Self Imposed Limits and How To Overcome Them

This is a guest post by Srinivas Rao, @skooloflife.

Everything that you know how to do today and you do effortlessly is something that you once didn’t know how to do. You weren’t born knowing how to walk, talk, or speak. You learned all of those things and the notion of limitations probably never existed when you were a kid. There was a point in my life where I thought I”d wake up one day and have super powers :), like Superman.

As we get older however, our imagination seems to stop running riot and we start getting “realistic” about what we are capable of. As a result, we create self-imposed limitations and our full potential gets lost. Let’s look at a couple examples of how we create limitations in our lives.

Bigger Waves: When I started surfing, I remember telling a friend “yeah, I’ll never need waves more than 2-4 ft and that’s probably going to be my limit.” That limit keeps getting bigger. The first time I ever rode a bigger wave I came to the realization that I had become too attached to my success. But in that moment I also overcame the limitation of 2-4 ft. It was simply a matter of going for it and taking a risk. Every risk you take provides an opportunity to propel past your self imposed limitation. Will you always make it? NO. But, if you do, then you’ve moved to your next level. I’m never going to be a big wave rider (maybe my own self imposed limitation or wish for prolonged life). But, check out the video of this guy below who has more or less exemplified the idea of overcoming self imposed limits.

Musical Instruments: The first time you look at a piece of music that is really difficult, you might have the holy SH#$# reaction. That’s pretty normal if you ask me. But after going through it, one measure at a time, practicing every single day, the piece of music that you couldn’t play is something you are now doing almost effortlessly. You created the limitation when you started and you overcame it just through practice.

Out of My League: Dating is another place where I think we create a ton of self imposed limitations. It’s not uncommon for somebody to find a person of the opposite sex extremely attractive and then say “But, yeah I could never get that chick or dude.” Then we make a list of excuses for why this is not possible. “I don’t have enough money, I’m not good looking enough, blah, blah” and a whole bunch of bullshi#$# that you have told yourself over and over. Notice how you have created all of this.

Blogging: Annabel Candy at Get in the Hot Spot recently wrote an amazing post on success. One of the things she talked about was the amount of readers that she wanted subscribed to her blog. She decided to up the goal from 10,000 to 15,000. In all honesty, whether she reaches either goal doesn’t matter. Let’s say she gets to the 8000 readers, then she’s still a success. But think about where she set the bar. She set the bar really high. I set out with a goal of 1000 readers by April. I don’t have it, but maybe it’ because this was my self imposed limitation. Maybe I should have aimed higher. Maybe my focus should be 10,000 readers and I should work towards that and 1000 should just be a milestone in the bigger picture. In fact maybe that’s all overcoming a limitation is, a milestone on the path to your goal.

Overcoming your Limitation

Set a Higher Bar: If you are the one creating the limitation then maybe it’s as simple as setting a higher bar. Maybe the bar should be whatever your personal 6-8 foot wave is. Maybe the bar should be 10,000 dollars instead of 5000 dollars. The thing with setting the bar higher is you will come closer to what the goal you set even if you don’t necessarily accomplish your exact goal.

Mind Your Language: It’s no secret in the world of self help and personal development that the way we use language plays an integral role in our ability to accomplish things. When you use words like “I could never” or “impossible” you are using your language to create a limitation. Just remember everything that is possible today was once seen as “impossible.”

Examples of Possibility: Examples of what’s possible are everywhere and usually one example of possibility will set the wheels in motion. The best example of this that is cited throughout history seems to be Roger Banister’s 4 minute mile. Right after he did it, tons of other people did too. My favorite example from the world of blogging is Henri Junttila who grew his blog to over 1000 readers in 100 days. That was a paradigm shift and a model for what’s possible. For all you know somebody might grow to 1000 readers in 60 days next and that will give us the new model for what’s possible. Finding examples of possibility will actually help to shift your perception of what you can actually accomplish.

What limitations have you self imposed? Which ones have you overcome? How did you overcome them?

Srinivas Rao is a blogger and avid surfer, and writes at The Skool of Life, where he obsesses about riding waves. He is also the host and co-founder of the BlogcastFM, a podcast for Bloggers.

31 thoughts on “Self Imposed Limits and How To Overcome Them”

  1. Hi Srini,

    I happended to read this blog today….great one…speaks a lot. Loved the video on surffing.

    set the bar high, is good and required in this competetive world. At the same time its important to see how to get the support systems in place, right networking in place to reach the bar…

    Rightly said..there is not limit…but for it being in our minds.

