One of the biggest tragedies in life today is the number of people who fail to realise just what they are capable of.
It is constantly frustrating to me to see people set their personal bars so low, not imagining they are able to do any better, be any greater. They are all, almost certainly, wrong.
No-one, not one of us, not even the likes of Mo Farah, Chris Froome or the Brownlee Brothers, have any idea of what our limits are. These elite athletes have no clue as to how much further they can go, how much faster, how much higher. That’s what still drives them on.
And that’s the difference between them and us. They refuse to stop dreaming while so many of the rest of us sell ourselves short and settle for where we are now.
It doesn’t matter where you start from either. Here is my experience – a lot of it will be familiar to many people and I apologise in advance if I’m repeating myself too much but if one person reads this for the first time and then decides to see just how far they can go – like I am doing – then it will be worthwhile.
When I started at the gym just over two years ago I couldn’t get up a flight of stairs without a struggle. On the induction session with one of the gym’s personal trainers, I was introduced to the treadmill and could only walk on it for a minute before having to switch it off and catch my breath. At 24 stone, I was clearly in a bad way.
I looked enormous in the gym mirror. It didn’t lie. Around me on the various exercise machines were fellow gym members of varying abilities. But even the ones struggling were nowhere near as bad as me. And the good ones were just too good to even concern myself with. The guy on the treadmill next to me was one of the fitter ones and was clearly an accomplished runner. He was belting along at a blistering rate and showing no signs of letting up.
Many people might have been intimidated by him but I wasn’t and you mustn’t let yourself be either. My head was still filled with grief over Diane and my own situation – improving my health wasn’t a fad, a phase I was going through, a whim that would be blown off course the minute I saw someone far better than me in the gym. I needed to get fit or… well, at best, I would end up with mobility problems and in a wheelchair in a few years’ time; at worst, I’d be dead because of my weight mushrooming out of control.
So the guy next to me on the treadmill could pound away for all he was worth, I didn’t care. He was not my problem. I was. And that’s the attitude everyone must start with. You are not competing with anyone except yourself. Only you can stop yourself improving yourself. No-one else has the power to stop you getting better, fitter, healthier. Only you.
So it follows that only you can stop you realising your dreams and goals. Those dreams and goals will be modest at first. But as you start to take small steps to improvement your goals will grow and grow. You will want to push yourself to your next target.
And be warned. It will never stop. Once you see yourself making progress and realise how good it makes you feel, it becomes impossible not to want to get even better, to feel even more alive. Every goal reached is replaced with a new one. That’s not to be feared, though, that’s what is so great about improving your life. You never tire of that feeling of accomplishment.
So when I stood next to this man with the machine legs pounding away on the treadmill next to me while I could only walk on mine for a minute before stopping, my goal was not to be like him. My goal was to do a minute and a half on my machine. That was all I was planning.
I wasn’t expecting to feel any great elation when I did that minute and a half. But when I did manage it, I was surprised by how thrilled I was. It sounds silly, but if you’ve ever been in the position of being massively overweight and desperate to turn your life around, you’ll know what I mean. Just by doing more that day than I had been able to the time before made me realise how rewarding it can be when you push yourself harder than you have been able to push yourself before.
So when one and a half minutes became two and then three, I was hooked. I had begun to lose weight already – it’s true that you lose more at a quicker rate in the early stages which helps to inspire you further – so the combination of these modest achievements and the early weight loss made me immediately feel tons better.
Within a few weeks, the length of time I could walk on the treadmill had increased. I had upped the walking speed as much as I could, but then came the day when I walked for three minutes and lightly jogged for a minute, then walked for another three minutes. Jogging! Who’d have imagined that just a few weeks earlier.
The even better news was that all areas of my life were improving. For starters, I was able to get up the stairs a lot more easily now and I was sleeping better. I could see the difference in my general shape with the early weight loss in the mirror and I started to like what I was looking at for a change.
Running was still not on my radar, though. Initially all this was about was losing weight, getting more in shape and feeling better. That was already starting to happen and I was delighted with the small improvements I was making. Luckily, I had no aspirations at that stage to run a marathon. That could easily have deflected me and derailed my efforts. Thinking too far ahead and too big could risk you thinking it could never happen and it could risk de-motivating you. Keep those targets modest and attainable at first. Don’t look too far ahead. Just aim to be better today than you were yesterday and after a few weeks you can assess how far you’ve come – and you’ll astonish yourself.
Having said that, you’re allowed to have dreams. Just keep them to yourself as much as possible. If you let a dream become public, you will feel you HAVE to achieve it so as not to lose face with the people you told.
Dreams are private. Goals and targets can be talked about. When you are starting from scratch, your goals and targets will be small, modest steps. But your dreams can be as wild as you like. When you reach a certain level through your hard work and training where a series of goals have been met, you will find that a dream you’ve been harbouring will now become a goal. You will have progressed enough for that particular first dream to cease to be a flight of fancy and it will become an achievable aim. Gradually, one by one, your dreams, through a succession of smaller targets met, will enter the realms of possibility.
A lack of dreams, of seemingly unattainable ambitions, means you have set a ceiling on what you can achieve. And you must never do that. Not even you have any idea of what you are capable of. Never give up discovering more about yourself and you will live life not only to the full but also crossing boundaries you never thought you would.
The greatest challenge we face is to understand we are capable of far more than we imagined possible.