You might be sitting in the office right now, or at home on the couch. Maybe you had to wake up early today as you do everyday in order to get to work, or maybe you just came back from a gruelling day of classes.
You turn on the TV or the internet and spend the rest of the evening watching some series or browsing the net. At one point your mind starts to wander and you start thinking, looking back at your day, your week, your month, the past year.
Suddenly you come to the realization that you have been doing the same thing every day, day after day. Wake up, go to work or school, come back and sit around. Maybe you are one of the more active ones and fit in the gym as well. Maybe even you are even one of those diligent people who seem to be on top of things.
However have you really challenged yourself? Have you really tried to go above and beyond your limits, to do something memorable and really put yourself to the test?
Most people haven’t. Many people are actually comfortable living their never-changing hum drum lives. Others realize that something is missing, but they are too scared to change it up, to go beyond their comfort zone.
Life doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, life shouldn’t be this way.
Break through your mental boundaries
People are often hedged in by boundaries, most of which are mental barriers that they themselves create. They then justify this by using BS excuses: no time, no money, no talent… doing that would be impossible…
Impossible is just a state of mind. Many things that people think are impossible are in fact possible. The only thing that you need to do in order to achieve them is put in a little bit (well, sometimes a lot) of effort.
Think about the things that you think are impossible for you to do, things that you think you would never be able to achieve.
Now take a closer look at that thing… Is it really so impossible as your mind makes it out to be? Probably not. If some human has achieved it, then you can too. It’s just about extending your own limits, going above and beyond the little box that you created for yourself.
Even if something has not been done before, that does not mean it cannot be done. History is full of first times, when someone decided that something impossible can be done and did it.
How do you do something that you previously thought to be impossible for you?
What is something that you always really wanted to do and thought that you could never do, whether because you thought it was too hard or you were too scared? Visualize it. Why do you think it is impossible to do? Has someone else done it?
I bet that if you think about it a bit, you will realize that the things you think are impossible aren’t that impossible after all. Some things will require a lot of intense preparation, while some things are as easy as booking a flight. However they all require determination and actually taking action.
Last week I came back from a trip to Tanzania to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. A year ago, I would have thought this feat impossible. Yet now after having done it, I have memories to last a lifetime and a feeling of accomplishment which is priceless.
It is amazing how much you can do if you put your mind to it. The key to my conquering of Mt. Kilimanjaro was the fact that I had been working on my mental toughness. Mental toughness, resilience and resolve are the keys to overcoming impossible challenges. Things that I would have thought impossible only recently are now quite possible.
Change your mindset
I used to be a quitter. I would quit whenever the going got tough.
A breakthrough in mindset came to me after watching movies and documentaries on the training of MMA fighters and also the grueling selection process that potential special forces recruits have to go through. It had been my dream to be a pro fighter or join the special forces. I had never actually set out to do this for real, but I often imagine what would it be like had I decided to go on that path.
However I thought to myself, would I be able to do this with my quitter mentality? No, I would not. From that point I decided not to be a quitter anymore. Whenever the going gets tough, I think about what a Navy SEAL would do. I imagine myself in their place. This gives me the mental strength not to quit at the first signs of pain, but to push on through.
This type of little visualization exercise has tremendous positive effects on my resolve and my ability to finish things. It gives me the motivation of proving to myself that I can achieve what I set out to achieve.
It was behind me gritting my teeth and pushing through when I felt like I had nothing left in one of my initial training hikes and it also helped me persevere on the final leg of the ascent to the peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro, at night in the freezing cold, in altitudes above 5 000 meters and when I was getting dizzy and my head was spinning. I made it to the top.
In times of severe exhaustion and pain, when your body is telling you to quit, your mind often gets filled with negative self-talk. This negative self-talk then overwhelms you and you stop.
This is a crucial moment that you need to handle. Don’t let this happen. Visualize success to help push yourself through. Imagine how you will feel after you have finished the task. Pain is temporary, glory is forever.
Use those visualizations to turn all that negative self-talk into positive self-talk. Let your mind focus on success.
Many times when you feel like you have nothing left, when your body seems to be on the verge of collapse, you are capable of performing incredible feats. Mind over matter is a powerful principle that allows you to do this. Not giving up in the face of adversity and pain can lead you to accomplish great things.
Your mind can alter your perceptions of pain. Research shows that “the perception of pain is sensitive to various mental processes such as the feelings and beliefs that someone has about pain.”
If you believe you are hurting then you really are hurting. If you believe you are not hurting, then your mind will alter its state. Your mind even has the ability to act on individual mental neurons. You can choose what to focus on and what to discard.
You can practice how to do this and thereby increase your resilience. Willpower is a key component of resilience and just like you can train your willpower, you can train your resilience in order to be able to persevere in the face of adversity longer.
Tim Noakes, author of the book “Lore of Running”, believes that this is a basic prerequisite to becoming competitive in any type of activity:
“If you want to be competitive, you have to learn how to deal with the discomfort. A lot of the heavy, good physical training is about training the brain to cope with discomfort.”
There are different types of exercises that you can do. One example of this type of training is called Mindfulness-Based Mind Fitness Training, which was developed for the US military. The basis of this type of training is learning how to focus on the different sensations that your body gives out.
There are several exercises involved in this and they teach how to be nonjudgmental to feelings that you are feeling in the given moment. Psychiatrist at the University of California- San Diego, Martin Paulus, has a theory on this:
“By monitoring your feelings without judgment you achieve detachment from them, which allows you to soldier through difficult moments without letting discomfort disrupt your focus.“
The fact that we can will ourselves through states of extreme hurt, is because of the role that pain is designed to play in the body. Pain is a mechanism that your body uses to tell you that there is a potential for you to hurt yourself and that you should stop what you are doing in order for this not to happen.
It is sort of like a warning light in your car which flashes when you are about to run out of gas. If the light comes on, that doesn’t mean that you will run out of gas at that exact moment, but in a certain while.
Your body is the same way. The fact that you are hurting doesn’t mean that you will break down at that exact moment. This means that when you start hurting, you still have a hidden reserve left. It is exactly this hidden reserve that you are accessing when you tell your mind to persevere and push through.
You can probably go back to memories of moments when you felt like you had nothing left, but pushed yourself through and suddenly got a gush of “second wind” and managed to finish up the race or whatever other physically-challenging activity you were doing.
So you see, you have already willed yourself through moments of pain and instead of giving up, went on to achieve your goal. You have something to build on.
You need to learn how to go beyond your comfort zone on a regular basis, how to handle pain and not let it stop you. This is the basis behind being able to do the impossible. This type of mental toughness is what divides success from failure. Once you know how to do this, all doors are open to you and you can achieve anything that you set out your mind to.
However you cannot forget that things won’t come free to you, but will require a lot of hard work.
You also need to realize that not all challenges are the same. There are significant differences, even between things that seem very similar.
Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro requires good stamina, a few months of preparation, some previous acclimatization and a whole lot of mental toughness. Climbing Mt. Everest is a whole different animal, requiring years of preparation and deliberate practice to get many different skills and a whole different level of acclimatization.
There is a huge difference between climbing the highest mountain of Africa and the highest mountain of Asia. Never underestimate the effort it takes to get to the top.
Everything in life that is worth something requires hard work to achieve it. However many things seem impossible to people, when in fact they are not. Sure, you might have to extend a lot of effort to do it, but it can be done.
It is about pushing through your mental boundaries and going beyond your former comfort zone. If you believe it, then you can achieve it.
“Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.” – Muhammad Ali
Now go out and do the impossible!
What is willpower and how you can train it
Having intrinsic motivation can help you push through boundaries: Intrinsic motivation and life