No Limits

Blow the CAP Off Your Capacity


By John C. Maxwell

Read by Chris Sorensen

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#1 New York Times bestselling author John C. Maxwell’s latest book will enhance the lives of leaders, professionals, and anyone who wants to achieve success and personal growth.We often treat the word capacity as if it were a natural law of limitation. Unfortunately, most of us are much more comfortable defining what we perceive as off limits rather than what’s really possible. Could it be that many of us have failed to expand our potential because we have allowed what we perceive as capacity to define us? What if our limits are not really our limits? In his newest book, John Maxwell identifies 17 core capacities. Some of these are abilities we all already possess, such as energy, creativity and leadership. Others are aspects of our lives controlled by our choices, like our attitudes, character, and intentionality. Maxwell examines each of these capacities, and provides clear and actionable advice on how you can increase your potential in each. He will guide you on how to identify, grow, and apply your critical capacities. Once you’ve blown the “cap” off your capacities, you’ll find yourself more successful — and fulfilled — in your daily life.



Awareness: Remove the Caps from Your Capacity

Know thyself.


I think self-knowledge is the rarest trait in a human being.


I'm passionate about this book because I'm passionate about you! For fifty years I've worked to improve my life and to help improve the lives of others. Nothing brings me greater joy than helping others grow and get better. I've written this book specifically to lift you up and to help you increase your capacity.

How did I come to write this book? The idea came to me while I was enjoying one of my favorite things: great conversation over a meal with friends. While we were talking, one friend began to express the importance of potential and how people could reach it. It led to a great discussion that lasted two hours. As we got ready to get up from the table, somebody said, "I've never read a book about capacity and how to reach it." Nobody else had either.

That conversation really stimulated me. And it stayed with me for two years. After revisiting the topic of capacity in my mind repeatedly, I began asking questions, listening to others, and learning about it. Eventually that led me to create the Capacity Challenge:

The Capacity Challenge

If you grow in your awareness, develop your abilities, and make the right choices, you can reach your capacity.

In other words,


That is the challenge I'm presenting to you in this book. If you're willing to accept it and follow the process I outline, your life will change!

The Capacity Challenge begins with awareness. Becoming aware was the first big step I took in blowing the cap off my capacity. And it happened early in my career. The model for pastors in those days was that of a shepherd who cared for the sheep. It was about maintaining and caring for the flock. It included doing a lot of counseling. So that was the model I thought I was supposed to follow.

But then I read a book titled America's Fastest Growing Churches by Elmer Towns. It was about reaching more people and leading a church with excellence. I couldn't put that book down. The stories were so inspiring.

After reading it, I wanted to visit every church in the book and meet their pastors. But how could I do this? These pastors didn't know me. And why would they take time to meet with me?

Then I got an idea. I would contact them and offer to pay them $100 for thirty minutes of their time. That was in 1971, when I made only $4,200 in an entire year. But I was desperate to find out what made these pastors become so successful. I was overjoyed when two of the ten pastors said yes to my request.

As soon as I knew I would get to meet with these leaders, I began writing down the questions I would ask them. I came up with a lot. Five pages full! Anticipation filled me as I sat down with these leaders and asked them questions as fast as I could. Obviously I didn't get through all the questions I had written down, but I did have a breakthrough in my personal and professional lives. My greatest discovery was that these pastors spent no time on counseling people. Instead, they spent all of their time equipping people.

At first, I didn't get it. I had to get them to explain it to me. Counseling helps people work through their weaknesses. Equipping helps people work on their strengths. The lights were starting to turn on!

Then they explained that people will more readily reach their potential when they work on their strengths rather than working on their weaknesses. That was when it hit me. These leaders were not shepherds, content to just look after a flock. They were ranchers. They had vision. They had the spirit of the pioneers who created something on the frontier. They were building and developing people, inviting people to become part of something greater than themselves. And together they were growing their churches, reaching more people, and making a difference.

That was the first day I realized how essential awareness is to reaching capacity. The only way I could help the people I was leading to do much better in their lives was to help them focus on their strengths more than their weaknesses. And—drumroll, please—the only way I could reach my capacity as a person and a leader was to practice and develop my strengths. It changed the way I did everything, and I soon discovered that I was a much better equipper than I was a counselor.

Before my awareness discovery, I saw myself as a shepherd taking care of the needs of my people. After that, I started to see myself and my role differently. I became a rancher leading and growing the people of my congregation.

