Do you impose limits on yourself? Perhaps you are not aware that you do?

If you're not careful, you can find yourself stuck in life without even realizing it due to imaginary, self-imposed boundaries. The older we get, the easier it is to get set in our ways and subtly convince ourselves that we “can't” do it. Life can become more scary as we age and hesitate to take on new challenges due to the perceived risks involved.

A few years ago a good friend told me that she could not run. In fact, she couldn't even imagine herself running around the block, much less in a 5k or 10k event. I remember saying to her, “why not?”, thinking that she had some sort of injury.

Break through self-imposed limits

My Mom at the end of her first ever 7 mile trek

There was literally no reason that she could come up with other than an internal belief she had created that she just couldn't run. That was a self-imposed limit. There was no physical or logical reason that could explain why she couldn't run. Once she realized that this was simply a false belief that she had rather than a reality, she challenged herself. She began on day one with a very short jog. That short jog ultimately progressed to a half-marathon (13 miles).

Can you think of situations in your own life where you place limits on yourself?

How do we make sure that we don't allow our own internal fears about our abilities or worthiness dictate our lives and stop us from growing? How do we overcome these self-imposed limits and break through the barriers to achieve personal and professional growth?

3 Ways to Break Through Your Self-Imposed Limits

1. Choose Your Challenge

You might think believing that you actually can do something would be the first step to overcoming your self-imposed limits. However, I think belief actually comes after you've made the commitment and once you've started working toward the challenge.

Make the decision to tackle a challenge that scares you, and get it on your calendar.

The challenge you choose can be physical, emotional, spiritual, or it can be based on a work or art project as well. It really doesn't matter. Just make it something that you have stayed away from due to fear or self-imposed limits!

Ask yourself what's the worst that can happen if you take on this challenge? Chances are, you're not going to die :). Dig deep to figure out what your real fear is about conquering the challenge. This exercise will reveal the truth about your fear, if you're completely honest with yourself.

Having trouble coming up with a challenge to take on?

I love how Steven Pressfield, author of  The War of Art says “the more afraid you are of something, the more resistance you will feel…and by the way, that's the direction you should be going in”. Wow. Quite powerful isn't it?

What scares the heck out of you? Go there. That's your challenge.

I was reminded of this lesson recently on a walking/hiking trip with Backroads through Provence and Costa Brava, Spain. What was special about this trip was that we took my 70 year old mother along (see the image in this post!).

Each day of the trip involved anywhere from 5-8 miles of combined walking and hiking through small villages and ultimately along the coast of Northern Spain. It was challenging, breathtaking, and life-changing…especially for my Mom. She's a fairly active person in that she plays a lot of golf, but she has never logged significant walking or hiking distances like we did on this trip. Internally she definitely had some fears about the physical demands of the trip, but she didn't dwell on that fear. Instead, she made the commitment to the challenge and began the work toward conquering it.

Focus on the challenge, don't dwell on your fear. (tweet this!)

2. Prepare for Your Challenge

It would be foolish to commit to a challenge and not prepare yourself for it. The less you prepare the more pain you are going to feel, and that perpetuates fear.

Preparation fosters confidence. Most likely you will find that much of your fear will dissipate the more you prepare for your challenge.

Prior to our Backroads trip, I went shopping with my Mom to help her buy the right shoes. From her house, she mapped out about a 3 mile walking route. She didn't start her training with 3 miles, but she eventually built up to that distance and beyond prior to our trip. She started small and committed to training for the challenge at least 3 days a week to get ready for the actual event.

Even though the trip was much more grueling than what she had anticipated, she was confident about tackling the challenge prior to it taking place. During the 6 days of walking and hiking through Provence and Spain, she was able to keep up with the group and did extremely well. The sense of accomplishment that the experience instilled in her was something she'll never forget. It was literally life-changing!

Although you can thoroughly prepare for any challenge, chances are it won't go exactly the way you imagined. You will likely hit some unexpected obstacles. Preparing to the best of your ability in advance of your challenge will ensure that you are ready for any obstacles, planned or unplanned.

Preparation is critical. It will give you the confidence you need to break through when you are face-to-face with your challenge.

3. Enlist Support for Your Challenge

Enlisting support not only helps to stay you on track toward your challenge, but it makes the process more enjoyable.

Whether you enter into a new challenge with others or go it alone, it's a great idea to enlist support. Find a coach or accountability partner, get your own spouse or partner involved, or even find a support group through social media. An important part of following through with the challenge you've committed to is making sure you have people around you to share your experiences with along the way.

If you try to go it alone without any support, it's much easier to create and succumb to those old self-imposed limits!

Final Thoughts

Witnessing my own Mom go through the series of steps in this post motivated me to start challenging myself more. I'm excited to uncover challenges that can help me break through my own limitations.

Breaking through self-imposed limits begins with defining what scares you the most, and deliberately choosing a challenge that addresses your fears. Remember, there is no one and nothing holding you back but yourself!

Without choosing and accomplishing new challenges, there can be no personal or professional growth.

What will your next challenge be?