How Self-Awareness Can Help You Overcome the One Thing that is Holding You Back
You know how it is when you’re so excited about something you can’t stop talking about it? That’s how it’s been for me these past few weeks after reading The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks.
If someone mentions a worry, BOOM – I bring up how worrying is a strategy employed by our upper limit problem. If I notice someone deflecting a compliment, ZIP – I swoop in and explain how our inability to maintain positive emotions is tied to our perceived self-worth.
It feels particularly serendipitous that I stumbled across this book and its description of the upper limit problem this month, because it perfectly aligns with our current theme of letting things go.
What is the Upper Limit Problem?
We can run into our upper limit problems when we experience deep joy or satisfaction or pleasure, and then don't allow ourselves to maintain this positive state. Whether consciously or sub-consciously, we down-regulate our happiness through worry or other behaviors.
Before we identify what these behaviors are, it is useful to first understand WHY our upper limit problem kicks in. According to Hendricks, there are four potential hidden barriers to allowing ourselves deep and sustained happiness and success. He says that everyone identifies with at least one, but he’s never know anyone with all four.
Feeling fundamentally flawed – When you have a deep belief that there is something wrong, bad, or flawed about you. As such, you are undeserving of profound success and happiness.
Disloyalty or abandonment – When you feel like you cannot expand to your full happiness and success because it would be disloyal to your roots and where you came from. You would feel that you are abandoning your history and the people from your past, resulting in isolation.
Believing that having more success makes you a bigger burden – When you already feel like you are a burden to the people in your life and the world at large and that being the best version of yourself would only increase this burden in some way.
The crime of outshining – When you feel hesitant to expand to your full happiness and success because if you did you would outshine others in your life, making them look or feel bad.
Interesting, right? I definitely identify with the second and fourth barriers, which in my mind feel very closely related. I’ve come to realize that sometimes I feel guilty about the happiness and peace that I’ve derived from mindfulness and meditation because I see friends and colleagues grappling with the same issues I once did. The upside though, is that wanting to help is what drives my passion for this work of bringing mindfulness and meditation to others.
How Mindfulness Supports You in Letting Go of Your Upper Limit Problem
If you’ve been reading these posts with any regularity, you know that one of the benefits of mindfulness and meditation is increased self-awareness. By informally checking in with your thoughts and emotions, you develop a (hopefully non-judgmental) awareness of and familiarity with what’s going on in your head.
This awareness is helpful because it can allow you to notice the thoughts and behaviors that we engage in when our upper limit problem has been triggered. Hendricks describes that the typical ways we “upper limit ourselves” is through worry, criticizing and blaming (yourself or others), deflecting (not accepting compliments), squabbling with others, getting sick or hurt, and behaving without integrity.
Having clarity about what is going on in our minds is the key, and Hendricks states that the best way to let go of our upper limit problem is to understand where it comes from (the WHY) and to shine the light of your awareness on how it manifests itself in any given moment (the HOW). By seeing it for what it is, you can then loosen its grip in that moment.
Identify, Acknowledge, and Embrace
One example of how this came up for me recently was when I had two speaking engagements scheduled on one day, and I was excited and nervous about both of them. The evening before, I noticed a tickle in my throat that one would associate with getting sick.
Because I happened to be reading Hendricks’s book about upper limit problems that very week, I realized that this tickle was probably related to my excitement and anxiety about my presentations the next day. Interestingly, it was more about the potential these opportunities could afford me than being afraid that I wouldn’t do well.
While I did take some vitamin C (better safe than sorry, right?), I also paused and gave myself a few moments to acknowledge what was going on in my head. Then, I did a mental pivot to re-focus on why it was okay for me to have a successful day of speaking engagements. I allowed myself to embrace the idea that there is no reason why I shouldn’t fully realize this opportunity and its potential for further success.
(For the curious, the tickle did go away and the presentations went great, for which I am very grateful.)
Exploring your Upper Limit Problem with Lightness
Please know that I’m not sharing all this to give you something to “fix” about yourself. Instead, try to bring a quality of lightness to the experience of exploring your upper limit problem. If the point of this whole undertaking is to expand and perpetually maintain a sense of happiness, peace, and gratitude, it would make sense that you should avoid down-regulating that happiness with excessive effort and strain.
Whether you notice yourself exhibiting some of the upper limiting behaviors, or just feel like you’re trying too hard, I invite you to pause and say to yourself the words of intention that Hendricks includes in the book:
“Every day, I expand in abundance, success, and love every day, as I inspire those around me to do the same.”
Interested in getting your own copy of The Big Leap? Here's a link!