Break Through Your Mental Limits By Challenging Your Physical Limits

physical limits
Blink, Jersey City. (PC: korendezvous)

I have been looking for different ways to physically challenge myself for the past two months. Cold showers based on the recommendation of Joel Runyon was my first challenge. Currently, I’m training for a 5k. I haven’t done one in years so I think it’s time for me to get back into it.

The reason I’m doing this is simple: physical limits usually stem from mental limits. I figured that if I break through my physical limits, that must mean I won the battle against my brain saying “I can’t.” I have always been very active (except for a 2 year stint) so I know how much our mind affects what we can accomplish physically.

Let me say now that I understand there really are certain physical limits. I’m not talking about those. I’m talking about the ones where we give up because it’s too painful or it’s too hard or, I don’t know, we’re simply just too lazy. Those limits that we know we can break through if we tried harder. Problem is, it’s easier not to try.

PANE made

The first ever experience I had with pushing our physical limits was swimming. Like I’ve said in a previous post, I thought I was just going to splash around when I joined the swim team. Turns out, I would subject myself to excruciating pain. At least that’s how it felt like at 13 years old.

One of our swim coaches was Pane (pronounced pah-nay) and he was tough on us. He never bought our excuses and he taught us the value of discipline and work ethic. The other coach was Ms. Gualtieri. She didn’t allow anyone to call her Ms. G. She said we weren’t stupid and we can pronounce her name. Swim season was always in the dead of winter and I remember one time when she opened all the windows in the pool because of something one of us did. It was freezing and we couldn’t huddle together. She was serious about being listened to that night. She taught us to stop bullshitting and just get it done. Honestly, I build on the mental toughness I acquired during swimming.

Love/Hate Relationship

I remember countless hours where we’d swim over that black line back and forth time and time again. The flip turns I  had to do over and over again because I “wasn’t streamlined enough.” The times when I had to swallow  my puke with pool water because I wanted to finish the race and not get disqualified. We ran longer than the track team and that was just our land workout. I remember the 5 hours of straight training.

Those were the times I developed the attitude of not giving up when something is of utmost importance to you. Looking back, I realize what they meant when they said they were teaching us life lessons.. that swimming was just a tool.  It was during those moments where I had to win over the constant nagging in my head telling me I just can’t do another lap.

Swimming (And Cycling) And Business

Post-HS swimming, I still used to go to the local pool and swim timed laps just to stay in shape. Whenever I feel like I’ve reached my physical limit but haven’t finished the set, I ask myself, “If this was business and you knew you’re close to winning, would you give up now?” Of course, the answer would be a resounding NO! So, then, I pep talk myself and say, ” So, why would you give up now?” Somehow, that always gets me to finish my whole workout lol.

There was a recent circumstance while I was cycling. I absolutely hate cycling. I feel like it doesn’t do much for the amount of leg pain it causes. Anyway, I was on an uphill portion of the ride and my thigh started burning. At the point, I resorted back to telling myself I’ve been in worse conditions and in worse pain. If I give up now, during the hardest part, what would that make me? I don’t really need to answer that to give me the push I need. Nobody wants to wussy out while the going is tough.. nobody should, at least.

Break Physical Limits..

..and you break mental limits. One thing I tell myself is that I’m already in pain. If I quit before finishing, all I’ve done would’ve been for nothing. I’m sorry (not really) but I don’t buy into that small, incremental crap. Let’s do something big, man. I mean, by all means, if all that’s really possible is slow progress, that’s fine. But I believe people get into this thinking of “Oh, well, I did something today so I should be okay.” That just guarantees mediocrity.

Back to the point, physical limits and mental limits go hand in hand. For me, it’s a lot easier to train myself to break mental limits by breaking my physical limits. Why? Because I can quantify pain. It’s something tangible. Breaking mental limits usually means you need to pinpoint what the source of our hold back is. What’s challenging is that people are very good at justification and lying to themselves. We never figure out what the problem really is and we end up addressing the wrong things.

So, what do we need to do?

When we’re fighting through our physical limits, we know the source of pain. We know what the issue is. All that’s left is to tell ourselves that we can indeed finish the race, or the workout, or stay for the last minute in that freezing cold shower. Or whatever else the case may be. Good thing is, when you win over your mind when breaking a physical limit, you train yourself to have control over your thoughts by default.

Oftentimes, we try to intellectualize breaking mental barriers. We tell ourselves we need to prep. We say we need to get ready for the change; Read this book, or listen to that audio, or attend another success conference. Four books, 27 audios, and 2 conferences later, we’re still in the same place. We still haven’t done what we were prepping for. We wonder why nothing is sticking.

Well, all that’s really left is to do. Try it. Break a physical limit. I bet you’ll end up breaking a mental limit too.

2 thoughts on “Break Through Your Mental Limits By Challenging Your Physical Limits

  1. Wow, Amiel that was awesome. I was never big into sports growing up. Was more of a nerd and a smoker(if you know what I mean). But your stories definitely show where you got your mental toughness. You are proof that getting that training while young makes a big difference for when you get older.

    Yeah, I have been working on the cold shower thing…does it mean you actually have to wash and rinse and everything in the cold or just stand their getting yourself wet for 5 minutes? I am working up to that right now.

    So breaking physical limits helps you break mental ones whether you know what they are or not? You nailed it when you said you have to pinpoint…fi I just have to break all the physical to break all the mental, then I am going to look like Arnold in no time!!

    Thanks for all your sharing here. I can tell you dug deep for this. If I have not told you before that you are awesome(I think I have), then I am telling you now.


    1. Hi Brent! Thanks for stopping by. 🙂 I know exactly what you mean, I got into bad habits also and I wasn’t exactly the “jock” type lol. I was just that quiet girl who played sports. And, absolutely, I think my foundation is definitely from having to constantly push myself through sports. I owe this to my grammar school gym teacher when she personally told me to join sports in HS. I took her advice as soon as I got into HS.

      As for the cold shower, you can wash and rinse or just stand there. As far as I know, the only requirement is to do the full 5 minutes in the coldest setting your shower has then, if not done showering, you can put it back to your desired temp after the five mins. Personally, I can’t just stand there lol. Way too cold and then I focus too much on not being able to breathe initially so I.. flail.. around haha.

      Breaking physical limits help you break the mental limits specifically telling you that you “can’t.” It essentially just trains you to silence your mind when it thinks you’ve reached your limit. According to Darren Hardy, our brain defaults into a state of comfort so, in order to push through any limit, we’d have to push ourselves past the point where the brain tells us “this is as far as we can go.” So when we push through a physical limit, we then also push through the mental barrier of “can’t” in that particular scenario. I believe that once we do this enough, it expands our state of comfort so we’ll be able to do things that we used to be uncomfortable doing, with ease.

      Hope this helps! Thank you so much for your kind words! 🙂

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