A few years ago, I was very overweight. The peak of my weight was in 2011 when I went to the doctor's office and was shocked to step on the scale and see that I had ballooned to 298 pounds (135 kilograms). Seeing how heavy I had become shook me into action, and I decided to do something to take off the weight.
I began doing a workout called DDP Yoga since the system was created by a former pro wrestler named Diamond Dallas Page and I'm a huge pro wrestling fan. My girlfriend (now my wife) taught me a few basic yoga poses, and it felt good, so I gave the DDP Yoga program a go. I started to feel great with these workouts, and since I could do them at home, it was the only fitness routine that had me stick with it on a regular basis.
Of course, when starting anything new, it's tough. One of the positions I was specifically having troubles with was the three-second pushup. It's like a standard pushup, but with a twist - when you lower your body, you do it slowly for a count of three, hold your body without touching the ground for another count of three, then slowly push up to the original position for the last count of three.
As someone who couldn't even do a regular pushup, this was pure torture for me. Whenever I knew this position was coming up, I was already feeling dread overcome my entire body. But I managed just enough strength to do the pushups in the early workouts, even if sometimes I had to put my knees on the ground for support.
Just when you think you're done, you're only just beginning
As the weeks went by, I started to notice that the three-second pushups were getting easier. I started to dislike them less. I felt good about them. It built up my confidence, and I began doing some of the more advanced DDP Yoga workouts in the system. I eventually worked my way to one of the most difficult workouts, called the Diamond Cutter workout.
The workout was similar to previous ones in the system, with the exception that this one was nearly twice as long as the beginner sessions. The first time I did this workout, I thought there was no problem, hitting my three-second pushups with little difficulty. Less than 15 minutes remained, and I felt that it wasn't all that bad - until Diamond Dallas Page called out a five-second pushup.
Doubts immediately flooded my brain. "Whoa, I've only done these three-second pushups, and now I have to do a five-second one, and after I've been working hard for 45 minutes?" I considered stopping, but thankfully I didn't let it deter me. I got on the floor, into the starting pushup position, and proceeded to do the five-second pushup. My arms were shaking, and my heart felt like it was going to pump out of my chest, but I did it. A few minutes later and another five-second pushup done, I was feeling exhausted but happy that it was done and over.
Less than 5 minutes later, Diamond Dallas Page got down to the floor and simply said "Now it's the for the ten-second pushup."
I yelled "WHAT? ARE YOU SERIOUS? I BARELY DID THE FIVE-SECOND ONES!" at my TV screen. I might have used some saltier language here, but I'll spare those details. I'm also pretty sure I said some nasty things about Diamond Dallas Page in a matter of seconds. DDP, if you ever read this, I'm so sorry for all the horrible words I might have mentioned during this time of doubt and uncertainty.
I could have just as quickly said "forget this" and turn it off, never to do DDP Yoga ever again. But since it was towards the end of the workout and I was already 50 minutes in, I kept at it. I got on the ground in the pushup position, waiting for the moment my arms gave out, and I fell into a sweaty, crumpled, broken heap on the yoga mat.
30 seconds had passed - I did the pushup.
Just a brief moment can change your mind forever
I vividly remember when I completed the pushup. I felt unstoppable like there was nothing on this planet that could prevent me from doing absolutely anything in the world. It was a fantastic feeling.
After I came down from that exhilaration, I started to think why I was confident that I was unable to do that pushup. It's not like I had tried doing the pushup before and failed. There was no indication or prior experience that told me that I couldn't do it. I realized I had placed this thought all by myself.
These are what limiting beliefs are. We think that we are not capable of doing something, to the point where we believe it. What makes limiting beliefs a severe threat to our personal growth is that it prevents us from even trying something in the first place. Have you ever heard of someone accomplishing something and you immediately thought "Well, they did it, but I could never do that."? That is a limiting belief in action. We put them in our minds, and we limit ourselves artificially.
When I came to this realization, I began to experiment a bit with other areas of my life. One opportunity arrived when I was working on a personal project on my own. As a software engineer, I mostly work on the backend code that powers the software behind the scenes, typically not on how it looks.
For this project, there was a point in the project where I needed to have some images edited for use in the application. My limiting belief had always been that I was incapable of doing any graphical design work since that was never my role. My first instinct was to have someone else handle that task, which is what I typically did when a similar situation came up. But since I was working on my own, I couldn't have a co-worker help out. And because this was such a small project, I didn't want to pay anyone for it.
Remembering the ten-second pushup, I decided to try doing the image editing myself. I opened up Photoshop, and with the help of a website tutorial explaining some of the tools I could use to accomplish the task, I managed to do a decent job with the images I needed in about an hour.
Since this isn't my area of expertise and something I haven't done much of in the past, it wasn't perfect. Someone who's more knowledgeable about Photoshop could have done the same task in under ten minutes and have a much more polished result than I did. But that doesn't matter to me. What mattered is that I completely shattered my limiting belief around being incapable of doing any graphic design work. It motivated me to the point where I'm now actively taking courses and reading material around graphic design so I can improve. Before, my limiting belief would have prevented me from taking those steps.
Don't let you stop yourself
The next time you feel like you can't do something that you would be interested in doing, don't discard the thought immediately. Instead, think of one thing you can do towards that goal and try doing it. There are some common limiting beliefs and how you can shatter them:
- I have no time: If you think you can't do something because you have no time, sit down and find blocks of time you can give up. For example, if you watch too much TV or Netflix every day, or spend hours at a local bar, consider cutting time on those activities. You'll be surprised at how much free time you can come up with.
- I don't have the money or the skills: By focusing on what you don't have, you're giving yourself permission to stay stuck. Instead, focus on what you have right now, and figure out a way to use that to build towards a solution to gain money or skills to move ahead. We're all resilient humans and if something is important to us, we'll find a way.
- I'm too old: I find it incredible that there are tons of people who would love to go back to school or get fit, yet don't do it because they think their time has passed. Unless you want to do something like play professionally in the NBA or NFL or enlist in the military, age should never play a factor in pursuing what you want to do. You can do anything at any age if you work at it.
- I don't know where to start: I've gotten held back by this a lot. Usually, perfectionism is the main culprit - we feel like we need to pick the right path from the beginning or else we'll fail. The best solution here is prevent getting paralyzed and pick one thing you can start doing as soon as possible. Even if it's not the ideal path, you'll have a better idea of where to go and build from there.
If you notice, there's an emerging pattern that will help you overcome each of these issues. You'll need to spend some time just asking yourself the simple question: what can I do? If you ask yourself that question at any time honestly, it will be enough to shake you loose from the handcuffs in your head. You'll be surprised at how much you can achieve.
Tips for your Practical Good
If you feel like there's something that's not going as well as you think it could be, it might be all in your head. Follow these quick tips to break free from your mental barriers.
- What's one thing that you're doing now that you think you're doing your best on, or you can to try but think you can't do it? We all have something that we feel we can't do. It can be something we already do. For example, you might already go to the gym but think you can't bench press more than what you do right now. But it can also be something that we've never tried before, like wanting to learn how to build iPhone apps.
- Find one thing you can do beyond your current limit and try it. Go a little further than you've been before. For example, try to add 10 pounds the next time you do your bench press, or do the first chapter of an online tutorial for building iPhone apps.
- Measure your results. This step is often ignored, but it's essential to gauge how you did with your new challenge. If you were able to handle the added test, great! Make that your new baseline. If you failed or struggle, don't worry! You can adjust what went wrong and try doing it again. You'll always have more opportunities to improve.