Published on December 8, 2020

7 Ways To Break Boundaries and Self-Imposed Limits

7 Ways To Break Boundaries and Self-Imposed Limits

No matter who you are, there are limits and boundaries impacting you. Some are good, but some are bad. And the latter is the kind of boundaries you’ll want to break from.

Take poor Icarus, who famously said that “all limits are self-imposed.” Great in theory Icarus, but trying to fly too high towards the sun with wings made of feathers and wax for glue proves that some limits are good to heed to.

The issue we face in the 21st century is working out which limitations are good and which are holding us back—which keep us safe and which kill off our happiness, success, and even our health. You’ll have to learn how to break these boundaries to enjoy the benefits of not being limited.

Here are 7 ways to break boundaries and self-imposed limits.

1. Be Open to It

What you think is possible is absolutely accurate. The issue is what you think impacts your ability to think powerfully, so you trap yourself in your own quality of thought. Confused?

I worked with a client who categorically assured me that there was nothing that could be done. The first thing that must happen with any limitation is you have to break down the belief about it. You don’t have to believe it’s possible or know how to do it—just accept there’s going to be a way to do it. Let’s use science to prove this.

In a study on the Biochemistry of belief, researchers looked at the subject of “Man is what he believes he is” (a quote by Russian writer Anton Chekhov). They explored examples of how what happens in our minds impacts our bodies and our results in life.

“Receptors on the cell membranes are flexible, which can alter sensitivity and conformation. In other words, even when we feel stuck ‘emotionally’, there is always a biochemical potential for change and possible growth. When we choose to change our thoughts (bursts of neurochemicals), we become open and receptive to other pieces of sensory information hitherto blocked by our beliefs! When we change our thinking, we change our beliefs. When we change our beliefs, we change our behavior.”[1]

So, whether you believe it or not, it’s a fact. You can break free and break boundaries.

In Neuroscientist Joe Dispenza’s book, You Are the Placebo: Making Your Mind Matter, Dispenza looks at occasions where the power of the mind overruled what happened in the body. He looks at the story of WW2 Doctor Henry Beech who had the awful predicament where he ran out of morphine. It turns out the story is not true (as Shannon Harvey showed in her article[2]).


However, it is the case that Doctor Beech noticed that soldiers association with pain was very different to most since they saw the pain as escaping the front line—so, they were able to lower the amount of pain they felt they were feeling! See how powerful the mind is?

Again, you don’t have to believe this to be true. Just be open to the idea.

2. The Sayings That Count

Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory said:

“I often forget other people have limitations. It’s so sad.”

And he’s right. In my experience, it’s often the limitations that you can’t see that have the biggest impact.

I asked on social media what phrases everyone hated. I had over 150 comments within a few hours. I then asked, “What sayings do you love?” and struggled to get 8 comments in days!

The irony is that the negative phrases stop you from achieving great things and positive ones power up your ability to achieve what you wish to. Therefore, you should learn to know the sayings that count.

Clare is the leader of a highly prestigious team. The pandemic has hit them hard as it has for many, and Clare realized she was surrounded by people saying;

  • “There’s too much work; we have to work during the weekend.”
  • “I’m no good at working on my own. I can’t do it.”
  • “It’s not my fault; the tech/Wi-Fi/other departments aren’t up to this.”
  • “We have no choice about this.”

Look out for these. If you’re hearing a saying more than once, question it.

  • Is it true?
  • Is there nothing that can be done?
  • Have you looked at that one phrase and asked, “Is there a better way?”

If there isn’t a better way to physically work within this limitation, there will be a better way to view the limitation so that it doesn’t cause a limitation!


Clare’s team was the perfect example. We took each statement the team made and questioned its validity.

We saw that some people believed that there could be a new way of working (new processes and communications) while others needed a new way of thinking. And some firmly believed that unless the pandemic ends, they would be trapped in hell.

