HOW far could you push yourself, physically and mentally, if your life depended on it? Have our sedentary modern lives made us useless, over-sensitive snowflakes? Do you possess hidden reserves of grit and determination that would astonish family and friends?

These are the sort of questions you ask yourself while watching BBC2 “living history” series Secret Agent Selection: WW2, which airs on Monday evenings. For those who haven’t seen the show, which is filmed in the Cairngorms, it puts ordinary men and women from all walks of life through the training given to Special Operations Executive (SOE) agents who parachuted into occupied Europe during the Second World War.

The missions carried out by real SOE agents required them to be what can only be described as superhuman. As well as becoming espionage experts who could gather, interpret and share intelligence information in multiple languages, they also had to reach paratrooper levels of physical and military prowess, courage and derring do. Put simply, they had to be heroes.

As we watch the modern day recruits – a banker, a junior doctor, a software engineer, a former soldier, a grandmother – go through the seven-week training regimen used in the early 1940s to prepare SOE operatives, we also hear the stories of the agents and their missions. Among them was Pearl Cornioley who, after being parachuted into France, trained hundreds of resistance fighters in explosives and led missions to blow up railway lines and block Nazi supply routes. She was almost caught many times but, unlike some of her colleagues, survived to tell the tale into her nineties.

Part of the enjoyment in this entertaining set-up comes in seeing the 21st century participants wrestle – literally – with things such as hand-to-hand combat, weapons, mastering hostile natural environments, carrying out ambushes and resisting interrogation techniques. But a deeper meaning to all this becomes possible when you explore the recesses of your own psyche, particularly around how you believe you would fare when faced with the sort of life or death situations tackled by Mrs Cornioley and her comrades.

While some will no doubt relish the fantasy of James Bond-style antics, their inner voice proclaiming confidently “I could do that!”, others (me included) are probably picturing themselves cowering in fear after having given up at the first hurdle. It’s difficult, of course, be honest with yourself about how you would react, how your own perceived strengths and failings would fare in such scenarios, precisely because it’s unlikely we will ever have to test our mettle in such extreme conditions.

But that doesn’t mean running fantasies like this one through our brains isn’t a useful exercise. Indeed, the search for greatness in ourselves and others is a natural and healthy symptom of humanity that encompasses body, mind and soul.

And I’d argue that such questioning of our abilities and possibilities is both inevitable and useful in the current climate, as the world around us descends further into the realms of uncertainty and division.

The harmful social and psychological effects of this global anxiety are only compounded by the fact that as 21st century beings we now live so much of our lives online, scrolling through social media platforms overflowing with bile, abuse and fake news, inhabiting virtual places where we are encouraged to join tribes and create multiple versions of ourselves. I can’t help but think all this dulls the senses and the soul, stopping us from thinking critically, leaving us feeling isolated and confused.

I don’t know about you, but these days I yearn to feel ever more alive in the “real” world. As a child I was never that interested in sport, but as I get older I find myself pursuing more physically demanding activities, such as tennis and skiing. I’m not much good at either to be honest, but chasing down balls on the court or launching myself down the side of a mountain are my own wee ways of pushing limitations and living in the moment.

I also yearn to feel more connected to others, to share experiences and stories, to marvel at the exceptional and feel comfort in the universal.

And, in some small way, I suppose this is where programmes like Secret Agent Selection: WW2 can help us through these troubled times.

There is something in this show for anyone looking for a bit of inspiration or even just a good yarn, whether it’s the narrative arc of the participants - plucky grandmother Debbey overcoming her fear of water to cross a freezing loch last week was a stand-out moment - or the breathtaking heroics of the real-life SOE agents who knowingly placed themselves in mortal danger and were willing to sacrifice their lives for the greater good.

Fundamentally, the show reminds us that human beings are capable of extraordinary things, that we contain and can sometimes tap into deep reserves of strength and possibility we don’t always understand. That’s as comforting as it gets on Monday night telly.