You might have noticed that around Impossible HQ we talk about physical limits a lot.
- Triathlons are undenaibly physical.
- Cold Shower Therapy is an undeniably physical experience.
- A good 50% or more of things on my impossible list are physical. There’s a reason for it (and it’s only going to go moreso in that direction).
And for someone reason I’ve learned that whenever you start to do something – people want you to do something else and lately I’ve been getting a lot of people who want me to write about mental limits because “they don’t want to push themselves physically.”
Apparently, I’ve got some bad news: I’m not going to. I know how this goes.
Everytime someone says they’re not interested in pushing their physical limits and only want to push themselves mentally I call B.S even though they usually have some good excuses at the ready as well;
- “I’ve already pushed my limits.”
- “I already know what I’m capable of”
- “I don’t care that much”
- “I don’t feel like it”
- “It sounds hard”
I’m not going to just write about mental limits – just like I’m not going to write about flowers, rainbows and how the earth smells after it rains. All great things – sure – but I’m not going to talk about them here – and if I do, I’ll start with physical limits.
This site is about challenging you. About getting you to do something – phsyically do something – with your body – physically. To challenge you to move from inaction to action – physical action – and do something impossible – physically.
Before you think I’m a crazed physical limit maniac overloaded on testosterone who likes to eat raw meat and throw around heavy things and is a little crazy, you’d be mostly right – but there’s a reason for it.
There are mental limits people hit.
There…I said it.
There are legitimate non-physical goals you can have.
You can do things that push your limits mentally.
But that’s not what most people want. Most people want an excuse to stay the same and breaking “mental” barriers let you do that.
Here’s the real reason why physical challenges are so important in all this:
Your physical limits reveal your mental limits.
Your Physical Limits Reveal Your Mental Limits
Table of Contents
Your mind sucks. It is unbelievably easy to BS yourself in your mind. You can come up with the worst excuses in the world and convince yourself it’s a valid reason when the only feedback you get is within your mind. When you keep things mental – everything stays mental. When things are mental, they’re imaginary and when things are imaginary – they’re indestructible.
Physical limits are different – they’re tangible – undeniably so – which means they’re also fragile, bendable and breakable.
And that’s exactly what physical limits are – breakable.
There’s something about being able to say “I literally used to not be able to do this. Now I can.” Physical limits allow you to do just that.
I used to not be able to do _____. Now I can.
When you first start out doing the impossible, you can’t do anything. You suck a lot and everything you do might fail. But keep it up and over time you start to suck less and less and you actually are able to do things. You find yourself using the phrase “I used to not be able to do _____, now I can.”
- I used to not be able to run a mile. Now I can run 5 without thinking about it.
- I used to not be able to do a pushup. Now I can do 100 straight.
- I used to cry as soon as I would start a cold shower. Now I have dance parties in it (this may or may not be a factual statement).
When you physically DO something you previously were not able to DO, something changes.
When you break something physically, you know that it can be broken physically and it doesn’t matter what your mind tell you, because you know from first hand experience.
Ever tried to break a nalgene bottle? If you haven’t tried it yourself, you’ve probably had a friend who tried to do it once, threw it on the ground only to have it bounce back up and hit him in the nose without even a scratch on it (as an alternate, you can try this with an old-school candy-bar-style Nokia phone for the same effect). It’ll seem indestructible – impossible to break – and if you try, you’ll end up with a jacked up nose – or at least that’s what happened to your friend. So that’s the lesson that comes with impossible things – don’t try them or you might end up with a jacked up nose.
But if you have to admit it, you didn’t really try that hard. If I were to give you $1,000 to break the bottle, you’d go and rent a mack truck to backup over that sucker and wee how indestructible it is then. If it seems like it’s impossible in your mind, it is. As soon as you make is possible – and do it – it somehow become possible. But, if you never take action – everything will automatically seem impossible because that’s the default state of your mind.
Once you’ve, broken your Nalgene, run a marathon or done something else, you might still try to BS yourself, tell yourself you can’t do things, and say that it’s not possible, but you’re lying to yourself.
If you run a marathon, you can never say “that’s too hard for me to do” because you’ve done it before.
You’ve been there
You know what it’s like.
You know how hard it is.
And you know you’re stronger than it.
You know you can do it.
You know that it’s possible.
Physical challenges show you your physical limits. When you break through them, you experience a real-life case study on the fact that your limits are just temporary. They are not permanent. They show you that everything holding you back is in your head.
It’s so easy to BS yourself in your mind because there’s no tangible realization of doing something that you never did before. You can think, think, think, all you want, but you don’t know until you do it.
With physical limits, progress is almost offensively obvious. When you challenge your physical limits, you start to use this phrase:
I used to not be able to do this….now I can.
- I used to not be able to run this far – now I just did.
- I used to not be able to lift this weight – now I can.
- I used to cry at the 1 minute cold shower mark. Now I go 5 minutes without flinching.
I used to not be able to do _______. Now I can do 5x that.
If you do, things change. You change. Try it. Here’s what mine looks like.
I literally used to not be able to run more than 2 miles. My knee would hurt, I’d quit and go home and tell myself “I just wasn’t a runner.” But, I switched to minimalist shoes, started actually training, ran a bunch of races and finally ran my first marathon. I know I can go out and run 10-20 miles on demand. It might suck, but I can do it if I need to. I used to not be able to run 2 miles. Now I can run a marathon. I know that.
