You’ve heard the adage “Be careful what you ask for.” I have another one for you to consider: “Argue for your limitations and you keep them.”

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Are limitations a reality or a mindset? I’m going to explore that here.

Periodically I watch passionate arguments about why certain groups of people can’t do what other, more fortunate groups can do. The most memorable for me was a Facebook “conversation” that was instigated by someone posting 7 things successful people do. First, the definition of success was stated to be “the sum of small efforts repeated day in and day out”.

The seven things included starting the day with exercise of some sort, reading for 30–60 minutes each day, planning the day before taking on the first task, completing the most important tasks before starting the less important tasks, taking full responsibility for their life and business, taking risks, and practicing gratitude.

The person who posted this list was evidently intending for it to be an inspiring, uplifting post. Someone took exception and “roared down the poster’s throat”, objecting to their superiority and naivety. The responder explained that not everyone has the luxury of living that way. And that’s where it got interesting. The poster claimed that anyone could take those action items on — if they set their mind to it. The responder insisted that people raised in poverty couldn’t change. The conversation went back and forth, getting more heated by the responder with each round. When the poster pointed out that the responder had risen above poverty and made a successful life for themselves, the responder said that was unusual and essentially nobody else could do that.

Huh.

I was stunned by the argument for limitations. It was a poignant enough conversation that it’s stuck in my mind for many years. I pull it out as a conversation “booster” when I’m with new people. I continue to find it interesting to see that people who grew up with scarcity argue that scarcity is just the way it is for some groups of people — and that they are the exception.

Ok, I’m a privileged white woman who grew up in middle-class America. I’m naive and optimistic. I still don’t understand why the status quo can’t be broken out of once the idea is planted. Let me rephrase that: I understand it takes more than an idea to spark people into action and I recognize that as the real problem — sparking people into action. What I don’t understand is why limitations and continued scarcity are so vehemently argued for.

Here’s another one for you. I see people arguing for limitations in more athletic endeavors, such as walking the Camino de Santiago — though that’s just one of many athletic endeavors people fight. People say to me that they’d love to walk the Camino sometime but they couldn’t possibly walk that far.

Really? I see it as an issue of where there’s a will there’s a way. When a paraplegic man manages to complete 500-mile the French Way of the Camino de Santiago (see my article “I’ll Push You” to better understand that story), I know anyone can if they desire it. Maybe the more honest response on the part of the people arguing they couldn’t possibly do that is they don’t really want to. What they really seem to be saying is that it sounds like an interesting experience they’ll read about. That’s cool. I respect not being interesting in tackling some big project like walking 500 miles across Spain. That leaves more space for those who are interested.

But they don’t just decide for themselves: they argue that it’s ok for others to limit themselves, too. When you want something, it seems to me you’ll find a way. “One step at a time” will enable progress toward that goal. Just because you haven’t done it before, or nobody “in your village” has done it before, doesn’t mean it can’t be done — as tens of thousands of people from children to women in their 90s prove every year.

Have you stopped to think about the limitations you lock yourself into? Sometimes you argue with great passion for a limitation. Then you either wonder why things can’t be different, or you complain about the lousy hand you’ve been dealt.

If you want your lot in life to be different — to be better — shift your mindset. Decide you can have, and deserve to have, that better hand dealt to you. Or to make the most of the hand you have and start working toward something better.

Life isn’t always easy. With the right mindset, though, you can overcome limitations placed on you. With the right mindset, you can lift the limitations you place on yourself. With the right mindset, you can break through the limitations in your life.

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