Would knowing your limits motivate you?

I was engaged in a fascinating discussion over lunch today with a friend of mine (this Rob). He made an interesting comment about how do you know what one’s limits were. When do we know we’ve gone the fastest we can; or simply that we’ve done the best we can?

It reminded me of the countless times I am asked about someone’s running goals. Is this goal reasonable? Can I do this? Can I run faster? And the double-edged  question – do you (coach) think I can do this?

The questions posed at lunch was: if you knew exactly what your limits were (specific time for a specific distance) would you:

first, want to know what that time was;

and second, would it motivate you to know?

So let’s first look at the facts. There is no formula, no prediction formula, no secret workout, no training program, no blood test, no genetic test and no coach (ack!) that can predict your true athletic limits. Period. Even at the world record level at which nobody in the history of mankind has ever run that fast; we cannot say that the record breaker or some other runner could or could not perform even better! That is good news to who NEVER want to know their limits and bad news for those who really DO want to know what that limit is.

But, let’s say you COULD know that limit.

What if you hadn’t met that limit yet?
Most people will be motivated knowing they can still improve. They would most likely continue to toil some more in pursuit of their limits. They would try everything possible to reach their “potential.”

And what if you found out you had already met your limit?
I may be speaking out of turn, but my bet is that many people would stop the activity. Without the possibility of improvement they would be goal-less. True, some individuals would continue but these would be the individuals seeking fulfillment and enjoyment through the activity itself. I understand that we become involved with sports for a variety of reasons. However, the competitive athlete more often is about continuous improvement. Would the competitive runner continue?

There of course is another disposition. That disposition is the one of “tell me I can’t and I’ll prove you wrong.” Even if the calculation had been determined to be foolproof and accurate some individuals live to prove themselves the exception to the rule. These individuals will fight in the face of all evidence that something cannot be done. This is also the smallest portion of the population.

Now, let me introduce one other twist. As we age, at some point we realize we will not run as fast as we once did. Does that realization force retirement from competition? Or, does it force a refocusing on “current” age bests or improvements? Do we move to events we’ve never run before to explore new limits?

There are no simple answers and the answers are very individual. Our own unique motivational predispositions will dictate our responses. And there are no right or wrong answers. And as a coach, I walk that fine line in motivating and remaining objective in offering feedback on runners’ goals. I’m glad I don’t know anyone’s personal limit. It would not be very motivating to me. I want to believe we can continue to improve. I’d want to prove the limits wrong.

So, what about you? Would you want to know your limits? Would it motivate you to know them? Or, would it dash your hopes?


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - trailrunningclub.com. I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for Running-Advice.com. I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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3 Responses to Would knowing your limits motivate you?

  1. Ty says:

    Simple solution which has been discovered by aging athletes. GO LONGER and change the rules of the game. Because No One should beat us in the last mile 🙂

  2. Jason says:

    I think I would tend not to believe what “something” or “someone” said was my limit. I tend to get intense in that so I just take it one race/workout at a time because your best seems to be under the sway of so many factors each time. I feel like my best is something I monitor inside myself so even if I did not go as long or as fast, I can still run my best for that particular time.


  3. zbsports says:

    I like the title…yes that is right…knowing your limit will motivate you that you must exceed at it…and if you know it you can create a solution to it…great post…

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