In this episode I want to talk about limits. What I mean by limits are the self-imposed limits that we have. It’s a very important episode. I go through a lot of examples, etc. because I want people to realize and understand—and hopefully the stories I have in here help bring it home—the idea of: how do you break through? This is part of the concept behind my forthcoming book. The idea is that you need to break through those limits that you have, either whether they’re imposed by others, self-imposed, or just lack of knowledge or understanding. Let’s get on to the episode.
Welcome to another episode of Life Unsettled – New Path, Better Future. Today we’re going to talk about limits, that is the limits that are frequently self-imposed. Most people have far more abilities than they actually realize, but I think that sometimes our head is more of a problem than the real physical and mental limitations that we have, that is our own mind tells us there’s something we can’t do or we can only do it at a certain level. That’s what I want to address.
I don’t care where the limits are originated. Yes, all the untapped human potential out there, etc. but we’re only talking about your potential. They may have been put there based on frustrations, poor teaching, biases from others that people imposed on you; you’re constantly hearing that you’re not good enough or something like that, or: “That’s beyond your wildest expectations,” or they’re just perceptions we ourselves fell for whatever reason. The important thing is that we recognize that they are there, and we all have them. Every one of us has things that we think are our limits.
I am not talking about the person who is aware of their potential, but doesn’t have the desire to move on, upward, or whatever else it is in life. That is a choice. Let me use an example. I used to go skiing a lot. I would go in the morning once in a while. The guy next to me was 20ish or so years of age, and he was on the ski patrol or a ski instructor, and taking advantage of that. He loved that. He did it in the winter, and he did something else in the summer; either scuba or he went to the South America area and taught skiing there. The key is that that was his choice.
I just hope that he understands that that is his choice and that’s what he’s doing, as compared to myself when I was younger or somebody else like yourself, that’s investing in your own future. I’m not saying one is better than the other, or one is right or wrong. As a matter of fact, what I would often say is that they’re doing some things… That young guy was doing things that I’ll never be able to do. Why? Because when I have the time that I would be able to do it, I would no longer be physical capable of doing it the way he does it. In a sense, what he’ll have in the future is memories. What I’ll have is other things that he won’t be able to get. The difference is personal choice. Just hoping that that guy really cherishes those memories, enjoys them, shares them, and doesn’t have envy or jealousy because of other things that other people took. Those were choices, and there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s the economist in me speaking.
However, it is a shame to see people, particularly children, who unjustifiably just don’t believe in themselves. Example. Think about it. I was in the military, got a chance to be around a lot of different places and a lot of different people from all over the country. My roommate in the military for quite a while was a black guy who became a really good friend. We were good friends, hung around together a lot. He was from Watts. I don’t know if there’s some good area of Watts, but from what I understand, it’s just a ghetto. Actually, at the time, it was being burned down; there were riots and everything else just before he was there in the service. So he certainly didn’t have the background or the education, but he was incredibly smart. He was really, really good. Fortunately, the military could see that from the evaluation stuff, and they gave him good positions.
The unfortunate thing is if he returns to the exact same environment “back home,” he’s going to be in the same environment, inundated with the same expectations, both for his mobility, as well as his future. That also goes with some of the people that I met that were from relatively small towns in the south or so. Because they had a Southern accent, people perceived them differently. Quite frankly, in some of the smaller areas, they don’t see the opportunities and availability of positions, upward mobility, etc. that somebody might see if they’re in a more metropolitan area or a suburban environment, and closer to large universities and schools, etc.
Expectations thrust on us by others or by our own interpretations of different events in our lives, beliefs that we have, whether they’re from others or ourselves – they set the tone and attitude, and they restrict our development and progress. Or they can even do the opposite and be the driving force to help us move forward if you can use them as motivations. That’s actually the purpose of, very often, finding mentors, or going to and participating in masterminds.
There’s also the possibility and the process of adjusting expectations as we move forward. This is an interesting topic. As we go to a goal, we think we’re going to be a fireman, or we’re going to be an accountant, or we’re going to be whatever – when we hit the goal or when we start approaching the goal, we stop moving as aggressively. There’s an interesting concept of that. People also think in terms of, if they’re in the corporate world, plateauing. It also exists in many other areas. So they don’t realize where they can go further from that or that they can. It’s not that they just don’t know the path, they just don’t know their ability. Why? Because their mind adjusted to the fact that that was the end goal.
