The limitations we put on ourselves
In a series of unfortunate events-mostly my fault- I forgot my earphones and had to go to the gym without any audible protection. Terrible gym music is one thing, but listening to conversations is downright dreadful. One conversation caught my attention; a woman complained to her friend that she doesn’t want to lift weights because only men lift weights. She was adamant that lifting weights would turn her into a “muscular, sweaty, and hairy beast”. She would soon excuse herself to the cardio room and walk on a treadmill for an hour. I didn’t count but time seems to extend itself on a treadmill, or during planks.
The more I thought about what happened, the more I asked myself why did she think that way. What had to happen to lead her to the conclusion of building muscle was bad? Most importantly, why and when did she put such mental parameters on herself? There are lots of examples of women getting fit through the usage of weights. They’re not the bestial transformation of her imagination.
The realization of limitations is not only for others to enforce upon us-it’s most often ourselves.
Power of belief
Just as powerful as the feeling you get when someone believes in you, it’s the same as when someone doesn’t believe in you. 1 I often think about the times I was ridiculed and mocked for saying my goals in life. The “guarantees” of someone older telling a younger child was impactful, and sure enough, I believed them and stopped. It only became permanent when I convinced myself that they were right. Sure having the wrong people around you scrutinizing and criticizing starts the cycle, but it’s you, the gatekeeper, that decides if it’s true. When you’re inexperienced or in a position of little power, anyone above you seems like the harbinger of truth.
There are cases where observation becomes your conviction. If you only see men lifting weights and getting big, then your observation becomes skewed into your reality. Your perception becomes your new reality. Once stuck in this loop, it’s hard to escape this cycle. For one, if you do, you’re admitting that you’re wrong and that’s hard for a lot of people. It’s easier to tell yourself that you’re right as it spares the ego of a beating.
Both of these pitfalls can be avoided when you have skin in the game or actual experience in the topic or field. First, you ask if the person giving the advice has any skin in the game, and if it’s not applicable, you have to put in some work. Even if that person has the experience, it’s best to test it ourselves. This is an unpopular choice because it requires time and effort. but to see if something is true, we need to go through this tedious process. This will give us insight into someone that has succeeded in our field and provide perspective on if their opinion is worth listening to or following. Even then, I recommend testing if it’s true or not.
I remembered starting off my investing portfolio years ago and my mom telling me that it was risky and that I shouldn’t do it. I listened and lost a lot of money. Looking back now, I was listening to someone that didn’t know what investing was or the intricacies of building and developing a portfolio. She was based on information she heard through a friend or the news. Oddly enough, I learned a lot from losing money and that mistake forced me to research investing principles that still hold true today.
Who is in control?
Unfortunately, the forces, environment, or people around us do dictate how we think and make decisions. Whether good or bad, we can’t help but feel the pressure of those factors. One thing we must remember is that the decision-maker is us. Although excuses might be made that we were influenced, let’s not forget that it is us that ultimately chooses to do it or not. The challenge is to resist the magnetic pull of the “crowd” and step back for a bit to see the bigger picture. The use of detachment from the scenario can often provide you with the best solution. The old saying of “you can’t the forest if you only focus on the tree” holds true here.
Any time someone or something forces you to make an immediate decision, it most likely will be a terrible choice-through limitation of time and choice. We must develop a system of what to do when we are put in this position. I recommend a literal step back or a set of questions to ask yourself. I often use both when confronted with decisions I have to make urgently.
Customer service is often one of the most frustrating things anyone has to deal with. The customer wants the problem to be solved immediately while you have to go put out other “fires”. When angry customers came into my workplace and demanded their problem be fixed now. We were short-staffed and I knew if we didn’t get this under control, things would spiral out of control 2. First, I took a literal step back to see the whole picture. I saw that I had my co-workers were dealing with a few customers, a line of customers waiting in line, and a bunch of angry people yelling at me while the phone line was ringing constantly. I also asked myself a few questions: 1. What’s the most important thing I need to address right now? 2. What’s the order of importance of things to do? 3. How do I communicate this with my team so we can solve the more dire problems? 3
I addressed the yelling customers first-they were disrupting the store flow and this fire needed to be doused as soon as possible. I assured other customers that I will be with them shortly. I did this to let them know that I knew they mattered too and I’m aware of their problems or concerns. The last thing we’d want is to let customers know we forgot about them. I went back to the yelling customers and made sure to listen to their points and sympathize with them. Turns out, they just had a bad experience prior and felt bad for yelling at me. I thanked them for their patience and fixed their problem. It was crucial that it was a rewarding experience for them since I knew other customers were watching too. If I handled it well, it’s a win-win situation for both the angry customers and the ones waiting in line. They would feel assured that I had the situation under control. The next step was to organize my team to control the flow of the store and get things moving. I assigned one person to handle the phones, one for inquiries, and one other person to assist anyone waiting in line. I would bounce around assist each section when it seemed the team member was getting overwhelmed. I did this by taking a literal step back to observe the whole room and going through my list of questions again.
The key thing to remember is if you’re not in control, the factors or forces around you will. It will feel like you’re in a washing machine-tossed everywhere and holding on for dear life.
Create your system
If you don’t have any system, that’s precisely what you’ll fall back on nothing. Whether it’s mental barriers or advice from someone with no skin in the game, you’ll have to be the one to sort out what’s true and what’s fluff. Know that it’ll be your own personal experiences or failures that’ll lead to parameters set up to stop you. If you decide to address those limitations, know that you’ll have to continuously address them until you’ve convinced yourself that it’s not a limitation any more. Often, it’s having to put in the work and time to do so. It’ll be hard, but once you’ve walked through that door, it’ll be easier to walk through a similar one.
It will take conscious effort in the beginning and eventually you’ll be using your system every time without thinking. It’s imperative to continue to refine our system and stress test it. We should have different questions for different situations. The more you know, the less likely you’ll be taken by surprise 4. Continue to iterate and remove those limitations.