Have you ever gotten a big win–a new job or promotion, for example, or a healthy new relationship. And then you began doubting your work-related decisions, not speaking up with ideas for creative directives, or starting a fight with your significant other. When things are going a little too well, we sometimes put the brakes on internally—often subconsciously.
If this sounds familiar, you may have “upper limited” yourself, according to a concept developed by Gay Hendricks in his book “The Big Leap.” Each of us has an inner thermostat that determines how much love, happiness, success, and creativity we will allow ourselves.
Self-limiting beliefs, which we call Iceberg Beliefs in meQuilibrium, form early in life and set our “upper limit” thermostat. When we exceed this setting, we typically do something to sabotage ourselves, causing us to retreat to a place where we feel more secure.
Everyone on the planet has varying degrees of the upper limit problem. But you can learn to move beyond them. Here’s how:
1. Cuddle up and get to know your upper limits.
Get to know your upper limits with a large dose of compassion and self-awareness. Your upper limits will be big, bold beliefs about how we “should” be in the world. They were formed early in life and typically are influenced by our parents or caregivers. They tend to be rules or even “laws” that we live by and believe, but we never really agreed to them.
Consider this list, and choose several that resonate strongly with you.
Common upper limit beliefs:
- “I can’t outshine ______ and make them look or feel bad.”
- “I’m fundamentally flawed and don’t deserve success and happiness.”
- “I won’t do it perfectly; I’ll mess it up, so why try?”
- “I failed to meet my parents’ expectations,” or “Money is handled badly in our family,” or another unspoken family rule.
Note when these beliefs come into play and call them out. Then rewrite them, telling yourself, for example, “I can shine brightly, and it won’t dim someone else’s star.” Or “I’m enough just as I am today in this moment.”
2. Increase your tolerance for things going well in your life.
First, let me ask you a question: Are you willing to feel good and have things go well? Sounds simple. But it’s easier said than done, because fear and ego can put up a good fight to hold us back. So, if you feel resistance, know that it’s natural.
Now, begin by noticing how much you may be limiting positive energy in your life right now. Do you deflect compliments, for example, or hold back communication instead of reaching out to people? Perhaps you did really well on a work project, for instance, but tell everyone it “wasn’t a big deal.”
When things start to go well, we often self-sabotage without realizing it. We’re hitting our upper limit, so we do something to bring ourselves back down. Keep track of these self-limiting thoughts; a journal is an easy way to do this. By noticing these patterns, you can begin to change them–and increase your tolerance for things going well.
3. Appreciate where you are right now.
At the same time, it’s important to appreciate and feel grateful for where you are right now. Most people think they will finally feel good when they have more money, better relationships, more creativity. We tend to think we need to do something or have something in order to be happy.
But we don’t need to do anything before we can allow good feelings into our life. Our happiness isn’t contingent on anything or anyone. We can choose to feel good right now. Tell your family or friends that you appreciate them. Thank your body by nourishing it with self-care. Feel grateful for a safe place to sleep. Say thank you to a teammate today.
Solving the upper-limit problem is about dis-solving false beliefs, patterns, and habits. We can do this by shining a bright light of awareness on our upper limits, reframing how we view them, and increasing our tolerance for things going well in our life. With each positive step, you nudge yourself forward—and gently walk the path beyond your upper limits.