Embrace Limits to Become Limitless

Phil Hansen

“We need to first be limited in order to become limitless.”

– Phil Hansen

When pointillist Phil Hansen developed a tremor in his hand, he abandoned his lifelong dream of becoming an artist. He dropped out of art school and left art altogether, no longer able to practice his craft. A few years after developing the tremor, a neurologist told Phil that he had permanent nerve damage. To make matters worse, it was caused by years of precise pointillist work.

This news could have put Phil into a downward spiral of negativity and self-loathing. But instead something incredible happened: he decided to embrace his shake.

Photo by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash

Phil did away with using thousands of tiny dots and began to use bigger materials to create work on a larger scale. He realized that his limitation allowed him to think more creatively, and his work began to flourish. His Mindset was such that he was able to identify possibility in an otherwise devastating diagnosis. After understanding the extent to which he could still create, Phil came to the conclusion that one must first become limited in order to become limitless.

His Mindset shift was life-changing, as all Mindset shifts have the possibility of being. When you change the stories you tell yourself (Phil’s story went from “oh sh*t, I can’t practice my art” to “look at this new art I didn’t even know I was capable of”), you change the outcomes of your life.

This kind of thinking dates back to the 3rd century BC when the philosophy of Stoicism was founded. The premise of Stoicism is that we don’t control external events; we just control ourselves and our responses to them. Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius was a stoic philosopher who famously said, “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

Bestselling author Ryan Holiday put this quote into 21st century terms, saying simply: the obstacle is the way. His book, The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph, takes a deep dive into this philosophy, providing dozens of examples of people using their limits to achieve greatness.

Limitations don’t have to be physical like Phil’s. Author, speaker, and consultant Damon Brown, who wrote nearly a dozen books in seven years, says in this Inc. article that a lot of his work has been done under resource constraints, but the limitations actually made his opportunities better. He goes on to say that artists and entrepreneurs often thrive when they have constraints because it requires them to be more creative and innovative.

Like Marcus Aurelius, whose reign was replete with war, a plague and other obstacles — and Damon Brown, who had resource constraints, Phil Hansen turned his limitation into a strength. 

And you can, too.

At Studio/E, we do this by reframing obstacles. A simple way to do this is to think of something you want to achieve, then list out the reasons you aren’t achieving it, or the obstacles. Go through each obstacle, one by one, and reframe your Mindset on them.

As an example, if an obstacle is not enough product testers, your reframe could be: I have a list of five people I trust and who want the best for me, and will therefore give me honest feedback.

For such a simple process, reframing obstacles is very powerful (see Phil’s life-changing reframe above). To take action on your reframed obstacles, try using this template:

I will turn my _____(limitation)_____ into a strength by changing my Mindset, _____(action)_____, and _____(action)_____.

Phil’s example:

I will turn my tremor into a strength by changing my Mindset, experimenting with new mediums, and making bigger art pieces.

Another example:

I will turn my lack of knowledge and understanding into a strength by changing my Mindset, seeking out learning opportunities, and documenting my growth.

The reality is that bad things sometimes happen, but what defines your life is how you react to them. Your reactions are dictated by your Mindset, which you alone have control over. Phil turned his tremor into a launch pad for the career he was destined for.

What will you turn your limitations into?

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If you want to release your own creativity, unencumbered by obstacles, we invite you to join us for an event with Phil Hansen on Thursday, April 11, 2019. Get your tickets to Embrace the Shake with Phil Hansen here.

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