Recovery and Learning to Respect Your Limits, Part 1


How Knowing Your Limits Will Improve Your Life


The messages that we hear about our limits are confusing. Just read the two quotes below and you will see what I mean:

Surrender to your limits. Peter Scazzero

Whatever doesn’t kill me… had better start running

Recovery is about learning how to accept your limits and also pushing against them. Some of our limits are real and need to be accepted, while other limits are really just in our minds. Learning the difference can make the difference in our recovery.

Our confusing messages regarding limitations

Pushing your limits won’t necessarily make life any easier, you just become more used to pushing and listening to yourself.

I admit, I am confused about the different messages that we get about our limitations. I have pushed against my limits for a long time and all of the effort hasn’t really changed my anxiety. In fact, the older I get, the more anxiety that I feel. Pushing your limits won’t necessarily make life any easier, you just become more used to pushing and listening to yourself.

Every day, I am reminded of my personal limits:

  • Sore and creaky muscles, a forgetful memory and at times, sleepless nights
  • My experience with depression and anxiety and my need to take care of my well being
  • A family history of addiction and mental illness
  • My tendency towards compulsive behavior and over-doing things
  • My height, my hair color and my general body size
  • My past – The stupid and the stupendous things that I have done
  • My strengths and my weaknesses – I know my weaknesses well, but even my strengths remind me of my limits A strength is something that you excel at and tend to enjoy. Strengths create opportunities, but we can also overdo it to the place where a strength leads us to burnout.
  • My tendency to resist change, combined with my desire to be in control of any change that comes my way

I invite you to pause for a minute. Consider your own list of limits, what you would add or subtract to my list.

Business and motivational culture tells you and I that our limitations are just in our mind. Sorry, but I call bullshit. Just visit the Hospital and you will hear story after story of ignoring our limits.

Surrender to your limitations


Refuse to allow your limitations to define you

Honestly, I think that both quotes are stupid. Well, maybe not stupid… but perhaps they each tell only part of the story.

The real story on your limitations

I like to work out. Yea, I guess that’s kind of strange.

What I love about exercise is the feeling of being wiped, sweat pouring over my face, muscles a little pumped while feeling a little bit shaky at the same time. It is difficult to push yourself hard enough and long enough so that you sweat. Enjoying it is even harder. There is a sweet spot where you push yourself but still enjoy it.

How do you know you are in the zone, the sweet spot where you have pushed just hard enough?

Business and motivational culture tells you and I that our limitations are just in our mind. Sorry, but I call bullshit. Just visit the Hospital and you will hear story after story of ignoring our limits.

What exercise teaches us is that pushing your limits is good for you. Too often, we accept our own excuses and our feeling tired as a reason to not even try. When you exercise, you are guaranteed to have early mornings and days where you want nothing more than stay in bed. The thing is that even a good fitness routine can become routine. If you push yourself today in one direction, next week you need to change it up and push a little in a different way. If you don’t vary your routine now and then, you won’t grow.

Exercise also teaches us that if you push too hard, too often, you lose your enthusiasm and energy for it. When you push and push without equal rest and recuperation, you will experience more injuries.

The difficult thing is that each person has their own exercise sweet spot: A level of exercise where you push hard enough that you expand your limits a little each day. Some days, you push harder and expand a little, but then you rest the next day. A healthy pattern is to push and then recover.

Exercise teaches us that it is not wise to push your limits every single day. Some days, you need to let the elastic go back to it’s original shape and just chill. One important thing that I have learned is to stop well before I reach my personal “edge.” It is cool to push yourself to exhaustion, but doing that every day will cause you a lot of problems. Even professional athletes have days of pushing and then equal days of recovery.

Our addiction to the status quo

This might be overstating it a little, but we can become addicted to our routines and they no longer serve us. We build a routine and then our routine becomes our prison. We become too comfortable and our comfort holds us back.

There is a sweet spot to growth and recovery: A level of growth where you push hard enough that you expand your limits a little every day. Just like with exercise, when it comes to our growth: Some days you push harder and expand a little, but then you rest a little more the next day. The pattern of growth should be push and then recover.

Unfortunately, what sells books is the idea that you are limitless. Sorry, to ruin the party, but you and I are definitely not limitless.

You have to accept a lot about yourself that you cannot change: Your age, your height, your basic body size, your past, your genetics, your illnesses. You cannot change these things. They are your reality.

But at the same time, you also need to push back against other types of limits: Your illnesses are real, but they don’t define you. Your addictions are difficult to master, but they don’t have to master you. You have a past and you may have a lot of regrets, but you are much, much more than your past.

To understand your sweet spot, you need to push until you sweat and then keep going. But you also need to accept the point where you have done what you can do today and then call it a day. Your body will send signals that will help you to decide when to push and when to accept:

  • Soreness – If you feel tired after a work out, or your muscles are a little sore that is a sign that you pushed hard enough. If you can barely walk, you pushed too hard.
  • Being overly tired several days in a row – Sleep is recuperation. If you are not sleeping, you are not recovering.
  • Having several days of pushing hard – After pushing yourself hard, you need a day or even several days to recuperate. You may feel great, but your body needs you to back off a little.
  • Being unable to shake difficult moods like sadness, anxiety or recurrent and intrusive thoughts – Everyone has down days and all of us have ups and downs in our moods. But when your moods stay with you and they won’t lift after weeks of effort, that is a sign that you need to pay attention to yourself.
  • Boredom – A day of boredom is healthy. Feeling bored all of the time will keep you stuck, stagnant and status quo.
  • Feeling triggered to go revisit old patterns – Thinking that you can go back and drink just a little bit, visit with your old triggering friends or back to the old neighborhood where you used. These are signals. Ask yourself: Is your body calling you to coast, chill out and relax? This can lead to obvious unhealthy patterns and a loss of progress. Or are the triggers your bodies way of telling you that you are at your limits: you may be pushing too hard and you need to increase your self-care.

In recovery, it can be confusing to understand how to find your personal growth “sweet spot.” Our society sends confusing messages about your limits. To learn more, I consulted with three of my friends, experts in transformation and change, who have each faced their own recovery journey. They share their recommendations on how to understand your own growth “sweet spot.” Stay tuned and later today part 2 will tell you how to understand more about your limits, and when to push back against them.

If you enjoyed this article, you will want to see some of my other work:

In Recovery, Your Destination is Not Your Destiny

When is Being Good a Bad Thing?

How Not to Be a Grump in Your Recovery

I write articles about wellness, leadership, parenting and personal growth. My hope is to deliver the best content I can to inspire, to inform and to entertain. Sign up for my blog if you want to receive the latest and best of my writing. If you like what I have to say, please share my work with your friends.

Lastly, if you like my writing, you can click here to vote for my page on Psych Central’s list of mental health blogs.

Keep it Real

Photo by Petr Cizek


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s