The mind is primary. The mind drags the body — struggling behind it — rarely the opposite. When spirit increases, improved physical performance is a consequence. As performance improves, spirit soars, confidence evolves and character develops.”Gym Jones
The mind is primary is a central mantra of Gym Jones, a facility founded by Mark Twight, who spent the early part of his career conquering some of the most treacherous and deadly mountain peaks on earth, oftentimes alone.
It was later made popular for forging the Spartan warrior bodies of the actors in Frank Miller’s 300 films and for building the superhero body of Henry Clavill for the role of Clark Superman: Man Of Steel.
The Gym Jones project was meant as a way to break physical and psychological barriers. It was a place that had an expectation that the lessons learned will be applied to something higher than vanity and expressed outside of the narrow confines of physical appearance.
When you see something incredible done in the world it is because of determination and psychological willingness. Once a person’s mind is strong, it is easy to facilitate a change in the body.
Last month we saw two feats of incredible human endeavour:
Kenyan marathoner Eliud Kipchoge, Olympic gold medalist and world-record holder put his beliefs to the test on October 12 in Vienna, when he attempted to become the first human in history to run 26.2 miles in under two hours. Kipchoge accomplished this breathtaking feat with relative ease, finishing the test in 1 hour, 59 minutes and 40 seconds. As he approached the finish line, Kipchoge pointed to the crowd before breaking a barrier many had considered impossible.
Personally, I don’t believe in limits.”Eliud Kipchoge
17 days later on October 29 Nirmal “Nims” Purja reached the summit of Shishapangma in Tibet thus completing his ‘Project Possible‘ mission.
There are only 14 mountains on earth higher than 8,000m – the ‘death zone’ – and they are all located in the Himalayas. 14/7 Project Possible was the extraordinary achievement by Nims to climb all 14 peaks in under 7 months. The previous world record for one individual climbing all 14 peaks is 7 years, 11 months and 14 days.
I’m here to establish a paradigm shift in perception of human potential.This project is for everybody.”Nirmal “Nims” Purja
Characters like Eliud and Nim’s form the 1% of humans who break through the barriers of what we believe is possible.
However, for most of us it’s not the limits collectively thought to be impossible by humanity that stop us. It is the ones we place on ourselves.
The single greatest area where most people struggle is in overcoming their self-imposed limitations. Self-imposed limitations are shackles that hold us down and prevent us from achieving our potential. When you set a limit, it constricts what is achievable.
I witnessed this myself throughout my military career. During recruit training for the Royal Marines and on selection for Special Forces. The physical work is achievable for most who turn up but many still fail (most in the case of selection).
When you arrive on day of UKSF selection the opening brief is held in the canteen. 200 plus hopeful candidates all wondering who will be part of the 15 who on average make it to the end.
Success is 90% mental and I witnessed many strong guys disappear by the end of week 1 whilst physically weaker guys go on and triumph.
As it is in the military, in sports, in life, it is the psychological aspects that create the hurdles most people fail at. And whether we realise it or not we all impose limits on ourselves. These form through various factors – experiences, attitude, our peer group, fear of failure – and prevent us from realising our true potential.
These limits are arbitrary standards we never evolve beyond, even when we are fully capable. But if you stop limiting yourself, big transformations will start happening in every area of your life.
Exploration of Effort
Last week a member of our Coaching Academy made an interesting observation…
“I’ve been in the gym a lot more than normal as it’s half term…..One properly interesting thing (only to me no doubt) is something I noticed in the wattbike classes which I’ve been doing. There are 12 wattbikes and they all come up on the screen at the front of the class in a leaderboard p/kg to give proportionate power and absolute power.
Anyway – one of them is broken, calibration is shot to pieces. I was on it 10 days ago. It’s reading 90w higher than it should be in absolute terms. That is a lot. That’s me on the women’s team to the Olympics if it was right. I had an absolute blast on it and worked like a demon to record a ridiculous result that would be instagrammed instantly and averaged a shocking power over 60 mins.
