How to Avoid Self-Limitation and Do the Impossible

Luke: “I can’t believe it!”  Yoda: “That is why you fail”

It may not seem like it, but most of the time the one thing holding people back from what they really want in life is a lack of belief.

If you don’t believe something is possible, really believe it, you are just playing the cosmic lottery.

Let’s look at an example.

I just finished up the latest book by a couple of my favorite authors, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, called Think Like a Freak. It was excellent and I highly recommend it.

One of my favorite chapters was about the eating champion Kobayashi. When he signed up for his first hot dog eating championship he was a complete unknown. Plus he was nothing like the prototypical eating contestant. Small and thin, he was dwarfed by his fellow competitors.

At the end of the competitions however, Kobayashi had not only won, but he had done something that no one would have thought possible. He nearly doubled the standing record.

             Previous record: 28 1/4

Kobayashi’s record: 50!

How did he do it? In all of his preparation, and during the competition, he never let himself think about the record. He didn’t set it as a target to achieve. He just worked his process and ate as many hot dogs as he possibly could before time expired.

Let’s look at one more example:

Last week I went hiking in the incredible Columbia River Gorge outside Portland, OR. At the trailhead my wife and I ran into a few other WDS attendees who noticed my shirt and asked if we wanted to tag along on a three and a half mile hike they had planned. I hadn’t really made any plans beyond getting out in nature and exploring, so we decided to take them up on their offer.

Seven miles later, with our legs shaking, we made it back to our car. Not only was the hike twice as long as we had been told, but nearly the whole route was a series of switchbacks climbing 1600′. We were exhausted.

The hike was otherworldly though. It felt a little like we’d been transported to the Forest Moon of Endor. We wandered through massive trees hung with moss, and past incredible waterfalls surrounded by lush greenery.

The thing is, we might have missed that experience if our companions had correctly read the map and noticed their planned route was twice as long as they thought. It’s not that we would shrink from a long hike, it’s that number: seven miles.

Seven miles is outside of my range for a casual diversion. My mind would have started telling me that we weren’t prepared. That we didn’t have enough water or snacks to tackle something like that. I would have quickly convinced myself that it would eat up our entire day, our only free day for the whole trip. I firmly believe we would have said no.

Since I’ve been home I’ve decided to take this idea a little further and run a test on myself. For the last year I’ve been setting myself a daily word quota. After pondering the examples above, I started to wonder how much more I could get done if I wrote with a time limit instead. What would happen if I worked as hard as I could until my time expired? The results were embarrassing.

Minutes to write 500 words: 67

  Words written in 30 minutes: 1565

You can probably guess it changed the way I approach my writing.

Ok, I think you get the idea. What you believe is possible can hold you back.

Sometimes you have to trick yourself to avoid limiting yourself.

Here are a few suggestions that work for me:

1.  Set a time limit not a physical limit – When you put a quantitative number on your goals, you will naturally begin to back off as you approach that goal. It’s why boxers are taught to not punch their opponent, but to punch through them. It’s why sprinters are taught to run to a spot beyond the tape. Physical limits can limit output. Go with time instead.

2. Lie to yourself – Tell yourself that you are going to quit in just a few more minutes. When that time expires set yourself another short target to achieve and convince yourself that you are really going to quit when you get to that one. Rinse and repeat. This method has been used by many of the great sufferers throughout history: Navy SEALs, political prisoners, ultra-endurance athletes, people in bad marriages, etc.

3. Set ridiculous goals – Think of the absolute maximum that you think you could ever achieve, after years of struggle, and then double it. Make that your target. Keep driving toward it. Ignore the people who will tell you that you are being unreasonable. Keep going and every once and a while take a glance in the rearview mirror to see how far you have come. You will be surprised. This is the concept of True North. You continually strive for unattainable perfection, knowing you will never reach it, but driving toward it relentlessly anyway. If you ever do happen to get there, set a new, even more ridiculous goal and then start up that mountain.

