Find Out What You’re Actually Capable Of: Expand Your Limits
Ask yourself: what am I actually capable of achieving in this life?
What am I capable of creating? Of giving? Of becoming?
Ask all of these questions in the knowledge that you do not know the answers.
The answers that you think you know now are your self-imposed limits.
A self-imposed limit is what you think is possible for your life — what you think you’re capable of. These limits are mere assumptions shaped by our society and surroundings, our economic and emotional context. They are not grounded in reality, and that is why they are beliefs — we do not have evidence for them.
Our real limits, however, are facts. They are actual limitations on what we can do. For example, there is a maximum distance I could run before passing out, and a maximum weight I could lift. I cannot see through walls or read Chinese (not yet, at least).
Most people’s self-imposed limits are vastly smaller than their actual ones. But if you don’t realise your limits are self-imposed, you can never know that you are operating in a restricted space of possibility. Time to break free, baby.
Here’s the trick: we can’t know what we’re capable of until we push past our self-imposed limits and explore the territory beyond them.
In practice this means that we start trying things at the edge of our perceived limits. When we do this, and we achieve at these activities, we break through our perceived limits and see that they were not really limits at all — and the area of our perceived limits widens towards the actual. We fulfil more of our potential. And we keep going. It looks like this:
I repeat that you do not know what you are capable of. Nobody does. But you can actually find out if you simply begin to explore your self-imposed limits and in doing so break through them, approaching your actual ones. You cannot truly progress by thinking, planning, or imagining. Forget all of that, and just act. Run the experiments.
Now obviously, we can’t simply go and find out all of our limits. I could get up and do star-jumps until I pass out, going past my perceived star-jump limit and hitting my actual limit, but this wouldn’t be very useful. There are countless limits that simply aren’t worth exploring. But some of them, if explored, will change the very way we live. They will change what and who we are, and even the world around us.
So we should consider which personal limits, if explored to their fullest, would likely make us happier? Which would make those we care about happier? Which would make the world happier?
Don’t you want to find out what that world would be like, where you’ve maxed out your capacity for achievement, success, and contribution? After all, you have one chance to find out what is possible for your life.
Don’t you want to know what you’re capable of giving to the people you love? To the billions of people and animals around the world caught in unspeakable suffering — in worlds of confusion, pain, oppression, and degradation?
Limit-exploring is a concrete strategy for discovering what you are capable of. The wonderful part is that it can be done in baby steps. We can incrementally push our perceived limits outwards if we just keep trying.
An aspiring long-distance runner might think he can only run 10km. He goes for a run and finds he can do 11km. Next time he tries for 12km, or even just 11.5km. If he kept this up for a number of weeks, there is no reason he couldn’t be running 30km. If he actually wanted to — if running was a real love of his — he might continue going until he reached his actual limit.
We can inch it up, gradually and patiently, and explore our potential. We can max-out our self-imposed limits and approach the actual ones. This gradual improvement is a surefire recipe finding out what we are capable of — not just another elusive technique for success.
In many cases, we won’t even want to go all the way to our actual limits. The long-distance runner might think “now I can run 40km, that’s awesome, but I’ll stop there”. That’s completely fine. The important part is that she broke through her self-imposed limits, to see how they were totally imaginary and unfounded.
But know this: you only have to achieve something once, something you previously thought you couldn’t do, to be able to spend the rest of your life knowing that you are capable of that feat. That you can do it again. So we owe it to ourselves to try everything that tempts or interests us — at least once.
And one last thing: enjoy every step. Take exploring your limits as just that: an exploration. An adventure, a journey, unfolding in a million unpredictable ways. It will take you to places you could literally never have imagined. Because when you imagine, you’re in your head, thinking; you’re still sitting right here. When you act and experiment, you’re moving towards a better life for yourself, others, and the world.