  2. hello, i really like your blog. I have been into personal development for several years, and are always looking for new ideas.

  3. Absolutely, I know my self-imposed limits are exactly the reason why I went to the college I did (I didn’t try applying to many) and why I majored in the field I did (I went with a safe, secure career, teaching, because I thought I couldn’t do anything like writing full-time or running my own business, both dreams I’ve had for a while).

    What’s worse than your own imposed limits is seeing the limits of others. So many friends of mine in college did not get jobs because they put too many limits. They would only look in a few geographic religions, or they did not see how their degree could give them a foot in many fields… It’s so frustrating to watch, especially when you did not have those limits on yourself. For example, I know the main reason I got a well-paying job with benefits is I looked in a different state that had teacher-shortages. I had no problem getting a job so it’s frustrating to see all my unemployed friends who did not bother looking for a job the way I did.

    Good article! Thanks!

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  6. You hit the nail on the head. As children, we have no limits. We want to do and conquer everything. As adults we become “realistic” and this is the reason why people never achieve great things. Aim for the stars and you will achieve beyond your wildest dreams. Thanks for the reminder as I needed that.

  7. I think self-imposed limitations are results of fears of committing the same mistakes, or fear of the future. A person limits himself from moving toward his goal because he is caught in the worry cycle; he is immobilized by fear which hinders him from achieving his goal. To overcome this, an individual should identify his underlying values. What are the experiences that he wants to get out of his goals / objectives? This would help him focus on the positive aspects of his life, thus, helping him overcome self-imposed limitations.
    .-= JM @ Calgary Psychologist´s last blog ..In a lived life, life lives =-.

  8. I enjoyed the points made here and found myself nodding in agreement. I know for me, in the realm of fitness, I used to have a very limited view of what I could do and remained stuck at a certain level for a long time. Opening to possibility, challenging myself and doing the work made me take note that I am stronger than I ever knew…and not just in regards to building muscle!
    .-= Clearly Composed´s last blog ..~ Pizza, Smoothies and Balance =-.

    • @Clearly Composed: Fitness is definitely one area where I could see these principles in action. In fact I largely developed the core ideas from this post from my own experience with surfing

  9. Thanks Dragos and Srinivas for an inspiring post and mentioning me. Srinivas, you’ve really outed me now. I tried to set the bar higher after reaching my first blogging goal to push myself as I can be lazy. I am setting goals that I probably won’t reach but trying to will achieve more than without a concrete goal. Well, hopefully:)

    It’s brilliant to hear you’re achieving your goals Srinivas. I’m stoked. Being part of a team of driven, hard-working and creative people like this one provides phenomenal motivation and inspiration. I’d have given up long ago without people like you to work with. Here’s to our collective success.
    .-= Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot´s last blog ..How to Stay Focused in 9 Words =-.

    • @Annabel: I think it doesn’t matter if you set goals that you might not reach. Ultimately you’ll get very close to them which often is just as good. So I wouldn’t sweat that too much.

  10. I recently realized that self-imposed limitations have made me a slave to my own mind for most of my life. Having that pointed out it has given me a new focus on what I can do.
    Thank you for the post.
    .-= Jeff´s last blog ..Staying Positive During a Divorce =-.

  11. I can’t help but think of Rene Angelil and Celin Dion from reading this! Rene is Celin’s husband and agent; he kept pushing that bar higher and higher and higher on her….I’ll never forget the thrilling way she explained her growing success because she only lived to please one man. All thousands and hundreds upon thousands of fans loved her but when Rene was not happy with only one aspect of her voice, she knew she had to work even harder. Setting the bar really, really high! I love it!

  12. Good Stuff Dragos, I’ve never tried surfing… god, which is why I’m moving to California in six months, I’m excited 🙂

    Really good advice bro, some of what I use personally from your list is “the use of language” and examples.

    Whenever I feel that blogging seems rather daunting, I think to myself.. ” what have others done?” And I’m reminded that blogging is no easy task. my lord.

    Good stuff!

    .-= Parker Lee |´s last blog ..WOMEN: will YOU end up ALONE-? =-.

  13. Wow, nice surf video (I’ve seen it before some time ago but it is still breath-taking, as I am a beginner surfer myself).

    Good advice there regarding overcoming self-imposed limits. I have noticed that it is much easier for me to set my own bars higher by watching what other people exactly do. If someone who is successful is working hard, seeing the example usually makes me work harder as well. So I guess it is wise to hang around with clever workaholics. 🙂
    .-= Petteri´s last blog ..Why Comparing Yourself to Others Is Harmful and How to Stop It =-.

