Tanveer Naseer

Leadership Coach, Speaker, and Writer

Defining the Limits of Our Abilities

Defining our limits

Bret L. Simmons posted a thought-provoking piece on his blog this week where he talked about human “capacity”.  Simmons defines capacity as “the potential each of us has to do more and be more than we are now”.  Although this lead to some debate over whether human capacity could be viewed as being without limits, as I pointed out in my comment on this piece, the real issue is how do we go about defining or quantifying the limits of our capabilities.

As children, we learned early on about the limits of our abilities, of what activities we excelled at and which ones we struggled with.  Thanks to the varied curricula of the education system, we were able to test our competencies in understanding scientific principles, of creating inspired works of art, and whether we could score a goal in a hockey net.  Even if we couldn’t do some of these well, we were still expected to try, to push ourselves to do the best we could.  Although we took on these challenges in order to get decent grades as we went through the school system, it also had the tangible benefit of teaching us something about what our strengths are, of what activities we were capable of undertaking.

However, as adults, what exercises or activities do we perform for understanding better what our limits are?  How are we pushing ourselves to figure out the limits of what we’re capable of doing?  As I commented on Simmons’ blog, I think for many of us our limits are defined more by what we perceive them to be, rather than as a result of having tested the waters of our capabilities.  Naturally, many of us are uncomfortable with pushing on those boundaries, of moving outside our comfort zone, in large part because we fear the risk of failing miserably during the pursuit of some new activity.  And yet, by not attempting to move past these lines we use to delineate our abilities, how can we be certain we’re not holding ourselves back from fulfilling our real potential?  By playing it safe, we not only deny ourselves new opportunities for personal growth, we’re also keeping ourselves from truly appreciating our inner talents and abilities.

Do all of us have limits to what we’re capable of doing?  Absolutely.  However, unless we really push ourselves and take that chance at trying some new field or activity, we will never have a realistic view of what we’re really able to accomplish.

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8 Comments » | Tags: , , , , , , , , | August 19, 2009 by |

  1. On August 19th, 2009 at 8:08 AM Bret Simmons said:

    Great thoughts, Tanveer! I concur – safe sucks. And you are so correct, perception is powerful. You never know until you go, so get up and start moving toward the edge of chaos. Thanks! Bret

  2. On August 19th, 2009 at 12:22 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Hi Bret,

    Thanks for the kind words – I appreciate it.

    In this current economic climate, it’s becoming the norm for both people and companies to play it safe, if not to also pull in those boundaries a little closer, out of hope that further losses can be stemmed. And yet, all this ends up accomplishing is limiting your ability to grow and evolve in order to fulfill that inner potential that exists in all of us.

    The best way I find to overcome this is to not only surround yourself with a supportive group of people, but also with individuals who work in a variety of different fields. This will not only provide you with several unique perspectives, but it will also give you the chance to push on those boundaries, to try out and learn something new from these different areas of knowledge and expertise. By going outside your usual circle of influence and interaction, you’ll not only gain new insights into how others perceive you, but also get to see what untapped potential you might have to develop and grow outside of your current realm.

    Thanks again for stopping by, Bret, and for giving inspiration for this piece.

  3. On August 19th, 2009 at 3:12 PM Colin Ude-Lewis said:

    Brilliant Tanveer – this post is highly relevant to many of us – your sentence ” I think for many of us our limits are defined more by what we perceive them to be, rather than as a result of having tested the waters of our capabilities” absolutely nails it. Reminds me strongly of what Dr wayne Dyer talks about in his book Excuses Begone, we make excuses – you nailed it perfectly!

    Be well


  4. On August 19th, 2009 at 4:09 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks, Colin. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    We definitely make excuses to explain away why we don’t try walking off the beaten road. Sadly, our fear of failing tends to overwhelm our sense of curiosity about trying out a new activity. Do I always succeed in everything I try to learn or do? No, but at least I have a more realistic impression of my capabilities, of what I can do and what I can’t. I also have the satisfaction of knowing that I tried and the effort of trying is never a wasted one.

    Thanks again, Colin, for taking the time to sharing your thoughts. And I’m glad you enjoyed the piece.

  5. On August 20th, 2009 at 9:46 AM Meryl K Evans said:

    Great stuff, Tanveer. It may be our limitations that help us exceed in other areas. Recognizing our weaknesses helps us improve or to strengthen something else to balance out the weakness.

    I used to wonder how much I would've been able to accomplish had I not been born deaf. But there's another way of looking at it: If I had hearing at birth, maybe I would not have been driven to accomplish what I have.

  6. On August 20th, 2009 at 10:21 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Hi Meryl

    I think you're absolutely right that acknowledging our weaknesses is key to our gaining strength in other aspects of our life. For example, it's often suggested to people that if they get upset or angry over something that they disconnect themselves from that situation and focus their energy on completing some other task. Does this exercise help people from controlling their anger, in allowing them to learn how to not let certain things upset them? No. But what it does do is teach them to use that frustration for a beneficial effect instead of a negative one. In effect, taking that weakness and using it to develop a strength.

    It's incredible when you think about how much we impair ourselves because of what we perceive to be our limitations; perhaps in some cases because we're using the wrong examples to compare ourselves against. We often hear about this untapped potential humans have; it's unfortunate that most of us don't realize that the potential is being wasted only because we're not seeing the full realm of our capabilities.

    Thanks for stopping by, Meryl, and sharing your thoughts on this wonderful discussion.

  7. On January 25th, 2011 at 6:38 AM Armel said:

    Great points and thinking! When you believe strongly enough that you will succeed at something, success is practically guaranteed – not because your belief creates the result, but because you don’t give up taking action on a massive level until you get what you want.

  8. On January 26th, 2011 at 3:37 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Armel; I'm glad you enjoyed this piece. It's very important that we recognize how our beliefs about our abilities colour the perception of what we think is doable and what is difficult. Also, unlike other factors that are external and consequently out of our control, our beliefs are something we can control and do something about. Of course, it's not something that you work on for a brief duration; instead, it's something that requires continual work, examination and reflection to become fully actualized. It's not easy, but it is certainly doable.

    Thanks again, Armel, for adding your thoughts to the discussion.