What are you capable of? Probably more than you believe.

This isn’t meant to be an empty motivational post.

There’s a concept in long-distance running called the “second wind”. When athletes are tired and believe it is best to stop, they find they’re able to press on at a perfectly good pace.

If you’ve had a particularly difficult exercise session, you may have experienced this yourself. You challenged yourself to find a limit and found yourself pushing past it.

Although the following will be more difficult to measure, I want to consider this in cases other than exercise. How do we find this second wind?

First, it involves the belief that we can grow. This is often called the “growth mindset”. Briefly summarised, Carol Dweck argued that students perform better if they believe they’re able to get better relative to those who believe their intelligence is fixed by their genetics.

Second, it involves incorporating gradual challenges into our lives. As experiments. Just to find out what’s possible. Treating it as an experiment removes the pressure and invites failure as an honest possibility.

I like to think of practice as failure in a controlled environment.

Whether it is running, swimming, writing, or cooking for the family, test the limits. Believe you’re capable of improvement (because it’s true). Gradually challenge yourself and enjoy the surprise when you realise you’re more capable than you originally believed.

The existence of reservoirs of energy that habitually are not tapped is most familiar to us in the phenomenon of ‘second wind.’ Ordinarily we stop when we meet the first effective layer, so to call it, of fatigue. We have then walked, played, or worked ‘enough,’ and desist. That amount of fatigue is an efficacious obstruction, on this side of which our usual life is cast. But if an unusual necessity forces us to press onward, a surprising thing occurs. The fatigue gets worse up to a certain critical point, when gradually or suddenly it passes away, and we are fresher than before. We have evidently tapped a level of new energy, masked until then by the fatigue-obstacle usually obeyed.

William James, 1907

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