There have been many moments in my life when I have proven to myself that I am capable of so much more than I think. Each time I am reminded of this fact, I get inspired to try something new and see what else I can do that I thought was impossible. Running a half marathon, learning to pick on guitar, climbing a difficult route, keeping a blog running on a regular basis, completing a yoga teacher training. At some point in my life, I thought all of these things were completely out of my reach!
All of us have such a huge capacity for action, change, growth, learning, and yet we often forget this fact and use so little of our full potential! We spend a lot of time making excuses for why we aren’t able to do something when we should be spending our time doing whatever we can to knock those obstacles out of the way and make our goals happen.
A few days ago, I completed a two-week trek of the Annapurna Circuit with a group of six other friends. The pinnacle of the trek was a very long day of mostly uphill hiking starting in the dark at 4:30 A.M. to reach and cross over the highest walkable mountain pass in the world. Most of us were pretty nervous about this day and had heard plenty of horror stories of trekkers suffering from Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) and having to be evacuated by helicopter. There was definitely a part of me that was afraid I wasn’t going to make it, that I would be the one to hold the group back and end up having to go back down.
But fortunately, there was a much bigger part of me that knew I was fully capable of achieving this goal. I reminded myself over and over that even the tallest mountains can be climbed by taking one small step at a time. I had seen our progress over the previous 10 days and knew that even when we had setbacks, even when we didn’t achieve our daily goals, we were still moving forward and getting closer and closer to the top each day.
When we finally reached Thorong-La pass together, I had another one of those amazing moments where I was reminded of just how capable I am if I only continue to work hard and believe in my own ability to thrive outside my comfort zone. So much about this trek was uncomfortable: we were often freezing cold, our backs and feet ached each day from carrying heavy backpacks uphill, high altitudes made it hard to catch our breath even when standing still, and we occasionally struggled with challenging group dynamics. But when you are outside your comfort zone and you keep going anyway, the result is so incredibly rewarding.
Stop standing in your own way
Over the past few months, I have seen people of every age, body type, race and gender accomplish amazing things that they did not at first believe they were capable of. I have seen a heavy-set 70-year-old man who never did yoga before in his life learn to do a headstand and complete a month-long yoga teacher training. I have seen a girl who suffers from asthma and anxiety conquer a 5,540-meter mountain pass while trekking in the Himalayas.
And I have seen a huge change in my belief in my own abilities as I have continually taken on both physical and emotional challenges that frankly terrify me. Somehow I always end up coming through the other side a little bit stronger and a little bit wiser than I was before.
Time and time again, I have learned that there is nothing standing between me and immense progress other than myself and my own limiting beliefs. It’s not an original idea, but it can take a lifetime for it to sink in. I have had to have this lesson repeated over and over and am just now finally starting to grasp its true meaning. And I know without a doubt that it is true for most of you as well.
You are the only person standing in the way of your own goals. If you believe you cannot do something, you will create that truth in your reality. I’m not saying that all you have to do is think positively and all your dreams will come true, because that’s just not how it works. But positive thinking and determination are certainly necessary ingredients in getting what you want. If you tell yourself time and time again that you are going to fail, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You may even decide not to try in the first place, simply because you are so certain that you will fail – what a foolproof plan!
The thing is, sometimes we do fail, even when we believe in ourselves 100%, sometimes that is not enough. There are circumstances that are outside of our control and we can’t always get what we want through sheer willpower. It may mean that we have to rethink the path we are taking to reach our goals, or we may have to rethink our goals entirely.
But the more often we try, the more we will see that failing is not the end of the world. It is up to us to create our own next chance, to move on from each failure and find a new way of doing things, to keep going until we get it right. Nobody else is going to create those opportunities for you. And each time you do succeed and reach your goals, you will gain a little more confidence and start asking yourself “Hmmm, what else can I do that I didn’t think was possible?”
What do you need that you don’t already have?
In the past four months, I have witnessed a lot of poverty. There are so many people on this Earth who live every day without having their basic needs met. I would never say to these people “You are the only one standing in your own way! You just have to believe in yourself and you can achieve your dreams!” I recognize that people in these situations need a lot more than just positive thinking to change their lives. Some people have so many struggles that it takes every ounce of energy they have just to survive another day.
Not to say, of course, that it can’t be done – there are plenty of people who have worked their way out of really horrible situations and who have changed their lives and the lives of many others for the better. It is absolutely possible and I am amazed by the strength and determination of people who have done this for themselves.
But the truth is that it is a lot harder to work your way up from the bottom than if you start out in the middle. I have been born with a huge amount of advantages and because of that I have absolutely no excuse not to be taking every opportunity I can to do amazing things with my life, to explore and learn as much as I can, to use my privilege and my wealth to better the lives of as many people as possible.
Often it seems like the more advantages we are born with, the less we appreciate about the world because we have never had to worry about where our next meal is coming from, or if we will sleep with a roof over our head at night. How ridiculous is it that the more we have, the less we are grateful for? It is so easy to lose sight of what we have and to get lost in our own personal dramas, to think that we don’t have everything we need to be successful, that we are somehow lacking some crucial ingredient, that it is someone else’s fault we aren’t achieving our dreams or pursuing our goals. But think about it: what do you REALLY need that you don’t already have?
We forget that we are capable of so freaking much if we are only willing to take advantage of the circumstances we have been placed in. Those of us who are fortunate enough to have all our basic needs met are already way ahead of the curve and we have absolutely no excuse not to use both our bodies and our brains to their full potential, to live amazing lives for ourselves and also to live in service of others.
A little exercise for your brain
If you’re looking for some inspiration and you’re ready to get started on working towards some of your more impossible-seeming goals, grab a pen and paper and take a moment for this exercise.
First, write down a list of things you have done in your life that you didn’t originally think you could do. It could include anything from saying “I love you” first to completing your master’s degree or traveling to a new country by yourself. Dig deep and try to find at least five things in your life that make the cut, but it’s alright if you can only think of one or two.
Next, make a list of at least five things in your life right now that you would like to achieve but you think you are unlikely to succeed at. Again, these could be anything from cutting gluten out of your diet to visiting all seven continents or making money from writing your blog!
Once you have finished, take a look through this list and pick one item that you are going to start working towards today, knowing that it is not actually impossible to achieve. If you need encouragement, just look back at the first list, the one containing achievements that you used to think were unattainable for yourself. Even if that list includes only ONE item, that is all you really need to know that your brain is the only thing keeping you from actually reaching this seemingly impossible goal.
If looking back at that first list feels inspiring to you, put it up somewhere you will see it so you can remind yourself on a regular basis of all the things you have done that you didn’t think you could do. Each time you see that list, remember the steps you took that allowed you to accomplish those goals and use that as inspiration to continue working towards your current goals. You could even write a note next to each accomplishment of one thing you did that helped you persevere and succeed!
And if that first list includes absolutely no items at all, if you can’t think of a single thing in your life that you have ever achieved that you didn’t originally think was possible, then focus on working towards one of those items on the second list and let today be the first day that you start proving yourself wrong.
So, what is holding you back today? What do you tell yourself that makes you continue to believe you are not good enough to do the things you want to do, that you are not capable of achieving absolutely everything you want to achieve? What is actually preventing you other than your own limiting beliefs???