Where are your limits?

“People respond to their own model of the world/map of reality, not to reality itself.

(The map is not the territory.)”

This is perhaps the fundamental statement on which all of the rest of NLP is based. It’s our internal reality, self-created, that determines our world. Yes, we all walk on the same planet. But what we are aware of (and what we ignore) as we walk our path, is what determines our experience. This is where we set limits for ourselves, limits we are usually unaware of as being a choice.

Here’s a simple way to explore, just a little, extending, shifting, expanding your limits to give you more of what you do want. Perhaps a little stretch today may just give you a little more tomorrow.


Tom Dotz


Where Are Your Limits?

By Tom Hoobyar

Article Word Count 1708, average reading time 6.8 minutes.

Henry Ford: “If you say you can, or you say you can’t, you’re right.


Here’s a surprise. Whoever you are and whatever you can or can’t do, your idea of your personal limits is likely to be wrong.

Oooh! Dumb way to establish rapport, right? Begin a conversation telling someone they’re wrong? Got their head on crooked? Suggest they’re clueless, ill- informed, etc?

Yeah, it’s a risk.

But I figure maybe we know each other well enough by now that you’d cut me a little slack, at least till you see what I’m driving at.

So bear with me a minute — and I’ll explain what I mean by “limits”.

When I say “limits”, I mean the line past where you just don’t go. Whether it’s physical, mental, emotional or any other class of limit you’ve been banging up against most of your life.

Actually, most of us don’t even “bang up” against our limits. We know they’re out there, and we give them a wide berth. We don’t even consider exactly where they are; we “just don’t go there.”

When we consider the edges of our own personal worlds, we say to ourselves, “I couldn’t handle it.”, or “That’s not for me”, or when we think of something outside our limits we simply say “No way!”

Have you ever had the feeling sometimes like you were trying to drive with the emergency brake still on? Ever felt held back, or just put off by the thought of something that might have been fun if you had pushed on through?

Those feelings are what keeps us from testing our limits. And they’re so well- ingrained that we mostly just accept them as if they were real and permanent parts of our personality.

I invite you to consider that your personal limits might be more flexible than you thought. To begin with, they probably weren’t set by you, and what’s more, they probably aren’t in the right place for you at this point in your life anyway. That’s why you might get frustrated by them sometimes.

It wouldn’t hurt to take a look at them, would it? I mean, wherever a limit is, if it were moved out a little bit, you’d have more “room” to live your life, wouldn’t you? Your life could actually get “bigger”.

Suppose you could change a limit? Not wholesale changes in all areas of your life — I mean, who could handle that much growth?!? (little joke there).

But really, for the sake of experiment, just consider one area in your life.

Maybe it’s physical — a matter of strength, endurance or flexibility that you might just think about stretching a little bit. I mean, what would it feel like if you did?

Maybe you’ll choose a social limit — like a beloved cousin of mine, who couldn’t go into a good restaurant or get into a fancy car without saying, “Oh, this is too good for me!” Used to drive me nuts — it was such a downer to hear a bright, loving person put herself down so much.

Now she is changing that one little internal thought, and she seems to be having more fun. And she’s certainly better company. Maybe you have some situation that you’ve been avoiding when you’d feel better — like my cousin — if you changed what you’re saying to yourself about that.

Maybe the limit you’re considering is emotional — perhaps you’d like to stretch your former limit of patience with a spouse or child or friend — how would that make your life easier and sweeter and more harmonious? And also theirs?

Perhaps it’s a limit of fear – a point you haven’t gone beyond at work, or an experience that looked appealing, but something had stopped you while others just went right on past you and didn’t think about it.

Or maybe it’s a mental thing, “I can’t learn languages”, “I’m no good at gardening”, “I can’t dance; I’ve got two left feet!”.

Hey, a note to the person with two left feet — a guy just climbed the world’s highest mountain, Mount Everest, and he didn’t have any feet at all! He did it on artificlal legs. So there. Go dance. (You were easy…)

Seriously, here’s the deal.

Limits is another word for what my wife Vikki calls “boundaries” (she works as a counselor).

And boundaries have interesting characteristics. There are sharp boundaries, like between countries, a man-made border with guards and gates and passports.

But the interesting thing about inner human boundaries is that most of them don’t have sharp edges. They’re more like the boundary between the land and the sea. There’s a large area in between called the shore, which is wet sometimes and dry sometimes, depending on the tides.