Let me explain it in a couple of different ways. One would be: I’ve mentioned a couple of times or referenced a couple of places that person who taught me how to lift weights. He was a champion bodybuilder. He won the Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico tri-state heavyweight division, so he really knew his stuff. He was the one that trained me. One of the things he taught me was every once in a while you would think that you were plateauing out, that is all of a sudden, you would be at a level and you just sort of stay there. Your mind is looking at a certain level. Let’s say you’re pressing 150 pounds, and you’re doing that for one day, and in your mind, you really think: “Okay, wow, that’s a lot. That’s a lot. I’m going to do it. I’m going to do it.” By the time you get to the third set, you’re going through the reps, and you get to the eight, and the nine… 10 is almost impossible! You can’t make it any more. This happens again the next time, and it happens again the next time. What he taught me was that you’re plateauing, but mainly, it’s all in your mind. I applied that. He said it, he did it, he just threw on more weights. The interesting thing, the extra weight the next time actually was easy. I did that when I went to Berkeley. When I was there, lifting heavy weights, although it was myself, I just used his straight instruction philosophy. Any time I found myself two times or three times in a row unable to do something, that is I was stuck at a certain weight, I just threw some extra weights on, an extra 10 or 15 pounds. As soon as I did that, it was actually easy and I very quickly progressed up. It was my mind holding me back, what I expected myself to do.
Here’s a really good example: the world thought that the limitation, the human limit was the four-minute mile. It stood for the longest time. Nobody could break the four-minute barrier. What happens? They’re all pacing at a certain thing, and they don’t feel and don’t believe they can go any further. Then one day, Roger Bannister cracked the four-minute mile. As soon as he cracked that, a bunch of other people cracked it. In other words, no magic trick. It was just the concentration and the belief in that ability. They saw him do it, they could do it.
I used to actually, when I was younger, sort of like most guys, we’d run places, we’d also have races and things of that sort, and I never really was as fast as some of my friends. While I was close to the time of getting in the service, I saw this thing about Jim Ryun, who was a four-minute miler, and it was a story about him. I said: “Wow. He’s the exact same height and the exact same weight as me. Wait, I’m not built funny. Maybe I can run, too.” I wasn’t going to do a four-minute mile, I watched and mimicked his form. When I did get into the service, all of a sudden I started running very fast and very well. I was only average before that. But it changed my perspective and belief.
When I was in the military then, lo and behold, they had a race which was basically part of the testing, and on the base I ended up beating everybody. I actually lapped a couple of people on the track. The only person I assume was faster than me was a brother of an Olympic sprinter, Bob Hayes. He was actually also wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys. I never saw him run, so I don’t even know whether he could, but I just assumed he was better. The very fact that the change in my perception and belief was what made me be able to run well with some practice.
One more. When I was first asked and told that I would really be able to do languages very well, I told them: “No. No way.” This was in the military in the Security Agency, and I said: “No way. I took five years of German. I’m terrible. I don’t know anything, I can’t know anything,” etc. That was my attitude. Anyway, a couple of things happened. I ended up going in, taking it, taking Russian, and then I went on, on my own to learn Japanese, using their techniques. In Japan, after just about a year and a half, I found myself literally dreaming and talking to myself in Japanese instead of English. In a year and a half my perspective had changed.
Before you get taken away too far, let me add to your perspective if you’re ever thinking of languages. The dumbest person in Japan speaks Japanese, so it ain’t that big of a deal. The thing is: knowing what you do, learning how to do it, the proper teaching, the proper mentoring, and then going out and doing it.
Here is a bad example, that is an example where I failed. I failed to listen and didn’t understand this. When I was in Berkeley in my third year, I had taken a course from Gerard Debreu, Nobel Prize winner, I had taken a course from him the year before. We’re walking back from the coffee room. He was urging me and asking me to do a dissertation under him. That’s an incredible compliment, but he was telling me… I was telling him and arguing with him: “No, I couldn’t. I’m not that good.” He says: “Oh yes you are.” I said: “No, no, no.” He said: “I had you for the course. I know you are.” I said: “That’s because you’re a good teacher.” Anyway, I turned that down. I didn’t believe in myself. That doesn’t matter. I did something else very nice and very well, and I went back and saw him many times. He’s my all-time favorite teacher anyway.
The thing is: open your eyes, listen to others, have faith and trust in the good mentors you find.
Thank you very much.