I literally used to never think I could be strong, build muscles or get ripped. But, I dialed in my diet, focused on my workout routines and lost 34 pounds in 8 weeks and got to 5.5% body fat. I know I can lose 10 pounds in 2 weeks if I need to. It might be tough, but I can do it and I know how to now. It might be hard, but I can do it. I used to not be able to get cut, get ripped, but now I can. I know that.
I used to not be able to hear a challenge without thinking about how incapable I was, telling myself how I was different and that everybody else could do them, but not me. Now I see challenges and wonder what’s keeping me from doing them and I’m messed up in the head enough to actually go out and try them.
Talking >>> Doing
The entire mentality shifted when I moved from talking to doing. Moving things from simply being mental to being phsyical and actually doing the phsyical challenges I told myself I couldn’t do.
Physical challenges show you your limits are physical things – nothing more. They’re physical things that you’re capable of backing up over with a mack truck and smashing into 1,000 pieces and going farther beyond them than you ever thought you could.
If you keep telling yourself that you “know” you could, you’re lying to yourself. You might be confident, but you can’t actually know until you actually do it. If you’re so confident and “know” you can do something – why not actually go out and do it?
If you really have no desire to do something, then I can’t say anything – I can’t make you do anything and if you want to spend your life arguing your reasons why you’re not doing things – at least skip the talking and start “not doing” all the things.
But, I will bet that behind your tough facade of “you not caring” or “not feeling like it” is a little bit of fear that you’ll fail – that you don’t think you can actually do it.
And when you think like that – you’ve already lost the mental argument that you want so badly to hang on to.
You’re fighting to keep your limits intangible – to keep them unquestionable and mysterious rather than physical and concrete. When they’re like that – then nobody can question you – you can say whatever you want, all your excuses seem valid and no matter how many people challenge you – you’re always able to rationalize it (because nobody else understands). So, since your reasoning isn’t concrete, you stay a self-matyr – proud in a twisted way that nobody can understand you, that your situation is completely and utterly unique and that you’re “stuck” – no matter what – and that nobody really “gets it.”
But if you try – just once – try to push your limits – even on the smallest scale – things will change.
You’ll whine, complain, sweat, cry and maybe even bleed a little trying. It will hurt, it will suck and it will be freaking hard.
I’ll say that again.
IT WILL BE FREAKING HARD.
But if you keep going, eventually you’ll succeed and when you do – you’ll change. Because once you do something you used to think was impossible – it no longer is.
You just did the impossible. Literally.
Something used to be impossible for you. Now it’s not.
You broke something you thought was unbreakable and suddenly this web of stories you’ve told yourself about your capabilities starts to unravel, thread by thread.
If this one little story you believed about who you are isn’t true, what else isn’t true?
And then your approach completely changes. Maybe not immediately, but over time – it does.
Instead of backing down from challenges – you look forward to them. Instead of shying away from stuff that might be tough, might hurt, or might be impossible – they get into you head and intrigue you.
You want to do them, because you want to see if you can do it – you want to see what you’re made of. You want to see how far you can really push your limits – both physical and mental.
You take them on – even when everyone else thinks you’re nuts – you look forward to them.
The big thrill most athletes I know get, isn’t from the physical aspect of it – in fact, most people will tell you that aspect sucks – it’s from the mental aspect. The key point in most games, matches or competitions is NOT physical. It’s mental.
It’s from out thinking your opponent – and even more commonly – outthinking yourself. Your mind is screaming, screaming, screaming for you to stop, give up and go home. Quit! Take it easy! Be normal! But you decide to keep going, and shift from autopilot and manually override your brain, find a door, keep going and go farther than you’ve ever gone before.
But when you’re just trying to process things in your mind – it doesn’t work quite so well. When you try to smash your mental limits just by thinking – you might do it – there’s no telling. You might smash one. Maybe, but you’ll probably just B.S. yourself into oblivion and never really change things.
When you smash your physical limits, you smash your mental ones along with it. You get both.
You have to become stronger than you are now. Getting stronger physically, get stronger mentally.
- I’m different!
- You don’t understand!
- I just can’t!
- You’re not listening!
I hear your words, but I don’t believe them.
You’re not special. Contrary to what your mother told you – you face the exact same dilemma that each and every one of the other 7 billion humans on this earth face.
Every one has something they think they can’t do and every single one gets to choose whether or not they do it anyways.
Which one will you be?
Never stop pushing your limits.
When you’re done reading – actually do something. The Impossible League 30 day challenge started two days ago, but it’s not too late to start (protip: it’s never to late to start). Get in the league and get after it. Go push yourself physically and see what happens.
I’m tying up a bunch of loose ends today related to WDS. A few weeks ago, we gave away 2 copies of Chris Guillebeau’s $100 startup. Congrats to Lore and Jorge O – look for your copy of the $100 startup in the mail soon!
In case you didn’t know, I’m taking 25 people bungee jumping this Friday on one of the first Impossible Adventures. If you’re signed up, make sure to sign your death waivers!
If you’re not going to be getting in early to jump off a perfectly good bridge but still want to meetup, we’re having one of our first meetups next monday in Portland. If you’ll be in the area, RSVP here. See you there. Boom!
Oh, and if you see me around at WDS, come say hi. I’ve got something for you if you do :).
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