05 April 2010, by A. Cedilla
In a previous post we shared how limits can help free us, and discussed three ways to this: by recognizing, setting and honoring our limits.
This post continues in a similar vein, and explores some of the factors that lead us to build unrealistic expectations that strain our limits in an unhealthy way.
Limits are there for very good reasons. They remind you that you have a physical presence, one rooted in this world, and as such bound by physical laws.
For starters, you need to rest, you need to move, and you need to eat. You also need time and energy to do these things.
There are other limits: you can’t fly without some sort of mechanical assistance. There are only so 24 hours in a day, and so on. There are just some limits you can’t avoid.
What about the ones that you absorb? Artificial excitement – pushed through movies, pop culture, TV and advertising, pumps us to expect more out of life, and more of everything. If you just do this, buy this, get this, look like this, act this way, you can do that.
If you just work more hours, do more push ups, meet more people, plan better, make a splash, etc. then you will be successful, attractive, exciting, a winner. You’ll be living the Good Life — which at your low points would be any life than the one you’re living now.
Popular culture can influence us to value the image before the reality. If you look, act or present yourself a certain way, then you are seen to possess the attributes that are deemed valuable and acceptable. So, to get this perceived value, many people force themselves to do what it takes to conform to these standards, and many more try, ‘fail’, and feel stressed from not being able to meet them. There’s an over-emphasis on pushing your limits.
What it often gets you is burnt out and miserable for not measuring up.
Think of the hit reality shows of the past 3-5 years. Look at the ones which involve physical make-overs, including weight-loss and surgery. Millions of viewers stayed glued to the screen to see how ordinary people are transformed in the course of a 40-minute show (the rest are for commercial breaks). Inspiring, true, but how many of us get to see the supporting structure behind the scenes?
Picture it: an all expenses paid vacation away from all the stress of your regular home life, all you have to focus on is losing weight, and/or planning for and recovering from surgery. You have personal trainers, chefs, nutritionist, dentists, counselors, a team of plastic surgeons (and their teams of supporting OR staff. Plus the nurses.) A fully equipped home gym. A ‘home away from home’.
How many people get that kind of support in real life? And how many can keep up with that kind of effort when the cameras are off and the season is over?
Some of the Biggest Loser (TM) winners have already fallen off the wagon in a big way, and we’ve seen them on the talk shows explaining what happened. They couldn’t sustain the level of effort which worked for them in the context and supportive environment of the show.
Reality shows aren’t. The emphasis is on show, not reality. The glitzy clothes, ‘perfect’ bodies and exciting lives we see in the tabloids and making the news can add spice to our days, but a steady diet of that applied in our own lives would be unsustainable, and exhausting. Drama’s okay in small doses, but 24/7 exposure will wreck your nerves.
Don’t let the hype fool you into making rushed, desperate choices. What bright colors and flashing images show us are not sustainable, or realistic. They imbue false expectations and artificial cravings, which are weak solutions to the challenges that life gives us. It’s a never-ending glittery treadmill, but you don’t have to stay on it.
- Find your real limits. Test yourself repeatedly on things that truly matter to you, not the ones which you’ve been conditioned to believe matters. Keep going. On the one side, you get to test your limits and see which ones are just illusions, and see how you’ve allowed them to define you. On the other, you may realize that there were things you sacrificed without thinking, or knowing their true cost, for some things which turned out to be not what you wanted. Whether you see these things as working for you or against you is your decision. That’s how people learn.
- Find the middle way: over time, daily living makes for a marathon, not a sprint. Sustainability is a good pillar of support to include in your life.
- Don’t let anyone dictate your limits for you, but don’t base them on what someone else’s limits are also — different people, different capabilities.
This is an exercise of your imagination:
Look back at your life, from the vantage point at the end of it. See how much you’ve changed over time. Remember what you survived, what effect you had on other people’s lives.
Come back to the present. When you’ve learned to work within your limits, you’ve learned to honor them. You recognize them. You remember their value and how they make what they contain more precious, and thus more deserving of care and attention, which are hallmarks of a life well-lived.
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