How To Shatter Your Perceived Limits And Achieve More

“There are no limitations to the mind except those we acknowledge.”  ~Napolean Hill

My hamstring seized and stopped me dead in my tracks, unable to move.  Eventually the cramp subsided and I tested my legs, gingerly placing one foot in front of the other.  None of my muscles objected… yet.  I gradually increased my pace to a fast walk and then to a slow jog.

It was July 24, 2011 and at 7am that morning I had begun my third Ironman race in Lake Placid, NY.  The 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile marathon course make for one of the most challenging Ironman races in the world.  I was at mile twenty-three of the marathon and had been racing for thirteen and a half hours when my hamstring gave out… again.  For the previous nine hours my body had been staging a coup of cramping muscles.  I was experiencing more pain than I had ever endured in a race.

I was under no delusions that this was going to be a fast Ironman race for me.  I had pneumonia for two months in the winter, my shin splints had flared up on me throughout the summer, and I was happily spending more time at home with my newborn son than training for endless hours and miles.  It was not an ideal training year to say the least.  However, things were going worse than anticipated and at this point all of the reasons and excuses why didn’t matter.

The final three miles of the Ironman course in Lake Placid, NY are bitter sweet.  On the positive side, as you run through town towards the finish line, there are tens of thousands of spectators cheering for you.  On the other hand, those final three miles are incredibly challenging with some very steep hills.

So there I was at mile twenty-three, barely able to sustain a slow jog, with a decision to make.  I could continue jogging and suffer for another three miles, or I could I could slow down, maybe even walk, and enjoy the cheering crowds.  I only considered slowing down for a brief moment before deciding that I’d jog the rest of the way despite the painful cramps.  After all, I’m an Ironman.

Then I pictured my three-month old son waiting for me at the finish line.  I imagined the photos we’d look back on in years to come, of his Iron-Dad proudly holding him at the finish line.  He’d be so proud of me.  Right?  I questioned myself.  Was I earning his pride?  Could I push harder?  The only way to know was to try.

I picked up my pace just as I approached a steep hill, and my quads cramped.  I wavered, but kept running.  Then my left hamstring cramped, followed by my right.  I hobbled a little, but continued to run.  Perhaps the spectators could see I was suffering, because their cheers suddenly seemed louder.  Their encouragement carried me to the top of the hill where I found even more energy to push.  I dug deeper.  I went faster.  The cramps kept coming, but the harder I pushed, the less hold they seemed to have on me.  Instead of stopping me in my tracks, the cramps became added encouragement to reach the finish line.  I felt like I was flying along.

And finally, there it was.  As I rounded the corner I saw the finish line.  Thousands of people lining the final stretch were cheering, music was pumping, and Mike Reilly announced… Jason Billows, You-Are-An-IRONMAN!

Finishing the race felt amazing.  Holding my son and seeing how proud my wife was made it even better.  But the knowledge that I had pushed myself harder than ever before was the best feeling of all.  At just shy of fourteen hours, it was by far my slowest Ironman race time ever.  That didn’t matter.  The numbers on the clock were irrelevant.  I had pushed myself harder than ever before and overcome my perceived limits.

How can you shatter your perceived limits and achieve more?

1. Create an opportunity.
If you want to test your limits you need to create an opportunity.  For me, it meant racing in an Ironman despite a less than ideal training schedule.  For you, it could mean taking on a more challenging work contract than ever before.  We can overcome our perceived limits in all areas of our life, not just athletics.  Pick an area in which want to achieve more, create an opportunity to test yourself, and get to work.

2. Find your edge.
You can’t exceed your perceived limits if you don’t reach them first.  Push yourself.  Challenge your creativity, strength, negotiation skills or whatever it may be until you think you can go no further.

3. Find a reason.
Once you’ve reached the edge, it’s tempting to accept your perceived limits or give up all together.  You need to find a reason to push the envelope.  For me, it was the desire to earn my son’s pride.  For you, it may mean taking a business to the next level or strengthening a relationship with your partner.

4. Commit.
You’ve come all this way, endured the discomfort of reaching your edge, and now you’ve got a reason to shatter your perceived limits and go further.  Commit.  As Nike says, just do it!

5. Find your flow.
The interesting thing about our perceived limits is that they’re exactly that… perceived.  Once you commit and go beyond what you thought was possible, you experience a sense of pride, excitement and relief.  It’s at that moment I often find a sense of ease where everything seems to flow.   Embrace that flow and stay present in the moment.

The value of overcoming perceived limits is not found in quantifiable results.  It’s not about a finish time or a new sales record. The true value comes when you push your edge on a given day under the circumstance you are presented with at that time, and achieve more than you thought possible.

Photo credit: hcii

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