Arnold Schwarzenegger has the face and physique of someone who knows a thing or two about limits – and about crossing them. So when he says something about it you listen to him, also considering that he is very nice.
Seven times Mr. Olympia, actor in memorable action films in which he played characters that have gone down in film history such as the Terminator, governor of California from 2003 to 2011, Schwarzy – as many affectionately call him – has now the status of the sage. His positions in favor of science during the pandemic or against Putin after the invasion of Ukraine have received a lot of media attention, partly because they are often uttered by someone who does not mince words and uses a very evocative language.
In this case, however, Schwarzenegger speaks directly to each of us, and in telling what the concept of limit is for him, he also explains how mobile it is.
The limit is not an impenetrable barrier
I absolutely disagree with the idea that you can ever find your limits. You can find your current limit, but you will never find your actual limit.
According to Schwarzy, what we regard as impassable limits are like that only in the present or immediately future time, but never forever. We see them in this light out of habit and fear that we can never overcome them.
To better explain his thought he gives examples, one of which is very familiar to runners: it is the story of Roger Bannister. When he ran in 1954 a mile in less than four minutes for the first time in human history. From that day on, his feat became a crossable boundary for other athletes as well. Until that day, however, it was taken for granted that no human being would ever be able to run a mile in less than 4 minutes. Until one human being did, lighting new paths for so many others after him.
The old limit has become the new normal.
Limits are only in our head
What he seems to be saying is that the limits are the boundaries of our comfort zone: as long as we stay inside it we know the territory and we are comfortable, but it is only by going outside that we can explore new dimensions and expand our mind.
Limits are not only physical, not least because often the most constraining are precisely the mental ones: they give peace of mind and make one comfortable, but at the same time they force us into a limited dimension, precisely.
What Schwarzenegger is also saying is that there are clearly physical limits but that this should not convince us that it is not okay to try to overcome them, especially in areas where the possible expansion is theoretically infinite, namely that of the mind.
In short, it is not necessary to lift more and more physical weight-as he did at the time of his world titles-but rather to focus on mental weight: the brain can in fact be trained and can continually improve its plasticity, thus its ability to rewire itself continuously and with increasing ease according to the training it undergoes.
The limits imposed define what we are, and overcoming them is what we might be. Out of mental laziness, we think that what we have and what we know or want to do is all we are allowed to do while, as we move the limit bit by bit further and further, we would discover that what we could be is much greater than what we are.
Run an extra mile, read an extra book a month, speak a new language by learning 4-5 new words a day. What often holds us back is the lack of consistency in approaching those limits, as well as the difficulty of seeing them as realistic since they are ambitious or require commitment.
Perhaps-and we would add this but Arnold would agree with us-intelligence lies in taking a few steps at a time in the direction of the limits and gaining ground a little bit each day, instead of focusing on a single leap that is unlikely to succeed.
The joy of life is seeing how much more we are capable of, and battling so that who we are tomorrow is better than who we are today.