For years I shared this story at conferences. Often during a Q & A someone will ask, "What was the most important thing you received from those two leaders you interviewed?" My answer is "awareness." I have often wondered, How long would I have counseled people instead of equipping them if I had not met those two leaders? I don't know the answer. But I do know this: we all need the help of someone else to become aware of how to become better at reaching our capacity.

I want to be someone who helps you become more self-aware. That's what this first section of the book is about. You've probably heard the saying "If I always do what I've always done, I'll always get what I've always gotten." I want to help you do something new—and get somewhere new. As we embark on this journey, I want to give you two thoughts:

1. Change doesn't always have to be drastic to be effective. Counseling people and equipping people have similarities. They both require caring for another person and spending time with them giving guidance and advice. All I had to do was change my focus from their weaknesses to their strengths. As you read through this book, and especially while reading this first part on awareness, be on the lookout for where you need to change your focus to become more aware of your potential.

2. Change is necessary for you to reach your capacity. As you read through the other two parts, you will find a greater emphasis on change. In part two on ability, you will be asked to work on some things that may not be natural strengths. You will find that difficult. Growth in skill areas, if they are not natural, is often slow and small. That's okay. Every little bit of positive change helps. It increases your capacity. However, when you get to part three, which is about choices, you will find it to be easier. In matters of choice, your changes can be achieved much more quickly. All of these changes, whether difficult or easy, are needed if you desire to increase your capacity and reach your potential.

Get ready to dive in. It's going to be an exciting journey. Developing awareness is going to allow you to recognize the changes that will help you blow the cap off your capacity. My hope is that by the time you're finished with the book, your capacity will be much greater than you ever imagined and you will be well on your way to living a no-limits life. Let's take this journey together.


Do You Know What's Limiting You?

All of my life I've been intrigued by capacity, though when I was young I would not have known to call it that. My favorite childhood story was The Little Engine That Could. When I was little, my mother read it to me often. When I could read on my own, I pulled it from the shelf again and again. I'd act it out for my family. I loved that the little engine believed in herself and was successful in getting over the hill because of that belief. Her capacity increased because she pushed herself to her limits.

I remember an illustration my dad used when speaking. An old-timer saw a boy fishing and went over to see how he was doing. The boy had already caught two small fish, but as the old man was walking over, the boy landed a huge bass.

"That's a beauty," the old man said as the boy unhooked the fish. But then the boy tossed the fish back into the water.

"What are you doing?" the old man cried out. "That was a whopper."

"Yeah," replied the boy, "but my frying pan is only nine inches wide." That one always made me laugh, and it made me aware of how a person's thinking can limit him.

I also vividly remember one of my teachers telling the story of three young boys whose route to school went alongside a high wall. Every day as the boys walked to school, they wondered what was on the other side of the wall. Finally one day, their curiosity grew so strong that one of the boys said, "Let's find out," and threw his cap over the wall. "Now I have to climb the wall to see what's on the other side," he declared.

The other two boys gawked at him in disbelief. But then as they watched him begin to climb, they threw their caps over the wall and joined him. They didn't want to be left behind. They wanted to experience the discovery themselves, not just hear about it secondhand.

I still remember thinking, I would have thrown my cap over the wall, too. I wanted to go new places, make new discoveries, push myself to do more than I thought I could do. I still do. Sometimes achieving those desires requires bold commitment. Many times since the day I first heard that story, I've mentally thrown my cap over the wall to commit myself to growth discoveries.

Today, I'm asking you to throw your cap over the wall.

Awareness Assets

My goal in writing this book is to help you be the little engine who could. I want to inspire you to blow off the caps that hold you down and limit your potential. I want to help you get outside of the nine-inch–frying pan mentality and expand your thinking and your ability. I want you to throw your cap over the wall. I want you to accept the capacity challenge and change your life. Are you willing to do that? If so, the process begins with awareness, with learning…

1. Your Capacity Isn't Set

If you're like most people, I bet you'd like more out of life than you are currently experiencing. Maybe you're not succeeding in all the ways you desire to in life. Perhaps you're less than fully satisfied with your progress. Are you getting done all that you want to do? Or do you want to see more, do more, be more? If you're like me, you want to achieve more. Even at nearly age seventy, I'm not satisfied. I want to keep growing and making a difference.

What's getting in your way? What's limiting you? Do you know? If you don't know what's limiting you, how will you remove it?

