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?