3. Growth or Fixed?

To change the phrases that help create limitations, you need to look at yourself in more detail. If you’ve read my lifehack articles, you will know I talk about the science of you (i.e., not fighting who you are but learning how to utilize that to be the best version possible). Some will hold on for dear life to the beliefs they have, unprepared to accept that there could be a different way. If this is, you don’t feel bad.

Some naturally cultivate a growth mindset and can think in a way that helps them explore new ideas. This can be good and bad—not so good for sticking to the plan as they easily get distracted by something else!

If you can’t imagine ditching the limitations that feel self-imposed, learn to listen to yourself more. I’ve never seen a fixed mindset person who couldn’t do this—who couldn’t break their boundaries and limitations.

Here are strategies to develop a growth mindset if you have a fixed mindset:

  1. Look for role models—ideally not those who have a growth mindset already but ones like you who epitomize getting the life they want.
  2. What do you notice about these role models—passionate fashionistas, structured, free-flowing, love/hate to dance, or love or hate chat?
  3. Really understand them. Having a chat with them is useful, so pluck up the courage and do it. You’ll be surprised how people are keen to help.
  4. Write the phrases you say, and ask yourself if they are good or bad for your success. This goes for all mindsets. Growth mindset people are just as likely to have things they say that limit their ability to get what they need. They may have beliefs that are without limitation when in fact, if they faced that belief, they’d see their lack of skill doesn’t match their growth mindset. Ever seen a poor public speaker/singer who thinks they rock? Exactly!
  5. Challenge and question. There’s power in questions. Da Vinci was a lover of questions. The key is to not force the answer,. Just explore what you think. The more questions you can ask, the better the quality of your thoughts.
  6. Start in a way that suits you. It’s no good telling you to start small if you love to be very busy. Likewise, if I tell you to go for it, that may scare you so badly you proverbially sit in the corner and shake!
  7. Go at a pace that suits you but no matter what, ensure that you schedule your plan of action into your life. Even things that seem intangible need time to be worked on. Often, in a client’s plan of action, there will be something like “explore how this thought impacts on work for the next 4 weeks.” If you don’t diary it, you won’t prioritize it.

4. Can’t, Won’t, Don’t, Try

We concentrate on the negative to keep us safe. Known as negative bias, it’s been a winning way for us humans since we first evolved to stand up and build a campfire. The issue is that our brains can trick us into believing what they say.

As you start to focus on the phrases you use and their impact, look out for these 4 words:

  1. Try
  2. Can’t
  3. Won’t
  4. Should

These words take up too much of your brain and stop you from breaking down the self-imposed barriers. In my new book, Taking control of your mind: Life hacks to resilience, confidence, and success, I look at the 6 archetypes that we fit into when it comes to hidden fear.

We all have fears, from billionaires to students, from CEO’s to happy, healthy individuals living life to the fullest. The archetype disbeliever has a habit of hearing and accepting every word in their head—good or bad. The good news is that once you start to spot these words, you can change your results.


Can you only “try“? “Trying” suggests you take a high odds view that it could fail. Change that to something like “I aim to do this, give it focus, and take ownership.”

‘I can’t.” If it’s fly like Icarus, then I’m with you. On the other hand, if it’s telling someone what you think, is it “I can’t,” or is it “I am scared to”?

“I won’t” is a great one. It can be used to power up your chance to beat your limitations and break boundaries or be used to hold those boundaries in place:

  • “I won’t let anyone hurt my family” is a powerful “I can overcome anything” mindset.
  • “I won’t be able to do that” holds you stuck fast in a way that doesn’t.

Lastly, “should” makes out that everyone and everything else is more important and that’s just the way it is. I’ve never seen this to be true.

Remember, you can’t break all the boundaries. However, even if you’re stuck with certain limitations, that does not stop you from changing your mindset to them.

For instance: “I should do this report because the whole company needs it” takes all your power away. Change it to “I act on this report because the whole company is relying on me.”

Do you see how one is powerless and the other powerful?

I coached a full-time carer who was building a business on the side, working part-time, and felt like everyone had control of their life. Reframing what they should do to what they did and how it made a difference was, without a doubt, life-changing. They went from seeing themselves as a victim to a superhero.