You've probably heard the saying "If you want something done, give it to a busy person." It may sound counterintuitive, yet it's true. People who can get a lot done seem to be able to take on even more and remain productive. Why is that? Do some people simply have high capacity while others don't?

Have you given much thought to your capacity? Most people think theirs is set. You hear one person identified as "high capacity" and another as "low capacity," and you just accept it. What's your capacity? Have you defined it as high, low, or average? Do you think it's set? Maybe you haven't put a label on it, but you've probably settled into a level of achievement that you believe is what's possible for you.

That's a problem.

Too many people hear the word capacity and assume it's a limitation. They assume their capacity is set—especially if they're beyond a certain age. People give up on the idea that their capacity or their potential can grow. All they do is try to manage whatever they think they've got.

A lot of people think this way. Activist Roberto Verzola observed that economists are notorious for this kind of mind-set of limitations. Worse yet, they try to convince others to adopt it too. Verzola says,

The most fundamental assumption in economics is scarcity. This, in effect, assumes away abundance. Thus, most mainstream economists are not prepared to deal with abundance. They have few concepts that explain it. They have no equations that describe it. Confronted with it, they fall back on inadequate theories based on scarcity.1

In other words, they define the world in terms of its limitations. They also define people in terms of their limitations. That's too confining. Instead, we need to define our world and ourselves in terms of our possibilities.

While I believe 100 percent that people can grow, change their capacity, and increase their potential, I also acknowledge that all of us have caps on our capacity. Some caps are fixed. But most are not. We can't allow these unfixed caps to keep our lives from expanding. We can't let caps define our potential. We need to see beyond the caps and see our true capacity before we can blow off our caps and expand our capacity.

Charles Schulz, creator of the Peanuts comic strip, wrote, "Life is like a ten-speed bike. Most of us have gears we never use." What he's saying is that most of us have capacity that is untapped. We have capacity that we're not even aware of. But we can change that.

2. You Can Become Aware of the Possibilities That Can Make You Better

This is where I want us to spend the majority of our time in this chapter. I want us to focus on awareness. All lasting growth requires awareness. Unfortunately, if you lack awareness, then you don't know that you are unaware. It's a blind spot. You don't know what you don't know, and you can't see that you are unable to see. That's a catch-22.

My journey to self-awareness was simple, but it did take time. It began with others helping me become aware. It took someone who did know to help me see it. This experience created a hunger in me to further develop my self-awareness. I began to wonder what else I was missing. What else didn't I know? I started wondering if there was something else out there for me.

This chapter communicates the process I developed. I don't assume that I've arrived. I still keep asking myself, What am I missing? But hopefully what I share with you will help you to become more self-aware, because that is essential to your reaching your capacity.

Self-awareness is a powerful skill. It enables you to see yourself clearly. It informs your decisions and helps you to weigh opportunities. It allows you to test your limits. It empowers you to understand other people. It makes partnership with others stronger. It allows you to maximize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses. It opens the door to greater capacity.

Here are some things to think about as you work to become more aware of your possibilities:

Attention: Looking for What I Need to Know

In my book Winning with People, I wrote about the Lens Principle, which says who we are determines how we see others. In that book, my focus was on how our perspective colors our view of the world, other people, and life. But it's also true that who we are determines how we see ourselves. We naturally tend to see things as we have always seen them. If we want to increase our capacity, we must see differently. We need to be willing to look at ourselves and our world in new ways. We need to pay attention and look for what we need to know.

Awareness: Discovering What I Need to Know

What stops people from reaching their capacity often isn't lack of desire. It's usually lack of awareness. Unfortunately, people don't become self-aware accidentally. On top of that, there are factors that also work against us and prevent us from developing great self-awareness, such as

•  Excuses

•  Success fantasies that are ungrounded in reality

•  Talking without listening to others

•  Unresolved negative emotions

•  Habitual self-distraction

•  Absence of personal reflection

•  Unwillingness to pay the price to gain experience

Most people who have developed self-awareness have had to battle one or more of these factors to get where they are. They've had to work very hard. It takes a desire to make self-awareness discoveries. It takes discipline to look at yourself and reflect on your experiences. It takes maturity to ask others to help you with your blind spots.

Becoming self-aware also requires help from other people who can see you more clearly than you can see yourself. In the past when I've worked with someone who wasn't self-aware, I've followed a process to help them discover what they need to know about themselves:

•  Relationship: I start by building the relationship and letting them know they are important to me and that I want to help them. This gives them security and me credibility.

