In the health and fitness arena, taglines often sell the idea of “accept no limits.” After all, we’re supposed to believe in ourselves, push through boundaries, improve exponentially and show them all, right? Dramatic images, big numbers and extreme makeovers get the spotlight. And when people work hard for what they achieve, I think it’s great. My own primary focus on MDA is helping people live their best life with the least amount of pain, suffering and sacrifice possible. To that end, I offer ample positive advice for what to do. Inherent to the bigger picture, however, (and just as critical in my opinion) is the skill of discerning what not to do. Today I’m talking limits—and how knowing where to draw the line is essential to living an awesome life.
I know we all live in a culture of “more is better.” At various points of my life I’ve been tempted by that siren song. (I am a former Cardio King after all.) And yet the last few decades have affirmed a very different truth for myself and for others I’ve observed.
Because of the work I do, I meet a lot of people who are motivated to live a healthier life. It’s one of the things I love most about what I do in fact. And, yet, as a result I also see the full spectrum of behavior around “healthy” action.
Unfortunately, I watched people exercise their way into illness, ironically incapacitating themselves (or at least impairing their weight loss or fitness progress) because they couldn’t respect their bodies’ need for recovery. I’ve even seen others move from healthy eating into destructive orthorexic obsession. I’ve seen professional ambition consume people’s lives, and anxious parenting undermine the capacity for joy.
We reward and esteem those who relentlessly pursue self-improvement, but when does relentless become dysfunctionally desperate? It’s a sad image when what we think we want (or should want) ends up unraveling our chance for genuine balance and well-being.
Think of the times you’ve pushed yourself passed your limits in ways that ended up acting against your own best interest. You know—those times you’ve told yourself that you don’t “deserve” a treat, a break, etc., only to have that abstention come back to bite you. When have you denied yourself reasonable limits for the sake of “more is better”? When have you refused limits that would’ve given you needed sleep, solitude, rest, ease, peace, pleasure or sanity?
Think about the messages that play for you as you make decisions. What virtues are you attempting to uphold in your life, and when do you feel unnecessarily or excessively bound by them? When have you genuinely restricted your enjoyment of life because you can’t find any comfortable compromise in your principles?
Where has dedication become desperation, commitment become compulsion?
Maybe it’s in trying to be the perfect parent/partner/child/friend that we frequently wear ourselves out. Maybe we’re caught in a cycle of unwarranted restriction in our food choices that’s sucking any and all pleasure out of eating. Perhaps we routinely overdo it at the gym or have a hard time justifying relaxing because we always feel we can fit in “one more” walk or should be getting in “one more” set or “one more” hour of activity—only to continually wear ourselves out or leave no opportunity for other more restful and fulfilling activities. Maybe it’s finishing “one more” thing at work even though we know it will mean once again forgoing time with our families or time for ourselves. Perhaps it’s even never knowing when to stop obsessively reading about health and just trust we know what we’re doing.
In short, our lives become victims to the visions we have for them.
What would your life look like if you lived by the rhythm you genuinely feel best serves your mental and physical health? How many of us even know what that rhythm looks like? Do we have a sense of our ideal balance in life? Maybe we should spend as much time discerning our ideal limits as we do planning for our infinite expansion and self-improvement…
They say with age comes experience, and the fact is I’ve come to a finer and more honest awareness of my own human propensity toward excessive control. (Most of us, truth be told, have this in some sense or to some degree.) My resolve has indeed helped me achieve a great deal in life, but my ability to intuit natural limits has actually allowed me to enjoy my life and all I have.
The people I see who push themselves too far have excessive vision without a sense of proportion. It’s what happens, I think, when we abandon our self-attunement in the pursuit of principles. Frankly, when we refuse to have patience for ourselves and our process, it’s an act of self-sabotage (if not self-aggression).
I don’t say this lightly. We all deserve optimum well-being, but I’d also argue we can best attain it (and maintain it) when we foster a sense of informed intuition about our needs—balancing those admirable principles and ambitious goals with instinctual self-care. I’ve heard a friend describe it as living lightly, and that sounds about right.
So, let me open this up to you. What limits have you learned to set for yourself? And how have you learned where to draw those lines? What’s been the impact for your mental and physical health, not to mention other areas of life?
I look forward to reading your thoughts. Thanks for reading, everyone.
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About the Author
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.