The Subtle Art of Giving the Middle Finger to Fear

How to stop with the self-limiting beliefs

Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash

“Do you notice he’s not dead?” “It means he could have run faster.” — South African physician and sports scientist, Tim Noakes

I hadn’t understood the term ‘limits’ until I started to push them. And it’s true for a lot of us, we don’t know our limits until we start to push them. My first experience of pushing my limits was entering the world of work. Back, I was young, clueless and ambitious yet I had no idea what the world of work would demand from me. 4 years on, I’ve survived (just about) but looking back on that time, it was clear I was constantly pushing my limits.

I’d fall asleep on the drive home, I was under-prepared, directionless and felt much like a deer in headlights. That was a tough phase in life that required a lot of adjusting. But I (eventually) learnt that pushing through your limits you find the next level of capability and thus, productivity.

The ceiling of capabilities — there is no such thing

“That’s maybe the most important thing. It’s to shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just gonna live in it, versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it.” — Steve Jobs

You, I, all of us are quite well-versed at putting ourselves in categories. We categories ourselves in anything and everything. It perhaps comes from school when we are sectioned up based on capabilities and carted off to study at that level with our peers. It extends then to being categorised at University based on academic achievement. Then in work based on performance. Putting yourself into a box is a bad habit if it’s the wrong box.

Sometimes, we tell ourselves a story of who we are and what we’re capable of.

Let’s say you’ve just left a meeting and you weren’t impressed by the way you presented that material. You might fall into the mistake of categorising yourself into the ‘bad presenter box’. You say to yourself “oh well I’m not such a great presenter”. And now you’re in the ‘bad presenter box’. Which isn’t where you belong. You’re not a bad presenter, you had a bad day.

It might be that you get home, stick the TV on and say “well, I’m the kind of person that watches TV in my downtime.” And there you stay until you realise that you can be in whichever box you want to be in, on whatever day you want to be in it.

We constantly put ourselves in boxes yet we don’t need to.

These are categories that we are stuck in, these are the categories we are in for now until we start to make a change. Simply thinking you are in that category and that’s where you are going to stay is bad for the mind.

Actionable tips:

  • Start to listen to the conversations you have with yourself. Are you constantly beating yourself up for the things you do?
  • Start to understand the habits you’ve created. Have you got into the habit of questioning yourself? Are you in the habit of saying something negative about yourself?

Flip it, what could you be capable of?

“Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.” — Steve Jobs

What if you said to yourself you are capable of anything? Not in a cheesy-look-yourself-in-the-mirror kind of way. In a way that you are curious about your potential. There is nothing wrong with thinking you are capable of big things. In fact, there is everything right with that.

Start to take yourself out of the boxes you’ve put yourself. In fact, start to write on boxes you want to be in and put yourself in those instead.

There is an odd thing in this world. We are all under the illusion that everything around us is created by people who are more capable than we are. The person that invented the kettle, toaster and oven. Those people are more talented than we are because of their great discoveries. But what if everyone who contributed to this life we live today were no smarter than you. In fact, what if the only difference was that they didn’t put a ceiling on their capabilities.

Instead, they embraced curiosity to see where their ambition could take them.

When you constantly put a ceiling on your success you’re telling yourself you can’t go any further. But what if you could? What if you were really destined for the greater thing? But the reason you never achieve what you were capable of is that you never thought you could. That would be an unexplored life.

Actionable tips:

  • Question the boxes you put yourself in. Are you really that person or have you mislabelled yourself?
  • Ask yourself what you think the ceiling of your success is? Do you really believe that you are capable of great things? If not, why not?

The Way to break past self-imposed limitations

It’s important to create some rules around self-imposed limitations if it’s something you do often. Those rules are not exclusive to the list below but I find these help:

  1. Say something positive about yourself after a stressful experience, not something negative
  2. Read stories about people who have succeeded and inspire you to succeed
  3. Stress-test yourself to understand how far you can push yourself
  4. Quit with the negative self-talk, be kind to yourself
  5. Live day by day, compare what you did better today than yesterday
  6. Don’t compare yourself to others
  7. Look to your habits if you’re getting worn down by your lack of productivity
  8. Take your time and gather perspective

There is no wrong way to live life. If you are loving life right now, that’s brilliant. Go you! But if you find yourself putting limitations on yourself. If you find that every time something goes wrong you blame yourself and your lack of capability. If you find yourself thinking you’re capable of nothing, well this is for you.

This world has many great people in it and yet it always has room for more. You are as great as you want to be. Don’t put yourself into boxes unfairly. If you want to be something, go out there and get it!

Ask yourself ‘what if’ you became limitless

The words ‘what if’ are dangerous if used in the wrong context. If used carelessly you could be constantly looking for greener grass and never appreciating where you are. But this isn’t asking about ‘what if’ I had this that and the other, this is about asking ‘what if’ I stopped putting myself down and ‘what if’ I had no limits.

Limitless seems like a god-like state. Only in films is it true that people can be limitless, right? Well, if you think about how damaging your limits are and how restrictive they are, in comparison to where they actually are, you could be limitless, or at least feel like it.

Let me explain.

Let’s say you say to yourself every day that you simply do not have the time to work on your dream because you have a list as long as your arm to do today and there is no way you can work on something else as well. Your limit there is absolute. You’ve said to yourself you can’t physically do any work on your side-project and therefore your limit is 0 minutes. You can’t spare a second.

Now, if you said to yourself instead, what do I need to do today in order to spend 3 hours on my side-hustle, things might be quite different. For a start, you might have a slight heart attack at the fact I’m suggesting 3 hours per day working on your side hustle but let's look at your day for a second. 8 am wake up, work by 9 am, 1-hour lunch, 5 pm finish. Dinner at 6 pm and TV by 8 pm. If you woke up at 6:30 am, worked your lunch hour and between dinner and TV you’d have 5 hours to work on your side project.

You might find that in context to what you thought your limits were, you could be limitless.

Actionable tips:

  • Ask yourself ‘what if’ you didn’t say you didn’t have time and instead made time?


Sometimes it’s the limits that we put on ourselves that make us unproductive. By simply saying ‘I don’t have the time’ puts us into the ‘too busy box’ and it means that unless we indeed on getting out that box, that’s where we’ll stay. Instead, ask yourself better questions, figure out if the conversations you are having with yourself are good or bad ones, understand the boxes you are putting yourself in.

It could be a simple shift in mindset that leads you to double or even triple your productivity and get to working on some of the stuff you dream about. If you make time, you’ll have time. But most importantly, if you think you are capable and realise that some of the most successful people in this world are no smarter than you, the world really is your oyster.

340k+ views. Science-led self-help. BSc Biomedical Science, studying MSc Behavioural Science.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store