The upper limit problem is from Gay Hendricks’s book, The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level. It’s all about our tendency to self-sabotage during peak moments in our careers and relationships. Having upper limit problems and not knowing about it means we never make ‘the big leap’ from where we are comfortable to where we could be unlimited.
How the upper limit works exactly is this: each of us has an inner thermostat setting determining how much love, success and creativity we can enjoy. When we exceed that setting, we do something to take ourselves back down and re-enter a more familiar emotional terrain. Gay explains that we establish our upper limits during childhood and in acts of ‘misguided altruism’ (i.e. trying to take care of the feelings of others).
what an upper limit problem does
Having an upper limit problem prevents us from charging into our ‘zones of genius’. This is really what Gay’s book is about. The zone of genius is the set of activities that we, and we alone, are uniquely suited to do. It’s the only place that we will ultimately thrive and feel satisfied.
solving the upper limit problem
The upper limit problem can’t be solved in your current state of thinking (or consciousness). As Gay says, it needs to be dissolved, not solved. And you dissolve it ‘by shining a laser beam of awareness on its underpinnings – the false foundations that hold the upper limit in place.’
The upper limit problem lives in the moment-to-moment interactions we have both with ourselves and with those around us, so it’s those we need to be aware of.
what’s your (upper limit) problem? the four hidden barriers
The four hidden barriers are the false beliefs upon which your upper limit problem is based. On first examination, none might appear to be relevant, so I suggest that you carefully consider each of them. You might have more than one!
1. feeling fundamentally flawed
If you had an experience in your childhood which made you feel rejected by one of your caretakers, then this could be one of your beliefs. It is usually accompanied by the related fear of that committing to the zone of genius would result in failure.
2. feeling like being successful will result in abandonment
If your unconscious mantra is that expanding into your success will mean leaving people from your past behind, this could be yours. Ask yourself the questions:
- did you break the family’s unspoken rules to get where you are?
- despite being successful, did you fail to meet the expectations your parents had of you?
3. believing that more success brings a bigger burden
If the unconscious message from your childhood was that your presence in the world was a burden to others, then this could be yours. Carrying this painful belief is likely to mean that you’ll not expand into your full capacity for success and enjoyment, because it means being an even bigger burden.
4. the outshining barrier
This is the most common among gifted children. They get their parents’ attention, but also receive the powerful subliminal message not to shine too much at the risk of making others feel bad.
are you upper limiting yourself?
Spotting it takes benign vigilance. Here’s some clues it’s a yes:
If you’re worrying about something you have no control over, you’re probably upper limiting yourself. Make it your daily practice to spot worrying thoughts. It won’t always be easy! Gay describes the process of learning to savour your success instead of worrying is a ‘heroic task’.
criticising and blaming
Gay describes criticism and blame as ‘costly addictions’, and the number one destroyer of intimacy in relationships. Chronic criticism and blaming is what we want to eliminate.
Deflecting is a way to crimp the flow of positive energy by simply avoiding it. It keeps us from landing, and being received and acknowledged.
Starting conflicts is another way we bring ourselves down when we are feeling too good.
getting sick or hurt
We can get sick for all kinds of reasons. But, says Gay, we want to examine everything that can bring us pain or suffering as a potential upper limit problem.
In one beautiful example of her lucidity, the author and spiritual teacher Marianne Williamson said:
It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
This goes to the heart of what having an upper limit problem is about.
From the Big Leap: “Having a willingness to have life go well all the time is a genuinely radical act. Going into your inner depths counts as as a radical act. If we think it’s even remotely possible to feel good all the time, we owe it to ourselves to find out how many of us can do it.”
The next time you’re worried or upset, if you can – even for a second – consider that you are not upset for the reason you think, perhaps you can break out of the trance you’re in and begin to see what the real issues are. Eventually, you’ll stop letting your upper limit problem have its way with you.