Our internal ideas of limits are like that shore. And the tide lines are set in our minds. And they can be changed if we want. I’ll show you how, and you can try it, and see for yourself if you like it.

Usually these boundaries have been with us “forever”. Check it out yourself — go inside your own mind and pick a boundary of your own. Some limit you’ve been aware of, a limit to your behavior, your ambition, or your dreams.

Got it? Good. Now look back. How long has that boundary been there?

Probably a long time. Most of our personal limits have been part of our experience for so long we don’t even question them anymore. We just think they are a part of our reality. And they’re mostly not. Not real, that is.

One exception: if the limit you chose was the result of a traumatic experience that you clearly remember, it’s the wrong kind of personal limit to pick for this pattern — we’ll get to that  kind later. Or you can heal your own trauma by seeing an NLP Practitioner or by reading a book and fixing yourself (if you want to try that, email me and I’ll tell you which book to get).

Okay. Go back to the limit on yourself that you chose for this example. Only this time, don’t just accept the statement of the limit at face value. You’ve heard it or seen it or felt it so often that you don’t really even examine it anymore. In a minute, I’ll show you a new way of looking at this boundary.

But first let me tell you a story about how most of us learn where our limits are. You may have heard it before, maybe not, but it’s definitely worth hearing again.

Have you ever been to a place where they keep elephants? Like a zoo, or a circus? Ever seen these huge animals tethered to a post by one leg while they eat hay? It’s usually a little piece of rope tied to a post that the elephant could easily just yank loose or break. Ever wondered why they don’t just pull out the post, snap the small rope, and lumber away?

The secret is, the elephants don’t want to — the tether is their “limit” of their freedom, and they learned about this limit when they were little baby elephants.

This is the secret of how elephants are trained to accept having a leg tied to a post, when they could easily snap the rope or chain and just walk off if they wanted to. It came from India, where humans have trained elephants as working animals for centuries.

When an elephant is a baby, it’s tied by one leg with a huge rope and chain, to a big post. When mama elephant moves away from the baby the baby would try would try to follow, and be stopped short by the rope. It would pull and pull, but there was no give to the big rope, chain and post. It wouldn’t budge. No chance the little baby elephant could break loose. Absolutely no chance.

After a while, the elephant gives up trying to walk away when it’s tethered to a post. Then the trainers use a smaller and smaller rope, and a weaker and weaker post.

As you’ve heard, elephants have very good memories. What they learned as babies was that when they were tethered to a post they were stuck. So adult elephants live within the boundaries that they learned as baby elephants.

It becomes easy to control these huge strong animals. With the illusion that they are tethered, when in reality, as adults they are so strong that they could easily walk away from their tether.

We humans have good memories, too. And the boundaries that were set when we were small are the boundaries that we are tethered to as strong adults. We could cross the boundaries if we choose to, but most of us, most of the time, just accept our tether as real.

So for now, just take a look at the boundary in your life that you chose for this example. Let me ask you…

How do you know you can’t go past this boundary? How do you know that the tide line for you is where you think it is? What? You tried and couldn’t get past it?

Let me ask you, how many times did you test this boundary? How recently? How determined were you to move it, even a little?

Okay, here’s my invitation. Or challenge. Or dare. Whatever you need to hear to get yourself interested in overcoming your imaginary childhood “tether”.

Take one limit in your life. Just one. And look carefully at it. Is there a picture? Or a voice in your head, warning you to stop? Or a feeling in your body, maybe your stomach?

Whatever it is, examine it closely, and ask yourself, “What would happen if I pushed this a little?”

Not much, maybe an inch. Maybe a foot.

Just give it a try. I think you’ll be surprised by how easy it may be to move your boundary out a little in this one area.

After all, you’re smarter than an elephant in a zoo, aren’t you? All you have to do is what the elephants never do.

Just try to change a little, just out of curiosity about how it will feel.

And next time I’ll tell you a little more about inner boundaries and how to manage them.


Tom Hoobyar

0 thoughts on “Where are your limits?”

  1. You can get rapport by mismatching as well. However, that is a whole different subject and is also risky. I also would like to add, thanks for letting me know your decision strategy. It is very interesting to find out how people think. Thanks for letting us into your head, even if it was just briefly.


    Ricky Strode

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