A very important part of life management is considering and setting limits. On the one hand, the laws of physics limit you and your potential, while on the other, you must set some limits yourself to keep up with the daily discipline more easily and to more easily achieve your goals. We humans are pattern-based beings, seeing patterns even where there are none, and an important part of patterns are limits.
Limits are nothing but minimums and maximums in our lives. The especially important ones (with time horizon we can understand) are daily and weekly limits. The simple idea is that we have a minimum and a maximum number of units (time, money…) we’re prepared to spend on a certain activity (work, sports, spouse…). Having limits helps us organize investments of our time, energy and other resources.
The idea of limits is to not overdo it or invest too few of our resources into a specific thing. There is an optimal amount of investment needed for everything we do in life. If we invest more, we’re wasting resources or hurting ourselves. If we invest less than necessary, things don’t go into the direction we want. The big challenge lies in the fact that limits aren’t always in line with our instincts and emotional needs. That’s why we need self-discipline.
Your body may crave sweets all day. But you can set a limit to only eat one candy per day. You may not feel like exercising at all. But because you know all the benefits of exercise, you can decide to exercise at least two times per week. Your may love your work, but to keep long-term productivity, you can set a maximum limit of 50 hours of work per week and a minimum of 40 hours and so on.
Limits can really help you organize your life and introduce steady patterns that are easier to manage. Since you are a pattern-based being, limits can help you to stay organized and disciplined. There are two types of limits we have to consider:
- Physical limits: Our biological and environmental limits that we have less influence on.
- Willpower limits: Limits we set for ourselves and completely depend on our self-discipline.
Physical limits are limits connected especially to physical laws, environmental limits and your energy levels. One important concept of time management is to not only manage time, but your energy as well. There are days when you’re more productive and there are times when you need much more discipline to get things done. Listening to your body and energy levels is very important for your optimal performance in the long run.
Considering physical limits in your life simply means that you listen to your body. You have to push yourself all the time, but not too far. You have to go out of your comfort zone into the learning zone, but not too far. If you go too far, you enter the panic zone and you do more damage than good to yourself. If you push yourself too hard when working, partying, anything, then you’re doing damage to yourself. It will lead to a setback.
If you’re doing something wrong, your body and emotions give you feedback very quickly. You get tired, you start experiencing bad moods, you become grumpy and so on. These are all signs that you’re pushing yourself too hard or doing wrong things. Vice versa is also true. You get the same negative signs and your body feels fatigued if you aren’t active enough. Minimums and maximums are very important.
Thus you should always listen to your body. If your body tells you that you’re pushing yourself too hard, take a rest. If you don’t feel good about yourself because you aren’t doing enough, push yourself a little bit harder. Listen to your body on a day to day basis and adjust your workload to your daily energy state.
If you push too hard, you know what happens. We have physical limits. Our bodies can break. Our discipline muscle can break. If you are under stress for too long, you definitely experience burnout sooner or later. If you push your body too hard, you will get an injury sooner or later. All that can lead to a setback that takes you many steps back.
Two more aspects are important when talking about physical limits.
The first one is that you can definitely influence your energy levels. So physical limits can be expanded. With a healthy diet, regular exercise, positive people around you, believing in yourself, goals that motivate you etc. you have a great influence on your energy levels. Much like you can increase your body performance, same goes for your intellectual, emotional and spiritual capacity. You should definitely have a lifestyle that enables you to maximize your daily potential for work, play, love and creativity.
While you’re in the learning zone, your comfort zone expands. Your energy levels and daily output potential rise. You push yourself out of the comfort zone again and improve yourself. Your performance is improving step by step. We call that linear change.
You reach a plateau sooner or later. When you exercise regularly, have an optimal diet, have positive people in your life etc. there is no more room for linear improvements. In that kind of situations, rapid improvements come into play. Maybe you start using leverage (other people’s time and money), maybe you become a minimalist or start meditating etc. You decide to do something in totally different way. Again, your capacity for output increases dramatically.
The important thing is to do it step by step. You’re looking for small improvements, especially at first. You search for different ways of improving yourself and doing things better. Your soft limits may be very limited at the beginning. You push but you get tired really fast. Don’t worry, just keep it up. Everything is like a muscle, you build it up with time.
The second aspect is how to optimally expand your physical limits. There is one sure way of doing it. You want small constant improvements, not one big push from time to time. It’s better to do moderate exercise three times per week than to do it once and not listen to your limits and your body.
No pain, no gain is probably the worst advice you can get when you first start pushing yourself out of the comfort zone. First you crawl, then you walk, after that you run and in the end, you can sprint. The better condition you are in in any area of life, the more you can experiment, the more you can push yourself, the less limiting the soft limits are. But it takes time (years) to build that. You have to let things accumulate over time. The first step is thus the hardest but definitely worth it.
To sum things up:
- We all have biological, physical and environmental limits that present our daily output potential
- We need to listen to our physical limits for optimal productivity in the long term. If we don’t listen to our body, we do damage that leads to a great setback sooner or later.
- We can expand our physical limits by improving ourselves (diet, regular exercise, reading, brain exercises etc.), sometimes even by changing our environment. By expanding our comfort zone, our physical limits also usually expand.
