I’m reading a book by Gay Hendricks called The Big Leap in which he talks about an upper limit problem. This is our tendency to self-sabotage when things are going well or after we’ve achieved success.
Many of us, for reasons that go back as far as childhood, find it difficult to tolerate good feelings. Hendricks says we have a natural setpoint of misery or lack that we return to in order to feel comfortable again.
You may know that most lottery winners squander their windfall and return to the previous level of poverty. But even people who were already rich experienced personal calamities after taking home the jackpot.
Perhaps you can relate to this tendency to sabotage good feelings or events. If you have an upper limit problem, you’ll never achieve the success and happiness your heart desires.
How to know if you have an upper limit problem? Here are 4 signs.
1. You fear you have a fatal flaw.
This is especially common if you’ve been the family scapegoat. It’s a feeling that something’s wrong with you deep down that prevents you from having the love and success others enjoy.
Even when you do reach the next level of joy or abundance, you’ll do something to make you return to the previous level. That’s because you can’t see yourself as a person worthy of this type of life.
2. You have dark thoughts after good news.
I listened to a podcaster recently discuss her experience of achieving her goal of a book deal. Several big publishing houses bid on her book and she took home a handsome advance.
This type of deal represented a dream come true for her. But the euphoria soon got replaced with thoughts of fear, worry, and imposter syndrome.
Like many of us, this author wouldn’t allow herself to enjoy a positive experience for any length of time. If you quickly replace celebratory thoughts with images of doom and gloom, you may have an upper limit problem.
3. Family agreements create an upper limit problem.
Do you play small for fear of outshining a sibling? Or perhaps you experience a block anytime your salary threatens to surpass your father’s.
Did you feel love was conditional on you being quiet and fitting in? Perhaps you were raised to believe that rich people were evil and poor people noble.
These and any number of family agreements can keep you from reaching your full potential. You believe success would mean abandoning your family values or leaving behind those you love.
4. You fear success brings hassles and that’s an upper limit problem.
You may believe greater success means more problems. Hendricks argues we believe it will make us a bigger burden on others as well.
He uses the example of his mother’s refusal to look at his first published book. He believed it went back to his lifelong status as a burden on the family. (His father died soon after his conception.)
Achieving a new level of success may carry more responsibility. But, rather than embrace the growth opportunity, you shy away from getting bigger than your comfort level allows.
This ensures you never know what you’re truly capable of. By allowing your past to dictate your future, you deprive yourself of uncovering all the wonders available to you in this life.