•  Exposure: Once I've done the relational groundwork, I try to help them understand how important self-awareness is. They need to realize that if they do not make self-awareness a priority, they're going to be stuck in life and will be unable to move forward. But if they can learn to see themselves more clearly and begin to determine their capacity, they have a path forward toward increased capacity and reaching their potential. Then I can begin revealing their strengths and weaknesses to them with as much encouragement as I can offer.

•  Experiences: Most people need to be shown a way forward to develop greater self-awareness. I've found that the best way is to put them in situations where they must acknowledge their weaknesses, utilize their strengths, learn from other leaders, and reflect on their experiences. If I'm their leader, I take responsibility for facilitating that.

•  Questions: Asking people questions helps you to assess whether they are catching on and becoming more self-aware.

•  Review: The most critical step in the awareness development process is a review of the results. Developing self-awareness is a process that takes time and repetition. Each time a mentor or leader sits down with a person and gives honest feedback, if that feedback is well received, the person takes another important step in the process.

•  Repeat: The last thing I need to point out is that this isn't a onetime process. To help people who are unaware, I must teach them repeatedly.

Using this pattern, you can help an unaware person begin to develop self-awareness. But what if you are that unaware person? You need to find someone—a trusted friend, colleague, mentor, or family member—who can help you, direct you, and provide you with repeated honest feedback.

Discernment: Focusing on What I Need to Do

As you discover things about yourself, you must try to discern where to focus your attention. You can't do everything. As the old proverb says, "Chase two rabbits and you will catch neither."

As you make discoveries, where should you focus your attention? On your strengths. Maybe you already know this. When we focus on our weaknesses, the best we can do is work our way up to average. Nobody pays for that. No successful person hires someone to do a merely adequate job. Successful people desire excellence. Excellence comes from focusing on your strengths. Whatever you do well, try to do better. That's your greatest pathway forward to increased capacity. Later we'll look at the core capacities that all people possess and how you can develop yours.

Intention: Acting on What I Need to Do

In my book Intentional Living, I discuss the major difference between good intentions and intentional living. The former may make a person feel good, but it doesn't actually do anything positive for him or others. The key is action. We get results only when we take what we've learned and put it into action.

When I was in my twenties I became aware that I would have to become highly intentional about my personal growth if I was going to be able to make a difference in the world. So I sat down and wrote out something that I called "The Mundane Man." Here's how it went:

Sad is that day for any man when he is absolutely satisfied with the life that he is living, thoughts that he is thinking, deeds that he is doing, until there ceases to be forever knocking on the door of his soul, a desire to do something greater for God and his fellow-man.

I wrote that because I never wanted to become a mundane person. I believe none of us wants that, yet I think all of us could be in danger of becoming mundane. There is a natural downward pull that threatens to stop people from accepting the capacity challenge. We have to fight that inertia.

You need to become aware that you are currently living below your potential if you're going to do anything to improve. Even if you've been a highly productive and successful person, you can improve. You can increase your capacity. You have more in you that you have never tapped. And there is a path forward to greater potential if you are willing to take it.

3. You Can Remove the Caps from Your Capacity

The next step forward to increasing your capacity involves removing the caps that are holding you back. Have you ever heard or read about how elephants used to be trained? They could be made to stay in one place with only a small rope restricting them. That's incredible, considering that an adult male Asian elephant is ten feet tall at the shoulder and weighs about four tons. What was the secret?

When an elephant was very young and weighed only several hundred pounds, it was restricted by having a chain clasped to its leg and connected to a tree or deep stake. When the animal tried to move away and learned that it could not break the chain, it limited itself. It believed that whatever restriction was put on it—even a rope it could have easily broken—was more powerful than it was.

People are like those elephants. We often believe that some of the restrictions we may have experienced earlier in life are permanent. Or we've been told we have limitations that we actually don't possess, and these things are keeping us from taking the journey in life that we long for. These are the chains we need to break.

Awareness changes everything. As soon as we become aware that some of our "limitations" are artificial limitations, we can begin to overcome many of them. We can blow off these caps, which opens the way for growth. I'll talk more about this later.

In the book If It Ain't Broke… Break It! Robert Kriegel and Louis Patler write, "We don't have a clue as to what people's limits are. All the tests, stopwatches, and finish lines in the world can't measure human potential. When someone is pursuing their dream, they'll go far beyond what seem to be their limitations. The potential that exists within us is limitless and largely untapped."2 That process begins with developing awareness of the caps that are restricting you.