5. Seriously, Get Out!

Self-imposed limitations don’t like to go quietly. They are reinforced with outdated incorrect “facts” gleaned from the internet or friends. Trying to break through limitations and boundaries means you must be mindful of who you hang out with, both in your head, online, and in the real world. The right people will help remove the limitations, too.

6. Plan With Confidence

To break these limitations and boundaries, create an action plan, decide who will keep you accountable, and monitor self-belief and confidence. Don’t do the “Go for it and you will fly” mindset. Unless you’ve got ears like Dumbo or magic like Peter Pan, no amount of positive thinking is going to make you fly—okay, if you really want it, you’ll find a way to get your hands on a James Bond jet pack!


Build yourself first before you break down your limitations.

“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.” —J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan

7. Unboxed

Contrary to what many experts will tell you, I’m not a huge fan of personality testing. If you love them, be mindful that you’re agreeing to be boxed up. You may have tendencies and natural ways of behaving, thinking, and reacting. However, that doesn’t define what you can be.

Holding onto a formula, for instance, that says “People like me don’t sit on the board of directors” restricts the ability to power up your mind and break boundaries.

A powerful time I saw was when a client said, “it’s impossible to earn more money in a pandemic!” Within 5 months, breaking that limitation means that person has made 500% more money and is likely to double that again. That’s the power of your mind.

Final Thoughts

It’s not easy to break boundaries and limitations, especially if you are not mentally prepared. You can start with these 7 tips to break your self-imposed limits to help you achieve your goals and live your life to the fullest.

Remember: if you believe it to be true, it is. So, choose carefully what you choose to think.

More Tips on How to Break Boundaries and Limitations

Featured photo credit: Aditya Saxena via


More by this author

Mandie Holgate

International Coach, Best Selling Author & Speaker inspiring people around the world to success.

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Last Updated on January 21, 2021

10 Willpower Hacks to Help Achieve Your Goals

10 Willpower Hacks to Help Achieve Your Goals

“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” – Mahatma Gandhi

“Willpower is essential to the accomplishment of anything worthwhile.” – Brian Tracy

“Just do it.” – Nike

The most important and satisfying things in life usually aren’t the easiest ones.

The good news: In today’s hyper-connected world, we have access to all the information we could want to help us achieve our future goals. We know what foods will make us healthier (would kale or quinoa be as popular without the internet and Dr. Oz? I think not). We can also estimate for ourselves the benefits of starting retirement savings early – and the implications for the lifestyles of our future selves (that boat at 65 means fewer vacations in your 20’s).


We almost always know what we should do thanks to endless knowledge at our fingertips. But actually doing it is an entirely different kind of challenge. Most of us can relate to that feeling of inertia at the start of a big project, or the struggle to consistently make good, long-term choices for our health, or saving for the future. This mental tug-of-war we experience has evolutionary roots. While knowing this might bring comfort, it doesn’t help solve the problem at hand:

How can we flex our willpower to become better, faster, smarter, and stronger?

The bad news: you can’t Google your way out of this one.

Or can you? A fascinating body of research (much of which you can turn up online through popular press and academic articles) sheds light on how to hack your willpower for better, easier results in all areas of your life. The Willpower Instinct, a great book by Stanford prof Kelly McGonigal, provides a deep dive into these and more topics for anyone keenly interested.

Here’s the short version: we can make the most of our willpower through two types of hacks. First, there are ways to turbo boost your willpower. Second, there are ways to hack the system so you make the best use of whatever (sometimes infinitely modest) willpower you have.


The following 10 tips draw on both of these toolkits.

1. Slow the heck down.

Most regrettable decisions (the splurge at the mall, the procrastination on the project, the snacks in the break room) happen when one part of our brain effectively hijacks the other. We go into automatic pilot (and unfortunately the pilot in question has a penchant for shoes, Facebook and cookies!). Researchers suggest that we can override this system by charging up the other. That is, slow down and focus on the moment at hand. Think about your breathing. Bring yourself back to this moment in time, feel the compulsion but don’t act on it yet. Try telling yourself, “If this feeling is still just as uncomfortable in 10 minutes, I’ll act on it.” Take a little time to be mindful – then make your decision.

