breaking through the barriers in your mind

The challenge with accomplishing any goal that requires effort is breaking through the barriers in your mind. I tell myself of this, whenever I attempt something I’ve never done before – for me, this could be climbing a mountain road, starting my own business or finally producing a that loaf that looks like the one in the photograph. The essence of any person who chooses the slow route to accomplishment, discovery and self-expression, is to live at the limits of their known capability. The struggle is to push forward.

Doubting your own ability is the first barrier you’ll encounter and also the first sign that you are on the right track. Physical or mental endurance – it doesn’t matter. Soon enough you will arrive at a point where the paved road ends and the rocky trail of discovery begins. Your mind will say “I don’t know. Maybe I’m not capable of this.” Ignore that nonsense. Until you’ve failed at something, you’ve no idea what you are capable of accomplishing.

Pain is real, discomfort is an imposter. You can apply knowledge of this next barrier to all manner of effort but it is most easily understood through the experience of physical endurance. Whenever you approach your limits the effort is going to feel hard. Your mind will tell you to give up – “its hard” or “I could be doing something else right now” – well before your body must. Actual pain is a message from your body that something isn’t right and the prudent response is to stop and assess. Everything else is discomfort. And discomfort is simply your mind trying to fool you into taking action contrary to achieving your goal. Remind yourself that breaking barriers comes at a cost and that cost is oftentimes uncomfortable.

Recognize that you already know how to stop pursuing your goal. This part is easy, and you have done it before. We all have. It’s that time you gave in to all the doubt and discomfort and just stopped. Easy, right? What you don’t know is if you can continue. Use these memories of coming up short of your goal as milestones. You only need to go one measure farther because…

Achievement is incremental, progress is cumulative. What you are not capable of today is the foundation for your capabilities tomorrow. As you continue to approach your limits you will eventually advance beyond them. Maybe not in the way you initially intended. Maybe much slower than you imagined. But if you approach your goals with an open mind and acknowledge that progress is the non-linear, sum-total of micro-achievements, the mental barriers that yell “you haven’t improved” will begin to lose their power.

Finally, there is elation in accomplishment which of course is why you strive toward the goals you set for yourself in the first place. Just as a hiker revels in the experience of reaching a mountain summit or the bread baker experiences joy when the crumb of a boule comes out just right. The journey is memorable but breaking through the barriers that arise – the self-doubt, the surpassing your known ability, discomfort, the smaller steps and more circuitous route than you anticipated – are all worth it when you ultimately achieve what you set out to do.

And that, achieving what you set out to do, will help you develop the mindset of a person capable of many things, great and small.

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