The Value Of Limits

30 March 2010, by A. Cedilla

Decades of Western thinking have influenced our belief that “the sky’s the limit.” Nothing’s impossible if you work at it hard enough, long enough, and you don’t give up.

For the most part, amazing feats of engineering and scientific breakthroughs seemed to prove this belief true…

Until time revealed the cracks in the facade: unexpected and tragic side-effects, damaging environmental consequences, and a host of long-term issues no one could have foreseen.

On a more personal level, we still have a stubborn tendency to cling to this belief. Limits are for other people, the one’s not willing to do what it took to succeed. Limits were for losers.

Here’s the thing: Limits can free us.

The belief that limits were made to be pushed, broken, and conquered breaks things down into an either-or equation: you either push your limits or you don’t. Either it’s good or bad, black or white, loser or winner.

Life is never that cut-and-dried. This kind of simplistic thinking can only go so far in helping us deal with everything that life throws at us.

In many situations, knowing our limits can help us more than pushing our limits. We can be more creative, for example, in stretching our dollar, making things last or squeezing the most out of the time we have. For example:

  • We know how much is needed — business plans need a budget, not just to show one’s limit to the outlay of cash, but to know how much we can spend on each necessary item or action, whether it’s money, time (a deadline is a time budget, of sorts, and forces us to allot our time decisively and carefully), labor or brainpower (meetings and brainstorming).
  • We’ll know when to stop. Aside from the fact that it can be hard enough knowing when to start, knowing when to stop can save us a lot of grief and unnecessary stress.

These are the ways you can use limits to help you:

Recognizing limits.
Everyone recognizes basic physical and biological limits: there are only 24 hours in a day, you need X hours of sleep to fully function as a human being and not a snarly, sullen cubicle dweller — or, please no, a sleep-deprived truck-driver.

You can only get so far with junk food and soda, or get away with pulling off just so many all-nighters, etc.

Respect the cycles: rest and action, contemplation and planning, implementation and correction. Recognize when you can and need to push, and when you don’t have to.

Setting limits.
Setting limits says, “This far and no more.” It clarifies the boundaries of the distinct areas in your life and shows recognition of the various roles you occupy — team lead, mom, youth minister, student, master hacker, doctor etc.

Think of your various roles as a series of cubicles – multitasking spreads you all over the place, and pushing limits can result in duties spilling over, which is messy.

By setting limits, you can devote the appropriate response to one task, finish it, and move to another task, or another cubicle.

Allotting the appropriate effort, time and labor to each task, to each role, and offloading what doesn’t really impact your life (for example, dropping what doesn’t pan out or work for you) makes the difference between idling (busywork) and moving forward.

Honoring Limits.
Easier said that done but how?
Build a practice everyday, in small steps, not leaps.

Know your limits, recognize they exist and are there for a reason. Keep them in mind when your thinking of a course of action, or making a decision. Factor them in when you decide to act. Small steps, taken every day, mean steady improvements, and gain more value over time.

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