You Can’t Do Anything You Set Your Mind To (But That Doesn’t Mean You Can’t Do Great Things With Your Life)


Every Monday night I watch American Ninja Warrior, a TV show in which athletes of all kinds compete on intense and difficult obstacle courses that require great strength, agility, and balance. Individuals from all backgrounds and various life experiences compete against one another on courses that become progressively more difficult, the last of which has never been completed on American Ninja Warrior.

Each competitor comes to the starting line with a story, a life background. Many of these stories highlight individuals who have survived serious injuries, painful conditions, and past failures. Many have overcome incomprehensible obstacles just to make it to the starting line of the course and gain the right to compete.

The background stories are always inspiring, giving hope that it is possible to overcome what feels impossible to overcome.

The story of one competitor caused me to pause and think about this inspirational message we so often hear. This particular competitor had survived a severe motorcycle accident that cost him his leg. Fitted with a prosthesis and armed with raw resilience and determination, he was able to work his way back to full health after less than a year. And there he stood at the beginning of one of the world’s most difficult athletic competitions.

His message to the world: “I just want people to know that you can do anything you set your mind to.”

Certainly this message is hopeful. It is a message that has inspired and motivated many, allowing people to achieve far more than they ever would have thought possible.

But as inspiring, hopeful, and motivating as this message is, it is not fully true.

It sends a message that if, for whatever reason, you are not able to do whatever you set your mind to, there must be something wrong with you. If, for example, your body fails, and you become physically incapable of completing the goal you once set your mind on, you must not be trying hard enough. Because, let’s face it, all of these inspirational stories inundate us with the belief that we can do anything we want if we just try hard enough.

This message certainly contains large portions of truth. The true parts of this message are irreplaceably valuable. Our perspective of situations does have an enormous impact on the outcome. Being hopeful and expecting success make a huge difference in our approach to life and the resulting outcome. Our mind, thinking, and inner voice impact what we can and cannot accomplish. I would never deny the importance of perspective, positive outlook, and believing we can succeed in the face of enormous odds. So, please, as you continue reading, realize that I put so much value in pushing limits,

But, I will always be a realist. Because, sorry, but I will never be an astrophysicist and I will never be on American Ninja Warrior no matter how much I might want these things, no matter how hard I worked to succeed.  My mind and body are just not made for higher level math or intense physical fitness.

So, today, I am putting aside the surrounding truth in this message for a moment and considering the lie embedded at the center. The lie that limitations do not exist. I am wondering what dangers we might encounter if we believe this message to be true in its entirety and rashly set out on ventures that we were never meant to complete. Sometimes trying hard is not enough.

Yes, sometimes pushing past our limits leads to success that no one thought possible, but sometimes pushing past our limits destroys our health, futures, and ability to succeed in other areas of our lives. It can be hard to tell the difference between the two. And harder still to admit that limitations are real.

But if we pretend that limitations do not exist, we may be missing out on all that life has to offer.

This sounds counter intuitive, but here is what I mean. We have been taught to deny our limitations. We have been taught to pretend that everything is fine, that anything is possible.

We are told that there are no limits, but limits are real. Sometimes limitations can’t be broken no matter how hard you try. Sometimes life can’t be turned in the direction you want to go, no matter how hard you push with all of your might.

Yet, continually, we deny the reality of limitations because we are terrified at the thought of not being in control of our own lives. Deep inside we want to believe that we get to decide which way our lives go. Unfortunately, life has a way of taking us in surprising directions.

But is this always bad? Is it always bad to be taken in surprising directions that you never would have considered on your own? But now, you are faced to consider them because life has taken you the way you were not willing to go.

We are terrified of limits being real, but in reality, sometimes it is our limitations that make us strong and push us in directions we never would have gone otherwise. Limitations are seen as bad, as something to be ashamed of, but in reality, our limitations are an important part of who we are and can form the basis of some of life’s greatest accomplishments.  Strength is so often found in the midst of our weakness, if we only have the courage to reorient our direction to go with our limitations, instead of against them, as we are so apt to do.

Studies have shown that too many options deter people from success and progress. When an unlimited number of potential futures are possible, we become so bogged down in deciding which direction we will go, that we never go anywhere.

But, when our circumstances limit us and force us to be creative, that is when great things happen. Limitations narrow our options and direct our focus. We deal with the loss of options, but if we can be resilient and flexible, we will more easily choose what is left and move forward with everything we have.

I won’t deny that great things have come to be through denying limitations. A little delusional thinking can get us through some of life’s hardest times and create some of life’s greatest works and discoveries.

But, the same can be said of recognizing our limitations. Sometimes our limitations bring about the most creative, never-thought-of-before accomplishments. Sometimes great weakness leads to great strength.

You can’t do anything you set your mind to. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do great things with your life.


  1. I think that we’re just hardwired as Americans to work tirelessly at goals and not stop until we succeed, and I think that it often comes at a great expense. I think that what is really needed is to be thankful for the things that we have. Have dreams, but don’t kill yourself achieving them. And adapt and overcome.

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