Since then I’ve avoided it, but I have been watching people on it in classes and the crazy thing is that they seem to work less hard than usual. Because the power output is reading 90w higher it means they can achieve their usual power output but with less effort.
So they must assume they are having a good day and stick to the threshold they are used to getting on the normal bikes. It’s really interesting and it got me thinking that we must all do that, just stick to our expectation or perceived limitation.”
Because they believed they were at their usual ‘limit’ they made no effort to push past it, even though they clearly had more capacity.
Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.”Henry Ford
When we decide something to be true, we end up anchoring our performance around that belief.
But, as Rob Macdonald (Gym Jones Instructor) describes, this is often an illusion which can be shattered with the right approach…
At a recent seminar of ours we had the participants test their deadlift 1RM. One of the members of the group mentioned how he had never been able to deadlift 405lbs. Looking at the gentleman I was shocked that he was not able to lift more than that. He was a large, fit, capable, person. I decided to employ a strategy with him that we have used at Gym Jones in the past with others.
Rather than place the standard 45lb plates on the bar I placed a “random” assortment of ten, fifteen, 25, and 35lb plates on the bar so he lost track of the weight being used. When we got to 405lbs he lifted it with relative ease. I then had him try that same weight using the standard configuration of four 45lb plates per side. Using that bar he failed the lift. It was almost as if it was glued to the ground. There was something about that visual image of four plates per side that was holding him back. There was some limitation he had set for himself associated with that weight.
These illusions we create for ourselves are narratives that run through every aspect of our lives. We are creatures of habit. Change is hard, but necessary when it comes to fulfilling our own individual potential.
You can’t lift the same weight you’ve always lifted. You can’t go at the same speed on your run if you want to go faster. Your body adapts to weight. Your body adapts to the same speed. It no longer has a positive effect on your overall fitness. You are stagnant.
And life is no different. To break barriers we have to move out of our comfort zone and make changes.
Where To Go From Here
In reality self-imposed limitations are tied to our own self image. And the lower the self image, the lower the expectations we have for ourselves.
Until that self image improves, until we believe we will be successful or are capable of more, then we will continually underperform no matter what we try.
We can make excuses for a lack of success: Lack of time, lack of money, lack of resources or anything else to explain our current position. But we only do this to justify the box we’ve constructed for ourself.
The simple reality is these people will always be stuck in place until we adjust our expectations and break free of self-imposed limitations.
The question is – how do you get rid of your limits? It certainly isn’t easy, but here are 5 strategies that can help:
1. Aim Higher
The first strategy is to change your standards. Inevitably this means changing to whom you compare yourself.
Instead of using examples from those around you when determining what standards are good, look to people who are actually good at what they do.
For example, if the best runner in your local running group can do a four-hour marathon and everyone in your group has established him as the “runner,” then a standard will be established (whether you realise it or not).
So why not look elsewhere for guidance and inspiration in coming up with your standard? Take the Boston Marathon. Over 20,000 people qualify each year. Why can’t you be one of them? 20,000 is a large number. Understand that if so many people can qualify, then it certainly is possible for you to qualify as well.
Set your standards higher than your local peer group. Aim higher.
2. Adjust Your Peer Group
Building on the first strategy, surround yourself with people who are better than you. Surround yourself with people who work harder and have more dedication. Surround yourself with people who inspire you.
If you are always surrounded by those you are the same as or better than, there will be no motivation to improve and you’ll quickly plateau. You’ll set lower goals for yourself and you’ll find yourself limited.
This doesn’t mean you need to ditch your entire social network! Instead join a community or club that will challenge you, motivate you, and help push you to become better. You’ll be focused more on keeping up with the group and less on your own limitations.
You become what you do. More importantly, you become who you hang around. So choose your peers and influences wisely.
3. Get A Coach
In the story above about the guy who broke his 405lb deadlift the caveat is that it is hard to trick yourself. This is where having a trusted coach and the right environment can take you past the edge of where you thought your abilities lay.
