The Upper Limit Problem: Are You Sabotaging Your Own Success and Happiness?

Maybe you, like millions of others, have lay awake at night thinking about everything you want but don’t have. You know you could be happy if you could just get that one thing. Or perhaps you’ve got the thing you always wanted – a great relationship, a dream job, a comfortable salary – but now you lay awake at night and wonder why you’re still not happy.

It still doesn’t feel like you’ve arrived.  What gives?

There could be many explanations for this, but one possibility is that you have an “upper limit problem” as described by Gay Hendricks is his book, The Big Leap.   Read on to learn about what an upper limit problem is and how it could be sabotaging your happiness.

What is an upper limit problem?

If you’ve recently experienced a milestone in your life or you’ve achieved something you’ve wanted for a long time, only to feel meh or deflated after your success you may have experienced an upper limit problem.  According to Hendricks, this happens when you do something different and out of your (and other’s) comfort zone(s).  The joy, happiness, fulfillment, etc. you experience scares the sh*t out of you because of some faulty beliefs and attitudes you carry around without realizing it.

In your head, these might sound like:

  • Your friends and family don’t have this. Why would you deserve more than them? Who do you think you are?
  • Your friends and family don’t have what you have. What if they start to think you’re a conceited jerk and don’t want you around anymore?
  • This relationship can’t be real; it’s not possible to be this happy or with someone that loves me this much. When’s the other shoe going to drop?
  • What if you can’t keep up this level of success? You probably can’t and you’ll just lose it all eventually anyway, so why try?

Why the upper limit problem happens:

All of these ideas can leave you actually more afraid of success than you might have been of failure. This might sound crazy at first – everyone wants success, don’t they? But if you’re not used to a new, greater level of success and/or happiness, then you fall prey to the classic fear-of-the-unknown problem. The new success and happiness is uncharted territory, and uncharted territory is usually scary.

The thing that makes the upper limit problem so serious, in some instances, is that it’s usually unconscious.  A lot of people don’t think statements like the ones listed above consciously to themselves; they just have them as attitudes in the background of their minds.

These subconscious attitudes, though, eventually lead to behaviors that in many ways can actually sabotage success. In other words, some people’s subconscious fear actually starts to manifest itself in actions designed to bring them back down to the pre-success level. It’s like they’re subconsciously trying to bring themselves back to their comfort zones, the level of success they already know and understand.

What the Upper Limit Problem Can Look Like:

In his book (which you should read if this problem is sounding familiar to you!), Hendricks explains what this sabotage can look like in action:

1. Worry.  

Worry is perhaps the most obvious sign of self-doubt. Hendricks explains, “Worrying…is usually not a sign that we’re thinking about something useful. The crucial sign that we’re worrying unnecessarily is when we’re worrying about something we have no control over.” Worrying fruitlessly like this diverts attention away from more useful thought, and therefore prevents you from being as productive as you can be in maintaining your success or just feeling content about it.

2. Criticism.  

Maybe this takes the form of criticizing yourself, or maybe it takes the form of criticizing others. Or maybe even both. Again, though, when you’re picking at your own or others’ errors, you don’t have to focus on how to keep improving and growing. It’s a way of settling yourself back into an area you’re comfortable with rather than pushing yourself to further achievement.

3. Deflecting.  

Here, Hendricks is referring to deflecting praise, as in: “I heard you just got the promotion. Good for you, I know you worked hard for it!” “Oh, I don’t know…I think the boss just picked someone based on seniority.” You might think, “I say things like that so that people won’t think I’m stuck up.” The problem is, however, then when you say things like this regularly to others, you usually start to believe them yourself. You start to see yourself as someone who just kind of got lucky or stumbled in to all of the good things you now have, rather than as someone who earned them through hard work. Therefore, it becomes really hard to feel content with your accomplishments. Where a simple “Thank you!” would do, you just aren’t comfortable accepting the praise.

4. Squabbling.  

Hendricks identifies this as a problem that can happen when you’re upper limiting in a relationship. If your relationship is going better than any relationship ever has before, you might start to get scared that it can’t possibly last or that you don’t deserve it because you’ve never managed to have it before. So you start picking fights so that you can slowly wear down that great new level and bring it back down to a level you’re used to.

5. Breaching Integrity.

For people with more extreme cases of upper limiting behavior, they might even seek out a more blatant form of self-sabotage by committing an act that they know is wrong, whether it’s having an affair just when a relationship becomes amazing, or stealing from a company just as a new dream position at work is secured. Most people won’t go this far to get back to the comfort zone, but some do.

A number of bloggers, like Marie Forleo, Danielle LaPorte, and Arabelle Yee, write about how their own upper limiting attitudes became so serious that they’d actually start to manifest as physical symptoms. LaPorte, for instance, frequently experienced a crippling sore throat many, many times before she had to speak in front of a crowd or do a voice recording for work. It wasn’t until years later that she realized these illnesses weren’t a coincidence – she was so convinced that she didn’t deserve and couldn’t keep up with her new dream job and lifestyle that her body was actually attacking her as an expression of that fear.

Self awareness is key.

What all of these bloggers and Hendricks himself indicate, though, is that awareness of upper limiting is the key to stopping upper limiting.  Most upper limiting behavior is so subconscious that people don’t even realize that it’s what’s holding them back from happiness. If you can learn to see your upper limiting behaviors for what they are, then you can stop yourself when you feel that you’re about to do them again rather than getting caught in an endless loop.

Do you feel like you don’t deserve or aren’t good enough to maintain the good things you’ve accomplished in your life? You don’t have to keep feeling this way forever.   If you’d like help identifying and working through your upper limits and work through these feelings, you can call us at (305) 501-0133 or click here to schedule a free 20-minute Clarity Consult .

Envision Wellness is a private practice that offers psychotherapy, psychological testing, and life coaching in Miami, FL.  Our team has a passion for helping others achieve happy, fulfilling, and change-making lives that make the world a better place.  Each therapist has their areas of expertise.  Not sure who you’d like to work with?  Click here to schedule a free 20-minute phone consult to help you decide.

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