INsight/ Limits You Set


Ubud, 28 February 2018 — When we examine our lives, we discover the limits we have programmed into our autopilot. It's time to let them go.  

The Greek sage Socrates said it, and the Roman philosopher Plato shared it with us in his writing, that "the unexamined life is not worth living."

Leaders have a habit of spending a considerable amount of time and effort to examine their life and reflect on their experiences. They do this to learn, unlearn, and bring out their best.

Last week, as I celebrated my birthday, I spent the greater part of two days reflecting on my experience in the past year, and what I should learn from it to adjust my course and make the best of the opportunities that come my way this year.

During this reflection, I confronted a challenge that affects most if not all the people I have met, especially in my coaching practice. This challenge is to recognize the limits that we have set for ourselves, and which hold us back from becoming our best.

Our belief in these limits lives in our subconscious. We don't see them clearly until we make an effort to shine a light on them, as you would when you climb into the dark cellar or attic of your house and use a flashlight to illuminate the things you stored there from earlier periods in your life. Coaching helps you do just that.

In his book The Big Leap, Gay Hendricks refers to this challenge as the Upper Limit Problem. He describes it as a condition we all tend to suffer from. What he means is that, without realizing it, we have an internal tendency to sabotage our own success when we're reaching it.

From dealing with earlier experiences in our life, we have programmed ourselves, unconsciously, to stay safe and hold ourselves back from shining and standing out from the crowd.

In this way, says Hendricks, we each create our own internal glass ceiling. "We limit our fullest expression for fear of the consequences. We hold ourselves back because of a core set of beliefs that we will fail, we will be alone, or success will be burdensome."

Clearly, this is worth examining and reflecting on. What are these limits, why did we create them in the past, how did they serve us? And how can we dissolve these limits if they are no longer serving us where we are in our lives today?

Limits are what stops us from growing, from getting into our best flow, or into 'the Zone' experienced by athletes when they perform at their best. Hendricks calls that our Zone of Genius. 

So what are these limits? I suggest that there are three kinds:

Limit of Understanding  

A limit of understanding keeps you flying below your cruising altitude. Your view of the world around you remains limited. From your comfort zone of knowing 'how things work' at your level, it is difficult to open up to unlearning, to buy into a bigger vision, and let yourself embrace a wider view of the complexity and rapid changes that mark our world today. 

When you fly below your cruising altitude and things happen in your life that fall outside your frame of reference, you either reject them or you can acknowledge and embrace them when you decide to expand your frame. Climbing higher will help you. 

When you allow yourself to switch off the low-level altitude setting in your autopilot, you can climb to your cruising altitude and see how the world around you really works, in a new and wider perspective. Once you have seen the bigger picture, there is no going back to the narrower version. You are in a new zone. 

What you need to get there is to Open Your Mind, then you'll find that you don't have so 'No' so often to new things that come into your life. Enjoy climbing to your cruising altitude. It's what your metaphorical aircraft was made for.

Limit of Feeling

This is your world, and you are not meant to live in it by yourself. Your feelings and emotions allow you to connect with your fellow human beings, especially those close to you. We call that having relationships. What limits of feeling do is to keep the temperature of your relationships at a cold or cool level, where you keep yourself safe by keeping your feelings to yourself.

Think of it as a thermostat, the analogy also used by Hendricks. What happens when the temperature rises above the level you have set? Your heater switches off. The lower you set your limit of feelings, the more trapped you will be in withholding your feelings from others. I know this well, as I used to be a master of this in many relationships in my life, to my regret.

To heal your relationships, you need to set your thermostat much higher, and generate more warmth, more love, and let it show. That way, your relationships with the people who matter in your life will have a much better chance of becoming complete.

With your relationships expanding and improving, the needle on your dashboard of trust will move into the green zone, as you shift from a focus on 'I' to a focus on 'WE,' where you discover the enormous power of relationships and the huge potential of collaborating more effectively.

Where to start? By opening your heart. It even rhymes.

Limit of Courage

These are beliefs that we are not smart or good enough. These hold us back from stepping out there to prove ourselves wrong and level up our performance. We feel stuck. The needle on the dashboard of our car isn't moving, and we feel short of courage to press the accelerator and make the car go faster.

This limit is a belief, not a reality. When we realize that by shining a light on it, we come unstuck and we can open the space of our will, to do more without fear. This is why athletes go to work with a coach, to overcome such limits and go on to win medals. So can you as you level up your performance, when you Open Your Will. 

Next time we will explore how to remove the limits you set by a combination of learning Inside-Out and Outside-In.

For now, I challenge you to start questioning the limits you set. Shine your light on them. Why are they there? Why not let them go, then grow and let the best of you come out? 

What limit will you challenge yourself on this week?