4. You Can Develop the Capacities You Already Possess

Everyone has capacities that are based on their natural talents. Some of them require very specific abilities, such as those found in symphony musicians, professional athletes, and great artists. Others are more general in nature and rely on multiple skill sets. In this book, I identify and examine seven of these capacities:

Energy Capacity—Your Ability to Push On Physically

Emotional Capacity—Your Ability to Manage Your Emotions

Thinking Capacity—Your Ability to Think Effectively

People Capacity—Your Ability to Build Relationships

Creative Capacity—Your Ability to See Options and Find Answers

Production Capacity—Your Ability to Accomplish Results

Leadership Capacity—Your Ability to Lift and Lead Others

I'll teach you how to maximize the level of talent you have so that you can increase your capacity in each of these areas.

5. You Can Make Choices That Maximize Your Possibilities

You also have other capacities that rely more on your choices. While it's true that talent is still a factor, it is less important in these areas. I want to help you identify the choices you can make to increase your capacity:

Responsibility Capacity—Your Choice to Take Charge of Your Life

Character Capacity—Your Choices Based on Good Values

Abundance Capacity—Your Choice to Believe There Is More than Enough

Discipline Capacity—Your Choice to Focus Now and Follow Through

Intentionality Capacity—Your Choice to Deliberately Pursue Significance

Attitude Capacity—Your Choice to Be Positive Regardless of Circumstances

Risk Capacity—Your Choice to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Spiritual Capacity—Your Choice to Strengthen Your Faith

Growth Capacity—Your Choice to Focus on How Far You Can Go

Partnership Capacity—Your Choice to Collaborate with Others

I'll teach you how to increase your capacity in these areas, too. And when you pair the development of your capacities with the maximization of your choices, you start to develop personal momentum toward your potential. Momentum is not the result of one push. It is the result of many continual pushes over time.

How Far Can You Go?

Recently I came across a story told by Jesse Itzler that illustrates the limitations many of us allow to be put on ourselves. Itzler is someone who started his career in the music business as a rapper, became an entrepreneur, cofounded Marquis Jet, and later became one of the owners of the Atlanta Hawks. A very accomplished person, Itzler also enjoys participating in endurance races.


  • "Drive. Focus. Commitment. I ask this from all of my players because they are essential qualities for success on the court. In INTENTIONAL LIVING, John Maxwell shares how the same qualities are necessary for life. John's ability to share from his own experience inspires the reader to believe they can have a life that matters if they want-and gives the reader tools to make that dream a reality."—John Calipari, National championship head coach and 2015 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee
  • "Thought-provoking and encouraging...with hundreds of questions designed to help readers in their quest for personal and professional growth. Clear and inspiring, this is a great approach to leadership."—Publishers Weekly on Good Leaders Ask Great Questions
  • "An intriguing look at leadership with practical advice makes this book beneficial to. . .anyone who wants to develop and improve their skills."—Library Journal on Good Leaders Ask Great Questions
  • "Millions of individuals--myself included--have been inspired by the words and works of John Maxwell. Now, in The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, John again shares his remarkable insights and wisdom into how each of us can reach our full potential and make a positive difference in the lives of others."
    Elizabeth Dole, former U.S. Cabinet Secretary, Senator and President of the American Red Cross, on The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth
  • "John has been a mentor and teacher for me for many years and what I love most about him is that he has pushed and helped me personally go through The 5 Levels of Leadership!"—Kevin Turner, COO, Microsoft, on The 5 Levels of Leadership
  • "John Maxwell's books have been required reading for my leadership team for years. I can't think of anyone better at distilling decades of leadership experience into practical, approachable principles that anyone can apply at any level of leadership."—Dave Ramsey, host of The Dave Ramsey Show and best-selling author of The Total Money Makeover, on The 5 Levels of Leadership

On Sale
Mar 7, 2017
Hachette Audio

John C. Maxwell

About the Author

John C. Maxwell is a #1 New York Times bestselling author, coach, and speaker who has sold more than 24 million books in fifty languages. Often called America’s #1 leadership authority, Maxwell was identified as the most popular leadership expert in the world by Inc. magazine in 2014, and he has been voted the top leadership professional six years in a row on He is the founder of The John Maxwell Company, The John Maxwell Team, and EQUIP, a non-profit organization that has trained more than 5 million leaders in 180 countries. Each year Maxwell speaks to Fortune 500 companies, presidents of nations, and many of the world’s top business leaders.

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