There's an old story about a full grown elephant tied with a rope around his back leg to a stake in the ground (much like the one the picture). Upon seeing this huge animal tied up with such a small rope, an outsider asked why the elephant allowed himself to be restrained. Obviously, the elephant is powerful enough to break free at any time. The answer was haunting: as an infant, the rope wasstrong enough to hold the elephant in place. He learned that whenever the rope was around his foot, he was trapped and unable to budge. Elephants, as the legend accurately states, have great memories so the elephant will maintain this view for the rest of its life. From then on, whenever the elephant has a rope around his leg, it continues to feel as though it's powerless to escape. While I'm no elephant expert, I believe this is a true story.
I was reminded of this story today after completing my final long run of the marathon training schedule (20 miles). It struck me that throughout the entire training process, I was only ever able to run as far as I had predetermined. If I set out to run four miles around the block, I find myself growing really tired after 3 and half miles, and I'm thankful when four rolls around. If I set out to run 12, I breeze past 4 but get tired around 10 and barely make it to 12. Today, 20 was the goal, and I felt great until I passed 15, felt awful when I hit 18, and finally limped to the finish afterwards. In a few weeks, I'll run 26.2, and the cycle will continue as 20 feels like 15, 24 feels like 18, and 26 feels like 20. (The final 0.2 are always completed in a state of delirium).
What's the point? Simple: no matter what you set out to do, be it a hobby, work, school, or a personal interest, you will only be able to accomplish to the level you've set for yourself. If you allow a small rope to tie you down, you will remain there for the rest of your life. If you set the ceiling at 4 miles, you'll never finish a 10K. If you say "I'm just not a math person" or "I've always wanted to try that but..." then it will never happen. Your brain is a powerful thing and will often shape your reality before you even realize you have a choice. Be sure you're keeping your ceilings high, pulses low, and ropes untied. Even if something or someone does try to tie you back, be better than the elephant. Give the rope a tug before taking a nap...you might be surprised where it takes you.