4/14/22: Knowing your limits is a superpower

Sent 4/14/22


    This week's Think Better Newsletter is about why knowing your limits is a superpower. 

    The Idea

    When I was a junior at UCLA I ran an early season cross country race where I ran so hard I red-lined the final 400 meters and then "greyed out" for the next hour. I was less than 100% conscious as I stumbled through a cool-down and my body tried to recover from the punishment I put it through.

    I spent the rest of the day with a headache, I couldn't eat, and I immediately fell asleep when I got home. My muscles ached for days. I literally maxed myself out. I found my limit.

    It was the most important race of my career. It raised the bar for what I knew I could endure. As long as my race or workout didn't feel like that, I knew I could handle it. It gave me immense confidence when I stepped on the line.

    Fast forward to 2008. I'm working on a huge IT project that is going to make or break our company. It's way behind schedule and the team is pulling 100 hour weeks to get it done. I'm up at 5am to talk to developers in India, at the office until 9pm, then back home to talk with the developers again before I go to bed at midnight. I did this for two months.

    It was not my healthiest time. At the end of it I was spent. I had maxed myself out, albeit in a different way. I'd found another limit.

    That experience has played a defining role in my later career. Not just the lessons learned on the job but the knowledge that if I have to, I'm capable of sustaining incredible efforts to get a job done. It gives me confidence.

    I thought a lot about these situations when we spoke with Tommie Bailey, aka Tommie Runz, on Fueling the Pursuit. He is a recovering alcoholic who said of his marathon training:

    “I try to use the fact that I was able to tough it out for so long with [alcoholism], that I can pretty much do anything positive that may even be uncomfortable. I can do that every day because I did this before, but it was the most negative situation possible. You know, it sounds odd, but that's how I look at it."

    Tommie's experience as an alcoholic had nothing to do with running. But over time it maxed him out, and defined his limit. Now, as a marathon runner he's able to use that limit to define how hard his training can be.

    Doubt is what holds most of us back. Knowing your limits is a superpower because it reduces that doubt. 

    The System

    Confidence is key to success. It can be rational or emotional, it's frequently situational, but it's always something we can build. One of the best ways is through "vicarious experiences." 

    In Make the Leap I write that "vicarious experiences" are a form of, "If he can do it, I can, too." When someone just like you has accomplished a task, it gives you confidence that you can do it, too. 

    The same can apply to past experiences. When you've overcome exhaustion, overwhelming stress, or a trauma, you expand your known limits. As you encounter a new situation, knowing you've overcome other experiences should give you confidence you can do it in this new situation.

    Tommie probably said it best: "I think that we don't give ourselves enough credit in many areas for the strength we have ‘cause it doesn't seem like the connection should be made to something else. But if you can be strong in one area, you can translate that to almost any other area of your life." 

    Trust that the strength you've shown in one area will translate to the next. Build up those successes, and carry them into all you do. 

    The Question

    Have you persevered through a terrible experience? Are you able to draw strength from it today? 


    Go Be More,

    Bryan Green
    Author of Make the Leap: Think Better, Train Better, Run Faster and the companion Think Better Workbook
    Co-host of the Go Be More Podcast
    Co-host of the Fueling the Pursuit Podcast

    “We draw our strength from the very despair in which we have been forced to live. We shall endure.”
    — Cesar Chavez



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