Accurate self-knowledge precedes behavioral change. But honest, thorough self-assessment isn’t easy, and so a coach can facilitate self-discovery by exposing physiological and psychological characteristics. A good coach, whether for mindset, business, life, or a fitness, will use their power to elevate you to new levels of success.
4. Fail More
Getting out of your comfort zone and taking on new challenges inevitably means you will fail.
In an ideal world the attitude to failure is that it’s an absolutely integral and central part of any worthwhile endeavour and of breaking performance barriers in any area of life. It should be relished as a psychological tool to motivate, a practical source of essential feedback and even the motivation that makes eventual success feel so good when it finally comes.
Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world and instead it has become the norm that failure is bad.
However, temporary failure is an essential part of improvement and of long term success. And if you really want to improve in something you have to actively seek out those situations that really expose you to your weakest, most amateur limitations.
None of us are perfect, we all make mistakes and we all fall down. Through failure we can identify errors, receive reminders about them and eventually overcome them.
5. Start With The Mind
If the mind is primary then it makes sense to begin your journey there.
If you concentrate on the mental aspect it is inevitable that the physical side will follow.”Herb Elliot, Gold Medalist. 1500m, Rome Olympics, 1960
The things we do and the limits we set ourselves occur because the subconscious mind is in control, not the conscious mind. The proof of this can be seen in how often we do things that we know will disappoint ourselves and yet we still do them.
As Tom Foxley (TNE’s mindset coach) puts it:
“We think we are the president in our heads viewing situations objectively making decisions. BUT we are the press secretary justifying and making excuses for the president’s actions.”
Nearly every decision we make is emotion based and then justified by our logical brain to ensure it fits with the narrative of the world as we perceive it.
To change our success as an athlete/person/employee/spouse etc. we need to change our behavior. To change our behaviour we need to change what dictates it; our thoughts and emotions. And our thoughts and emotions are created from our beliefs about the world. The narratives we construct through our experiences since birth.
Your first task to help break self-imposed limitations should be to improve your president’s decision making abilities.
Your 4 Minute Mile
Until May 6, 1954, no human had ever run a mile in under 4 minutes. It had become as much a psychological barrier as a physical one. That is until Roger Bannister burst through that barrier with a time of three minutes, fifty-nine and four-tenths of a second.
The experts believed they knew the precise conditions under which the mark would fall. It would have to be in perfect weather – 68 degrees and no wind, and on a particular kind of track – hard, dry clay. But, Bannister did it on a cold day, on a wet track, at a small meet in Oxford, England.
Just 46 days Bannister’s feat, John Landy, an Australian runner, not only broke the barrier again, with a time of 3 minutes 58 seconds. Then, just a year later, three runners broke the four-minute barrier in a single race. Over the last half century, more than a thousand runners have conquered a barrier that had once been considered hopelessly out of reach.
How is it that so many runners smashed the four-minute barrier after Bannister became the first to do it? Was there a sudden growth spurt in human evolution? No. What changed was the mental model.
The runners of the past had been held back by a mindset that said they could not surpass the four-minute mile. When that limit was broken, the others saw that they could do something they had previously thought impossible.
We all have our own 4 minute miles in many areas of our lives.
And these self-imposed limitations are perhaps what are truly holding you back – not actual limitations.
Regardless of how you overcome these, the key is to remember that doing so is an essential part of the process of improvement.
The Silent Assassin
Stress has become the silent assassin wearing us down day by day without us even realising it: Weakening our immune system, affecting digestive health, destroying sex drive, causing aches and pains and making us tired, unhealthy and unhappy.
When you feel under pressure, overwhelmed, unfocused and low on energy it's really easy to convince yourself that this is just how life is, how everybody is.
But that simply is not true.
Watch this replay of a live chat I ran on stress to discover:
- The battle I had with stress after leaving the military.
- The strategies I used to overcome it.
- What the Limitless 30/30 Challenge is.