2. Dream of ‘done.’

Imagine yourself handing in the big project, soaking up the appreciation from your colleagues or boss. Or crossing the finish line for the half-marathon you’ve always wanted to run. The rush, the aliveness, the wind on your face, the medal …

That’s a lot more fun and motivating to think about than how much work it is to get out of bed for your long, Sunday morning run!

Re-orient your brain by summoning more motivating feelings than just “not running this morning is more enjoyable than running this morning.” If your goals are meaningful, this will help.


3. Make your toughest choices first.

Scientists have found that willpower is like a full bathtub that’s drained throughout the day. So, why not start your toughest challenges when you have a full reserve? Get that project started or fit that workout in before you even check your email or have breakfast. Bonus: the high you’ll get from crossing off your hardest ‘to-do’ will help you sail through the rest of your day.

4. Progress = commitment, not a license to backslide.

A lot of times people will ‘cheat’ right after taking positive steps towards their goals. (A common version of this trap is, “I worked out three days in a row, so I deserve this cookie.”) Most of us can relate to this thinking – but it’s totally irrational! We’ll often trick ourselves into setbacks because we think we deserve them, even if we don’t really want them and deep down we know they’ll work against us in the long-run.

How can you counteract this effect? Research finds that if you use your positive streak to recommit (“If I worked out three days this week, I must be really committed to my health and fitness goal!”) rather than an excuse for wiggle room, we don’t take the same cheat options. Cool, right?

5. Meditate.

Meditation is an expressway to better willpower. Bringing your attention to your breathing for 15 minutes, or even five, flexes your willpower muscles by applying discipline to your thinking. It does this by working two mental ‘muscle groups’: first, the set of muscles that notice when your attention is drifting, and second, the set of muscles that bring you back to your task at hand. Over time, even small amounts of meditation will help you build the discipline to easily do what was once hard – like pushing through a long stretch at work.

6. Set mini-goals.

Which seems more doable: committing to three 20 minute runs this week or a half-marathon? Mini-goals are brilliant because they’re easier to achieve and boost your commitment to continuing. When we size them up, we see them as achievable rather than daunting. Each time you succeed at one, it boosts your sense of efficacy and personal integrity: not only are you capable of doing what you set out to do, but you followed through on it. Nice.


The beauty of mini-goals is that over time, mini-goals – and the momentum you’ve built by doing them – can quickly turn into super-goals. So that half marathon might be more likely to happen, and sooner and more easily than you think!

7. Eat.

Low blood sugar decreases your ability to make tough decisions. If you’re running on empty physically, you’ll also be running on empty mentally. (Yes, this one’s somewhat ironic if your goal involves changing food patterns – but even so, letting your blood sugar drop too far will only sabotage you over time.)

8. Sleep.

Research shows people who don’t get enough sleep have a tough time exercising their willpower. Sleep is critical for a healthy brain – along with just about everything else. So to optimize your willpower muscle, make sure you’re catching your zzz’s.

9. Nix the self-sabotage.

Making yourself feel bad hurts, rather than helps, your willpower efforts. Researchers have found that compassion is a far better strategy than tough love – telling yourself “It’s OK, everyone has setbacks sometimes,” will help you bounce back more quickly than negative self-talk.

10. Take the first hard step.

As a new behavior becomes a habit, it is more natural. You have to use less and less willpower to ‘make it so.’ When you’re starting a new pattern that feels hard, remind yourself that the first steps are truly the hardest. It will probably never feel harder than it does in those first few choices. In the case of repeated behaviors, like exercise or saving money, it takes weeks for new habits to take hold. By that point, the habit will be so ingrained, you’d have to try hard not to do it.

Featured photo credit: Kym Ellis via

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