How about you? What artificial limits do you believe in? How much are they holding you back? What are the things the voices in your head tell you are not possible? What tricks do you use to achieve better results? 

Writer’s Excuses Part 2: “I can’t write…”

When you start introducing yourself as an author one thing you hear a lot is, “I don’t know how you do it. I never could.” It’s something I highly recommend if you want to make your living that way eventually. I’m the first to admit that writing is sometimes hard, but I completely disagree with anyone who says they can’t do it.

I think one of the big reasons people think they can’t write is that they have an image problem. A lot of people have “writing guilt” carried over from being forced to write according to some established standard during their formative years. People who struggled with writing in school are still carrying around those failures years later. Those rubrics and manuals of style are great if you want to give someone a grade on how well they can memorize and follow rules, but they have nothing to do with good story telling.

And that’s all writing is, a way of telling stories. We all tell stories. It’s integrated into human existence. If you disagree I’d be happy to discuss it in the comments, but I believe that communication is a part of life, and all communication involves storytelling.

Having a big vocabulary and excellent grammar skills is impressive, but in the end they are far from essential. In fact the vocabulary and grammar that you use are what give flavor and voice to your writing. What would your life story sound like if it was written in perfect grammar with a dictionary and thesaurus applied to every sentence? Would it still sound like you? I doubt it. Would it be believable? Probably not.

When you are writing, you are telling about your experiences and your knowledge. Even if it’s fiction your life is woven into the text. So get over yourself already. Put together the words as as if you were telling your best friend. Be honest, be candid, paint the picture of the world as you see it and it will resonate with someone. Notice I said someone, because no matter how polished your prose, it will never appeal to everyone. It just does’t happen. Still your readers are out there, and wherever they are they will respond to you when you find them.

Yes, there are rules for grammar. Yes, there are conventions for how to build a narrative. Neither of these things matter. Every writer needs to find their own style. There will be plenty of time later to analyze your words and polish what you’ve written. In fact, there is an entire industry, that I happen to be a part of, devoted to cleaning up good stories and helping writers make them better. The important thing is to take action. Find a way to tell your story. Get it out of your head and into the world.

A New Perspective: My Plans for World Domination

Today I am in Portland Oregon for the 2014 edition of World Domination Summit.

I attended the conference last year with no real plan. I had friends going and I was interested in meeting up with them. Plus they had spoken so highly of the event that I wanted to go and see what all of the fuss was about.

The reality was far beyond my expectations. It changed the course of my life. On my return I quit my job and began my journey toward becoming a writer. Even with all I took away from the experience though, I felt like I had missed some opportunities.

The attendee list for WDS reads like a who’s who list of unconventionally successful people. With all of the time I spent wandering around the sessions with them, I made far fewer connections that I could have. This year I want to change that.

amazonbuybuttonThe hardest thing about being a writer, other than a blinking cursor on a blank page, is finding your audience. I have a book that I’ve written that I think is really good.

I believe in it. I have had a lot of good feedback from the small number of people who have read it, but therein lies the problem. I need to find ways to get my work in front of more readers. That will be the story of this trip to Portland.


There are a lot of options to get your book noticed, but the one that proves consistently  superior to all the rest is to build a platform. Tim Grahl explained this very well in his book Your First 1000 Copies. To paraphrase, he believes that authors need to have a community. A group of people who enjoy their work and sign up to come along on their journey. It is possible to build a platform slowly and steadily over time, there is a better way. What is that path?

Borrow someone else’s audience.

Some of the fastest rising stars owe their current status to the previous generation. They met people. They built their network and then made themselves useful. They joined the conversation and made it better. The leaned in.

I need to find people I can help. I need to find people with an audience whose lives might be a little bit better for having my stories in them, then I need to find a way to make those influencers lives a little easier. That is my mission this weekend. I want to meet the right people who can help me find their audience then offer them my help.