Why Most Of Us Never Find Out What We’re Capable Of. (A lesson from a man who cut off his arm).

It’s April 2003 and Aron Ralston is facing a life or death situation. Hiking in Utah’s Robbers Roost, a hideout used in the days of the wild west, he’s trapped. Between him and freedom is an 800 pound boulder which has crushed his forearm and wedged it in place against the canyon wall.

After five days of struggling to free himself Ralston was left with one choice. Using a blunt knife he amputated his arm. When he finally made his way out he had lost 40 pounds (a lot of it blood) and was within hours of death.

The good news is Ralston survived and since then has gone on to tour the country, talking about his ordeal over that five-day period. His story has even been made into a movie. But I wondered, would Ralston have thought himself capable of doing what he did before he headed out on a hike that fateful day?

Would any of us?

Probably not.

His story is a stark reminder of what we as human beings are capable of.

When our backs are against the wall, when it’s a matter of life and death, when we literally have to do something or die, our instinct to survive comes to the fore.

Thankfully, most of us will never be faced with the prospect that Ralston was, but perhaps there is a lesson that we can apply to our lives. Do we ever test ourselves and our limits? Are we settling for being comfortable when there is more that we can give and be? What are we capable of?

You’re so much more than you think

“There is no man living who isn’t capable of doing more than he thinks he can do.” Henry Ford

Are you someone who really has no clue whether you can do any better because you’ve never challenged yourself? Have you created limitations or accepted the ones imposed on you and made them your truth? Could you be living a limited life oblivious to the compromises you’ve made?

Except, sometimes you feel a twinge of dissatisfaction and a ripple of restlessness. In a quiet moment something inside speaks out. Maybe it’s triggered when you see others living the life you want or maybe it’s just a yearning inside that tells you there is so much left unexplored.

If you catch yourself wondering whether this is all there is then deep down you know there’s so much more you can be.

How to demand more of yourself

Tapping into that potential will demand more than you’ve asked of yourself so far. It starts with you:

  1. Expecting more of yourself. I read somewhere that our expectations of ourselves have a way of turning out exactly as we want them to. If we expect little that’s exactly what we get. Don’t be satisfied with mediocre behaviour or goals. Just because it’s ok for everyone else doesn’t mean it has to be for you. Raise your standards and see how your behaviour starts to fall in line too.
  2. Cultivating a growth mindset. You want more and expect more but how do you become more than you are right now? You have to believe that you are capable of improving and that your abilities can be developed. So you’re not great at something, say to yourself: ‘I’m not great yet’ and don’t let the risk of failure stop you from pushing yourself. Start to see challenges as an opportunity to work to improve rather than something to avoid.
  3. Following your curiosity. If you’re not sure what step to take, start with something you’ve wondered about or been interested in. Dig a little deeper and follow that trail wherever it goes. Shun the familiar and move toward the unfamiliar. Try the thing that you looked at longingly but never thought you were capable of doing. Give yourself the opportunity to be surprised and to make wild discoveries about yourself.
  4. Being willing to be uncomfortable. As you follow your curiosity and push yourself you’ll be forced outside your comfort zone. That discomfort may scare you into taking a step back but to grow you have to be willing to be uncomfortable. Let fear and excitement be your compass.
  5. Taking consistent action. To improve you have to take action. Results don’t come when you leave it to chance, you have to commit to taking action even when you don’t feel like it. Keep pushing as obstacles come and learn from your failures.
  6. Holding yourself accountable. Finally, realise that the buck stops with you. You are ultimately responsible for your life, your screw-ups and successes, the bad and the good. Resist the urge to blame others and know that you have the power to make the change you want happen.

It’s time to get excited about your life again

You have so much more inside you but you’ll need to do the work to bring it to life. You don’t need to wait for a life or death moment to slap you awake. Instead, take control of your future right now. Expect more and challenge yourself to take action. Focus on being better each day than you were the day before. Watch as your life starts to improve and before you know it you’ll be on your way to discovering what you’re capable of.


Now over to you.

Are you comfortable yet dissatisfied with your life?

How can you start to push those boundaries and challenge yourself?

Let me know in the comments.

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