Limit your limits
Many years ago, I used to jog the same running route four times a week. By the end of each 6.2km circuit I was utterly destroyed, gasping for breath like an asthmatic goldfish in the Sahara.
Given my depleted state following each run, I naturally assumed that 6.2km was all that my body could handle. I knew my limit. And so it remained for a number of years.
Until one day, a friend suggested that we run together in a novel area. I agreed, and before I had a chance to entirely realise what was happening, we had 10km under our belts/activewear.
That was the day when I realised the limits of self-imposed limits. And since that time, I’ve been fascinated by how achievable goals often hold me back from achieving.
As I approach each target I set myself, it seems that I start to struggle irrespective of what the target is.
If I aim to climb 75 floors on the stair machine at the gym, I’m struggling at 70 floors. If I aim for 50 floors, I’m nearing breaking point at 45.
If I set out to fast for 24 hours, I’m getting peckish at the 22 hour mark. Scale down to a 16 hour fast, and I’m ready to rip a chocolate bar out of a passing toddler’s hand after 14 hours.
It’s as though, by setting an end point, the message is “This is what I’m capable of. This is all I’m capable of”. And the power of the belief makes it real.
Don’t worry; I’m not going to get all fluffy and assert that we can all achieve anything if only we believe we can. After all, no matter how hard we try, most of us will never be the fastest/richest/smartest human on earth, accidentally discover the cure for cancer, or land a date with Liam Hemsworth.
However, it’s certainly clear that we can quite easily stop ourselves from achieving our potential by prematurely capping our targets.
In a society that advocates short-term goal-setting for success, this realisation gives me pause. Might the setting of attainable end-goals actually be unwittingly shooting us in the foot and holding us back?
It’s not that I believe we should ditch targets altogether. Having something to head towards can certainly provide direction, and imbue us with the will to keep going when the going gets a tad tough.
But perhaps abandoning ‘achievable’ short-termers in favour of more fantastical or long-term goals might allow us to realise a greater degree of what we’re capable of.
Of course, setting ambitious targets necessarily elevates the likelihood of failing to achieve what we’ve set out to achieve. If I aim to climb 100 floors, I may ‘fail’ and only make it to 90. But relative to ‘achieving’ my easier goal of 75 floors, a failure of 90 doesn’t actually look all that shabby.
We’re impressed by Olympic athletes who land in last place. We don’t disparage doctors who are ‘only’ able to cure half of their afflicted patients. We still marvel at that guy who ate 8 hot dogs in a minute, even though really he was aiming for 9.
Falling short of something spectacular is inevitably going to thrust us to greater heights than we might achieve by meeting a more paltry aim.
So what’s your target going to be?