Skip to main content

How to Realize Your Limitations and Exceed Them

Helen Keller on her Graduation from Radcliffe College

Limited ability or limiting beliefs?

In 1882, when Helen Keller was 19 months old, she contracted a fever that left her blind and deaf. Yet by her death in 1968 she had obtained a degree and had published 12 books, the first written when she was aged eleven.

My father, who is aged almost 89, is partially deaf and rapidly losing his sight. He would not be able to read the text in this article, and yet he is currently writing memories of his life for his grandchildren and working on a memoir of his time in World War II.

As you read about these two people do you feel inspired and think that you too could take on challenges in spite of your own limitations?

Or do you think there must be something special about them, and that you could never be like them?

If you answered yes to the first of those two questions then you probably don’t need this article. But even if you answered yes to the second question you can still go beyond your expectations. For most of us physical limitations create fewer barriers to success than our emotional or mental limitations do. We imagine how we might respond in the above situations, but we do this without considering that our own life experiences are different. Yes, it is possible we might give up and live life restricted by apparent limits – but it’s just as likely that given similar circumstances we would respond in a similar way.

Let’s take a closer look and see what Helen Keller and my father have in common to see where we can emulate them.

Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much. Helen Keller.


Get Support

Support From Others

While we may think we need to do things ourselves for our achievements to be of value, actually all of us are interdependent. For example the salary your employer pays you enables you buy food, which in turn enables a supermarket to buy from a farmer might then pay a builder to mend a leaking shed.

Those who successfully exceed their limitations have support.

Helen Keller’s parents did not give up on her. When one doctor said nothing could be done they saw another, and another. When they felt unable to cope and considered sending her away – they instead found a teacher who came to her. Under the guidance of this young teacher, who was herself sight impaired, Helen flourished. Throughout her life Helen continued to accept support – and as an adult she also gave it to others.

My father cannot see well enough to write in his journal, but he writes on sheets of paper. His writing is a barely legible scrawl, but my mother can make out enough to type it up and read it back to him.

How you can get the support you need

You could ask all your friends and family to help you achieve your goals, but that’s not likely to make you very popular! Instead here’s what I suggest you do:

1) First, make a list of people who already support or encourage you.

Make this as extensive as you like: you can include everything from the friend who gives you unconditional acceptance to the farmer who grew the food you eat. My own list also includes two techniques that give me support and the people upload free videos of these techniques onto the Internet to help people like you and me challenge our limiting beliefs.

There’s no right or wrong way to do this exercise and no prize for having the biggest list. It is simply to show you that you have support. Humans thrive on connection and when you realize you are supported your confidence is likely to naturally grow, and you will feel more able to tackle tasks you might otherwise avoid. An added bonus is that as you review your list you may well feel grateful – and gratitude is a great way to cultivate courage and strength.

If on completing this exercise you are still feel unsupported, I strongly recommend you see a counselor or other professional who can help you.

2) Now think about what you would like to achieve and list the skills you’d need to do that. If you don’t’ have some of those skills right now, this doesn’t mean you never will. It simply means that right now you are able to recognize you limitations and set in place a plan to exceed them.

The next step on that plan is to make a note of who can support you to develop the skills you need. For some skills you may be able to turn to those on your existing list, for others you may have to reach further afield. For example, when Helen Keller wanted to learn how to speak, her teacher couldn’t do that for her, but took her to someone who could. In my own case, when I started to write on-line, I knew nothing about search engine optimization. So first I watched a webinar. Then, after signing up for HubPages, I learned from other writers on the site and from HubPages staff.

how-to-realize-your-limitations-and-exceed-them

Go At Your Own Pace

When Helen Keller realized that the words her teacher drew on her hand had meanings she wanted to know the names for everything around her, including herself, and learned as fast as her teacher could teach. She learned words from early morning till nighttime. My father, on the other hand, grew tired after an hour of recording his story, so we stopped and he took a nap.

Even very small children instinctively know their own pace: after the first time my older daughter took a few steps, we would encourage her to try walking again but she wasn’t interested. After all, she could go anywhere she wanted by crawling or holding onto furniture. Then one day she stood holding onto the sofa and noticed her large ball nearby. Suddenly she could see the point of this walking lark! I watched fascinated as she bent down, picked up the ball, and walked unaided. My younger daughter, on the other hand, felt so excited at being able to walk that she burst out laughing – and soon fell over.

Strangely enough both my daughters can walk equally well now!

If you think you should be able to do something because someone else can, remind yourself that everyone learns differently and that we learn better when we are relaxed than we do when were are stressed out!

Cultivate Flexibility

Helen Keller, her parents and her teacher were flexible: her parents adapted to a deaf and blind child, and invited a teacher to live in their home. When one method didn’t work, her teacher tried another. Helen herself, after initial resistance, Helen also adapted to the new ways of learning. At 88, my father learned to use a Kindle, which enables him to set the text large enough to read. For his memoir he is learning to use a Dictaphone.

How You Can Learn Flexibility

As with support, it pays to take stock of what you already have. If you don’t believe you have flexibility it’s hard to imagine that you can exceed limitations, and that imagination can be the motivation we need to begin.

So start to notice where you are flexible, even in small things. Perhaps you went out to dinner and ordered risotto, but the restaurant had just run out so you ate pasta instead? That’s flexibility. Or maybe you didn’t get the grades you needed to get into the university you wanted, so you went somewhere else instead? That’s flexibility.

You may think, “Yes, but I didn’t have any choice.” Not true. You could have given up and gone hungry or not gone to university at all. It’s very easy to be hard on ourselves and look for where we need to improve, but that can leave us feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. When instead we look for where we already have the qualities to succeed it builds confidence. You already have flexibility; all you need to do is transfer it to new situations.

Accept Frustration And Other “Negative” Feelings

Helen Keller felt extremely frustrated as a young child and frequently lashed out at her family and teacher. As an adult, when visiting soldiers during World War II, she said, “Of course you will have bitter moments.”

Frustration, sadness and even feelings of hopelessness do not mean you have failed. They simply mean that you are having a feeling. Allow these so-called negative feelings, welcome them even, and they will transform. For more on how to let go of these feelings see the links section in the blue box.

Notice and Challenge Limiting Beliefs

As I said at the opening of this article, most of us are limited not by physical disabilities but by our beliefs. Start to pay attention to your thoughts and you will soon see the same thoughts occur over and over. You might be surprised to know that most of us have variations on the same limiting beliefs, and mostly they run along the lines of: I am not good enough.

All the suggestions I have already listed will help you to see that in fact you are good enough, you just don’t realize you are. Perhaps you will never have what it takes to be an Olympic swimmer or win a Nobel Prize for Literature. But you have exactly what it takes to be the best you can be.

Let’s leave the final word to Helen Keller:


Face your deficiencies and acknowledge them; but do not let them master you. Let them teach you patience, sweetness, insight.

Related Articles