- It takes time and effort to expand our physical limits. We need to have long-term perspective. The most important thing is that the whole picture is constant. It’s better to do something every day, but in smaller quantities, than doing something once a week, trying to compensate and pushing too hard. That is how things accumulate.
- Physical limits are the reason why we cannot achieve everything in life. We often aren’t even aware of how short life is. It is, which is why you should live it to the full.
Physical limits don’t depend on your will that much and are thus quite unpredictable. You simply don’t know what your natural energy potential will be tomorrow. Maybe you’ll feel super energized or maybe you’ll catch a cold. Thus the only thing you can do is to keep physical limits in mind as life goes by, and adjust accordingly. You have to stay flexible and constantly gather feedback from your body and environment.
Willpower limits, on the other hand, are a completely different story. Willpower limits totally depend on your self-discipline. You don’t have 100 % control over your willpower limits, because of the influence of physical limits, but your control is definitely much better. You may not know how you’ll feel tomorrow, but in general, you know your daily potential. You know the average amount of hours you have available every day for a certain activity, your skills, your leverages etc. You have a pretty good picture of what you can achieve on your average day or in your average week or in your average month.
Based on that, you can set willpower limits in your life. They should still be flexible, but it’s about the minimums and maximums you should do each day or each week on average for a specific thing or activity. Knowing your physical limits enables you to stay flexible, while having willpower limits enables you to maximize your long-term performance based on your self-discipline.
Willpower limits are like your bank account
Why do you need willpower limits? Well, every area in your life is like a bank account. You can do only two things. Either you withdraw money or deposit it. It’s the same in every area of your life. With every action, you either deposit or withdraw capital. Let’s look at an example.
If you go exercising, you do a deposit on your health bank account. If you eat pizza and get drunk, you make a withdrawal. If you spend quality time with your kid or spouse, you deposit units into relationships. If you go too far in flirting with others while you’re in a relationship, you make a withdrawal. If you read a quality book for an hour, you invest into your skills and competences. It’s a deposit. If you watch reality shows, it makes you a little bit stupider. It’s a withdrawal.
Now we can go a step further. You can have a lot of money on your bank account. If that’s the case, a withdrawal every now and again isn’t that painful. For example, if you’re an athlete, you can afford an unhealthy meal without doing any serious damage to your health. You can also have a lot of money on your bank account and do something so stupid that you go bankrupt. For example, if you’re an athlete, text while you drive, have an accident and sustain an injury that prevents you from training and competing. It can be a total bankruptcy.
As mentioned, your bank account balance can also be negative or you are even close to bankruptcy. It’s like smoking a cigarette when you have lung cancer. The fewer units you have on your bank account, the more painful every withdrawal is and the more welcoming every deposit.
That’s why you want to have a good balance on your account. You don’t want to go bankrupt, you don’t want to struggle “financially”, but on other hand you also don’t need billions to live a happy and successful life. Setting minimums and maximums can help you a lot with keeping adequate balance.
Of course your minimums and maximums should be flexible, depending on your goals, on the current state of different areas of your life and so on. It’s good to review your minimums and maximums every three to six months, and adjust them based on your life situation and goals.
Nevertheless, your willpower limits should be a steady and important part of your life. They concern all the activities that bring you long-term happiness, so any changes to your maximums and minimums should be minor.
For example, you can decide to not exercise for a month, because you just had a baby, but it should be a short-term decision if you want to stay healthy; you also don’t need to run a marathon two months after having a baby, but you can definitely start walking, stretching etc. to reach your weekly health minimum.
Now it’s time to sit down and consider the willpower limits you should set in your life and stick to them in the long term. For every area of life, analyze and think hard about your current balance in the account, how much you can start depositing (investing) and how you are going to keep discipline. Below, you can find the general direction of your minimums and maximums to help you out.
And another important thing: if setting minimums and maximums in your life means making big changes, take things a little bit slower. You cannot implement too many changes in your life at once. Choose one area, set minimums and maximums, and stick to them for a month or two. Then go to the next level. If you try to implement too many changes in your life, you won’t change anything in the end.
Here are the general directions for your minimums and maximums:
The minimum amount of units you should deposit into different areas of your life weekly/monthly:
- You (planning, reflection etc.): 2 hours per week
- Exercising: 3 x 1 hour per week
- Diet: Two pieces of fruit and vegetables at every main course daily and much more
- Sex: At least three times per week, better daily ;)
- Spouse and family: One to two quality hours a day + one whole day during the weekend
- Friends and socializing: At least one evening per week
- Money and wealth: Save at least 10 % of your salary each month
- Career: Work at least 40 hours per week
- Competences and informal education: Read/learn for at least 5 hours per week
- Fun, creativity and travel: Travel at least once per year, do something fun every week
- Donating (your time or money): At least 1 %
The maximum amount of units you should deposit into different areas of your life weekly/monthly:
- You (planning etc.): 3 hours per week, otherwise you can get caught in analysis-paralysis
- Exercising: 6 x 1 hour per week (if you aren’t a professional athlete)
- Diet: Afford one shitty meal per week.
- Sex: Well… no limits I guess :)
- Spouse and family: No limits, but you need to keep balance and have a spine.
- Friends and socializing: Three evenings of socializing per week should be enough
- Money and wealth: Saving 50 % of your salary per month
- Career: Working 70 hours per week at the most