    • @Petteri: Awesome that you are a beginning surfer. If you are addicted now, just wait, it gets far worse :). I agree that you should be around the types of people who will push you past your limits. I think you really become the byproduct of what you surround yourself with. Fortunately with the online world the way it is you can connect to thousands of like minded people.

  14. Fantastic post! One of my limitations is to believe that I can’t master the basic technology to improve my blog. I recently proved myself wrong and it was far easier that I imagined. I still have much more to learn, but I pushed through the first barrier. I love the example of how we didn’t know how to do anything we can do now at one point in our life! Thanks so much.
    .-= Sandra Lee´s last blog ..Chemicals are serious business =-.

  15. I’m going to use this post as a leverage point to move forward from a very crippling personal limit. I’m a designer/illustrator working on more hand-drawn illustration rather than digital. I haven’t produced anything in either medium in months because I’ve read (several times) some articles about ‘10,000 hours to master any craft’ which have caused a mental block, and because I can see the inherent weaknesses in my work, but don’t quite have the skill yet to overcome them. As a result, I just do practice stuff that I don’t finish or show anyone.

    I have now realised that what I *can* do in the present moment is leverage current skills and also experiment to do things RIGHT NOW that can be put out there and that there’s no actual reason for me to be creating things that I’m just going to hide from everybody.

    This has been a really eye-opening and helpful post. Thank you very much for posting it!

    • @Chad: The 10,000 hours to mastery is definitely something important, but I always say that you should focus on what you can do today. You can work towards mastery today. As they say “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. Glad you found this article valuable.

  16. I agree with Mike, Many people around me set themeselves limits and i try to keep myself open to the best possible solution or outcome or situation. To live a life of no limitation and happiness. Great post! Thanks for sharing

  17. I love the strategy of “watching your language.”

    This is a constant battle between my wife and I – she’s still in the camp of “I can’t imagine ____” or “we’ll never be able to ____,” whereas I’m always pushing limits.

    Forget about impossible. Just about everyone starts in the same place. Where you end up is just a function of your passion and drive.

    • Mike,

      I think that more or less once she sees how much change is occurring just from that shifting mindset, then it won’t be difficult for her to mind the language either.

  18. Hey Srini,

    kick-ass post, wild video – the surfer is insane, but in a good way.

    Giving yourself restrictions is sooo common, it’s really hard to stop that negative behavior. Like you said, I watch my language – is my current thinking one of possibility or failure ? You have to be a real Watchman with that, at least in the beginning.

    I set my bar high nowadays – the only way to really grow the fast way.
    You’re right, set yourself uber–high goals -even if you don’t reach him, you’ll land somewhere close to it.

    now let my energy burn the sky,

    grreat post, Srini
    .-= Mars Dorian´s last blog ..Are you Otaku worthy ? =-.

    • @Mars: Yeah, the big wave surfers are definitely on another level. The courage and mindset required to do that is basically about completely overcoming a fear of death because that’s the consequence. If you want to see how those guys train watch the Billabong Odyssey. As far as setting the bar high I think that’s essential to our success. Often we set the bar based on our current capabilities and our current circumstances, but we forget that everything we do today was something we once couldn’t do.

  19. Like Tony Robbins says the only way to get better at anything is to S-T-R-E-T-C-H yourself everyday.
    .-= Joe´s last blog ..#15 Smile! (At least once in a while) =-.

  20. Question about “setting the bar higher”… Wouldn’t you suggest taking baby steps? I mean everyone can tell you to dream big but in order to get to where you want to be you need to build on the fundamentals. If you’re goal is to make $5,000 a month (and you suggest raise the bar by shooting for $10,000) wouldn’t you rather have the $5,000 mark as the goal for the month and then once reached the goal, set the bar higher by shooting for $10,000, etc. etc. I think treating goals as milestones and then challenging yourself to greater heights is the key..once you do something once its far more attainable to do it again and have the motivation to work for bigger goals. With that said great guest post Srini, I encourage all my peers to set the bar higher.

    • @Tony: Yes I agree that we should have baby steps and milestones and those should be sub goals. But in one way our baby steps become self imposed limitations if we don’t seem the as baby steps. On the note of 5000 dollars per month, that’s actually the goal I”ve been working on and I’ve gotten to about 1500 and I think that celebrating the small victories is key.


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