep up with my toddler who loved to dart off into the street in the blink of an eye if I’m being honest, and I discovered I could run FAST when I needed to. I’d given up on sprinting in 6th grade when I was the slowest girl in the 50-yard dash.
I started allowing myself to go to what I like to call ‘the bad place’ (the point at which you feel like you might lose your cookies) in HIIT sessions and classes. I discovered ‘the bad place’ wasn’t so bad, that it wasn’t the end for me; that I could work through it and past it and still have more power left—without barfing.
I started to realize, over the period of a few years, that every one of the limits I’d bought into wasn’t an actual limit.
Those limits only existed in my head.
That’s the thing about limits—they are self-imposed.
What you can and can’t do.
What you can and can’t stand.
What you can and can’t endure.
What you can and can’t live with.
IT’S. ALL. IN. YOUR. HEAD.
There comes a point in time when you have to challenge those limits—those concepts about your strength and potential—or be their slave forever.
There comes a time when you have to take responsibility for those limits. There comes a time when you have to OWN your thoughts and choices—to recognize it’s up to YOU.
Your relative success or failure, your courage or fear, your accomplishments: They are all up to YOU.
It takes courage, and practice, and practicing courage regularly to challenge those limits we’ve bought into. But the only way you can find out what you’re REALLY capable of is to get out there and TEST yourself. And this requires the ability to also practice self-forgiveness, the ability to be vulnerable, to do things that are uncomfortable, to allow ourselves to potentially ‘fail’ or come up short—all really hard things to feel!
“You learn courage by couraging.”
~Mary Daly, theologian
and Test Your Limits.
Start by choosing one thing that scares you.
Most recently I chose to go all out during a timed AMRAP workout (as many rounds as possible in 20 minutes).
Then do the thing that scares you, and don’t let your brain talk you out of it, don’t let those ‘I don’t think I can do this’ messages creep in and distract you.
For me, it was completing rounds of 3-5 pull ups, 7-15 push ups, 200 meter sprints and 20 med ball slams—as fast and as hard as possible without resting. For 20 minutes.
There was that voice that said ‘I don’t know if I can do this,’ but I replaced that message with ‘I will do every last bit I can until I cannot do any more, even if it’s scary and uncomfortable.’ I put my head down and worked. I kept breathing, I kept moving, I kept trying until the 20 minutes was up. The result was 6 rounds plus one pull up.
What I found was I could do so much more than I’d given myself credit for. I could withstand greater levels of discomfort, I had much more strength in reserve than I’d ever realized. The place I’d assumed my tank was on empty was still at least ¼ full.
I found that I had confused discomfort with the end of my strength reserve, the end of my ability, and that changing my mind about my discomfort changed my experience of what a full effort really felt like.
I found that I was a stronger version of myself, more capable of endurance and more courageous—and these things translate far past the boundaries of fitness. They change the way in which we see ourselves.
I wouldn’t have known that had I not challenged my limits, allowed myself to get uncomfortable and potentially ‘fail,’ replaced that inhibiting negative self-talk with a more positive script.
Test YOUR Limits.
- Choose a limit you think you have—personally, physically or emotionally.
- Replace negative self-talk with a positive script. It can be as simple as ‘I will do all I can.’
- Challenge that limit—do the thing you think you cannot do. REALLY do it. Don’t hold back, put your full self into it. Use your positive script to keep you focused.
- Evaluate your result. Did you put your full effort in? Was your limit really where you thought it was? How does this change how you look at other ‘limits’? How does this change how you look at yourself? Even if your performance matches exactly the limit you’d perceived, you still know what you are truly capable of AND how you can grow stronger.
Own your fears, own your dreams, own your hopes, own your choices, and challenge those limits you’ve accepted or put on yourself.
Then blow past them.