Know your limits. And push them.

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I am sick. Since I am back to Germany to visit family, I have a cold. There was a lot to do here, and I wanted to meet a lot of people I haven’t seen since I left. So there wasn’t any time to relax and get healthy again.

Maybe you know these phases too. The times when you are feeling sick, maybe your throat hurts, or your nose is runny, or your whole body just feels tired. But at the same time, there are things to do. Maybe for work, maybe for family, maybe for yourself. But there are certain things we do despite feeling awful.

And that’s a good thing. Most of the time.

If you want to meet a dear friend you haven’t seen in a long time, you should do it, despite a headache.

If you want to go to the mall to get some warm clothes, because it’s freaking cold outside, you should do it, despite your runny nose.

If you want to proofread your friend’s application so she can try to get the great new job, you should do it, despite your hurting throat.

The big question in all these cases is: where is your limit?

How much can you take? When are you too sick, too tired, too exhausted to be useful?

Yes, it is great to meet someone but what if you make them sick, too? What if you go to the mall and buy something you wouldn’t have usually bought and regret it later? What if you give terrible advice for your friend’s job application and she ends up not getting the job because of it?

All the what-ifs. And all comes down to you. How much can you take? Where is your limit?

And to answer this question, you really have to know yourself pretty well. To know how much you can take and if you are useful or not.

This isn’t only relevant for the times in which you are sick and on “low-power”. This is important every single day. No matter which part of your life, you have to know if you are useful. Useful to the people around you but also useful to yourself.

No matter what you do, no matter who you are, you have limits.

Your body has limits, and your mind has limits. Testing your body’s limits is fairly easy. Start running until you are out of breath. The first limit reached. If you keep on going after this point, you can either improve your fitness or hurt yourself. So it is, like I said before, important to know your limit, but it is also important to know if and how much you can go over this limit.

That is it for your body’s limits. Easy to test and you can see the results when you overreach pretty immediately. But what about your mind? That is a somewhat different matter.

Your mind has limits too. But you can’t test them as easily as your body’s limits. And most of us don’t even think that there are limits until it is too late. Until your mind can’t take it anymore. Being it a breakdown, depression, burnout or whatever symptoms you will have. There is a limit. And pushing it too far will break you.

So what to do that this doesn’t happen? How to find your limit and stop before you overstep it?

I am sorry to tell you that there isn’t going to be an easy three-steps to find your limits and make everything better article. Because that just never works. But here is what I can tell you from my experience: Stopping and thinking is the best way to realise what’s going on.

Sounds easy but needs a lot of practice and willpower. Why? Because that’s not how your brain usually works. Your brain’s primary job is to keep you alive. That means eating, drinking, sleeping and alerting you to danger. Almost everything else is a pure reaction to your surroundings. How you react is dependent on who you are.

If you are the kind of person who doesn’t cancel on others, you are going to meet your friend, no matter how bad the headache. If you are the kind of person to stick to a plan once made, you are going to go to the mall to buy what you think you need, no matter how bad you feel. If you are the kind of person who helps others, you are going to help no matter how tired you are.

But if you train yourself to stop. To just hold on for a moment and to think, you can start changing your reactive behaviour. Stop before you leave the house to meet your friend. Think about yourself for a moment and decide actively, if you are well enough to go out. Stop before you purchase the item in the mall and think if you are well enough to make this decision at this moment. Stop before you make remarks on the application and make sure you know what you are doing.

Just stop and think. It’s as easy as that, and it’s a pretty hard thing to do. Stop and think. Make sure your mind is in the right place, and you are within your limits.

Yes, it’s ok to push your limits, to step over them and to do more than you should do. Sometimes it’s necessary. Sometimes it is the only way to grow. Sometimes there isn’t another option. No matter if it’s your body or your mind.

But don’t forget to make the decision consciously. Don’t let the outside dictate what you do. Don’t just react. Stop and Think. Then act.