Achieve your potential – change your thinking.

If you think you can,
or if you think you can’t.
Either way you’re right.
Henry Ford

We all tell ourselves stories about what we think we’re capable of achieving. But despite belief in the legitimacy of these tales, they could often be archived in a library’s fiction section.

To remind us that everyone has their own unique capacity we need look no further than our own bodies: a strongman can hook himself up to a 747 and use his strength to drag it along a runway. I am pretty sure that if I tried the same feat the outcome would be, well, nothing.

Limits are a valid and natural part of life. At university I studied how the population of different species would explode, and then at some point their numbers would slow and ultimately begin to decline. Scarcity of food, lack of water, life spans and disease would keep the population hovering around a pre-determined limit, at which the species can flourish without destroying its environment. A limit that with practice and knowledge scientists can learn to predict – give or take some rather large rounding errors.

Humans are very keen on predictions. The problem is our accuracy.

In life we often keep ourselves safe and comfortable by placing boundaries on the edge of our peripheral vision. Once there, we carefully tend these borders because they are important to us: they support what we believe our potential to be. But do they represent real limits or an imagined ceiling?

Most of us spend more time defining our capabilities than really testing them. We envisage the cliff, and the fear it creates in us, rather than walking right up to the precipice and staring at the gulf below.

The strange thing is that when we pluck up the courage to walk to the edge, what we see may bear no resemblance to the terrifying abyss we imagined. It may be an exhilarating ski slope; or a gentle bank leading to a springtime meadow – a whole frontier waiting to be explored.

Only when we’ve consciously challenged ourselves to explore our limits can we see what previously sat beyond the horizon.

I’m not advocating that you smash all the boundaries that exist within your life. Some of them are reasonable. Some are necessary and self-preserving. Some keep us on our path to self-knowledge. Others simply have no relevance to our forward progress. I don’t put any energy into trying to pull a jumbo along a runway because I have no intention of becoming the world’s strongest woman.

This allows me to focus on dismantling the other, false limits, that I have created for myself. The ones that block that path to self-knowledge.

Testing our limits can be scary. What if we fail? And perhaps even more terrifying: what if we succeed?

But there is a way around this scariness. Rather than asking the question of whether we can do something, which opens up the possibility of a dismal failure or an ego-boosting success, the real question we should be asking ourselves is; what can I learn about myself by trying this limit?

In this model of thinking, there is neither success nor failure, but only knowledge. And with knowledge comes growth and understanding.

We all write our own story. So if you think you can, or if you think you can’t… either way you’re right.

Image by jazmanna

1 Comment

  1. Sarah

    March 15, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    “the real question we should be asking ourselves is; what can I learn about myself by trying this limit?

    In this model of thinking, there is neither success nor failure, but only knowledge. ”

    WOW – that resonates so well with me. Thanks Helen, what a great challenge you have thrown my way… to challenge myself, without fear of failure. I love it.

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