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Social, physical, mental: Who really sets your limits?

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We’re all guilty of blaming our “limits” for preventing us from achieving our goals. For allowing boundaries to hold us back and make us feel trapped. Now it’s time to be 100% honest with yourself and ask how many of your “limits” are physically impossible to overcome? Have they been set by your body, your brain, your social environment or by yourself?

Limits set by our social environment

At one time or another, we have all allowed our social environment to change our thoughts, our behaviour and in some cases, ourselves. Jim Rohn, an american author and motivational speaker, once said that we are the average of the five people with whom we spend most of our time with. Isn’t it fascinating that we are all individuals but at the end of the day, subconsciously, we still adapt to our environment and adopt the characteristics of others? You probably don’t even realize how friends, family and colleagues influence your actions. But they do. The change happens slowly and subtly over time.

The social environment has an enormous influence on ourselves, our lifestyle and most importantly in this case, our fitness. We often have the feeling of being judged by our environment and feel the need to fit in to be accepted. Scientists call this the “Impression Management Theory”, where either consciously or subconsciously, we adapt our words, behaviour, the way we dress etc., to our social environment in order to present a positive identity to others.

Although our social environment can –  to some extent –  be seen as a limitation, as individuals in this day and age, we have the power to decide consciously how much we let it affect us. How? Slow down and ask yourself what are the most important concrete goals in your life? Do you even have any? Going back to John Rohn’s theory, think about the people you spend most of your time with. Are they a good or bad influence on you? Do they bring out your best traits? Do they motivate and inspire you? Do they help you to reach your goals, or do they set limits and drag you down? Facing the truth is not always easy, but the first step to overcoming your limits is being 100% honest with yourself.

So far we’ve told you the effect our social environment can have on us, but it’s also possible to use our social environment as a tool to shape ourselves. Take for example the Freeletics Community: By surrounding yourself with others with a similar goal and desire to achieve, you are more likely to develop the same positive attitude and less likely to give up than you would be going it alone. Same pain, same goals, no limits!

Limits set by our body

Being the best version of yourself means not only being physically strong, but also understanding your body, how it feels and also when it’s reached it’s limits. The problem is, our mind often speaks louder than our body and tells us we’re at that point before we really are. Here’s a good example of what we mean.

Science says that an average chimpanzee is four times stronger than a male human athlete. You might say that you cannot compare apples with pears, but pay attention: Chimpanzees share 99% of our DNA. Scientists have compared the muscle cells and found that there is no big difference. This means, that we could adopt the same strength, right? Yes, if we first tackle our brain. The problem lies in the parts of our body that stop us: our central and peripheral nervous system.

To initiate a muscle contraction, an instruction is passed through the central nervous system to  the musculature. All this happens with the help of electric signals. Following anthropology, the human body has a high amount of nerve cells, whereas a chimpanzee’s shows way less. For humans, this connection is originally meant to enable fine-motoric tasks like grasping or writing for example, meaning we have an evolutionary advantage over other mammals. By being able to activate smaller portions of the muscles due to the extra amount of nerve cells, a human is able to control his/her muscles a bit better and in a more efficient way. Activating our muscles in a step-by-step approach gives us great endurance capacity, securing our survival. However, although this provides us with more sophistic hunting and learning techniques – compared to chimpanzees – this kind of adaptation/fine-tuning coevally limits how much of our muscle we can actually address at once.

Studies show that an average human is only able to activate up to 65% of the muscle fibers, whereas a trained athlete can activate over 80%, due to their ability to address the full potential of their muscle fibers as a result of consistent training over time.

The simple message here is: Your body is able to do a lot more than you think. So don’t be afraid to push it to it’s limits and then past them.

Limits set by our brain

Every day our brain is bombarded with information, tasks and to-do’s. When this information overload occurs, the prefrontal cortex – the part of your brain responsible for intelligent decisions and controlling emotions – weakens and can cause us to make mistakes and bad decisions. Anger and frustration grows, since the emotional brain region previously kept under control by the prefrontal cortex region is activated. So next time you get emotional, make an irrational decision or notice yourself making mistakes, this could be your brains way of telling you it’s reached it’s limit.

For that reason it’s important to stay focused on only one task at a time. If you are training – you are training. If you are writing a report – finish it before you check your Email inbox. Multitasking is not always the answer to productivity.

Now you know where your limits come from, think long and hard about what’s really holding you back. Remember to be honest. Is it your social environment telling you that you can’t do something? If so, ignore it. Instead, use your social environment as a tool to better yourself and surround yourself with strong role models and positive vibes. Determine whether it’s your mind or your body telling that you’ve reached your physical limit. If it’s your mind, remember that it’s just scared of the unknown. Again, push past it.

Limits do not define you. You redefine them.