The Upper Limit: Why we sabotage ourselves

The Upper Limit: Why we sabotage ourselves
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto

Sometimes, our highest of highs are immediately followed by our lowest of lows. In fact, more often than not this is the case. One moment, it feels like you're on top of the world. Then, before you can even appreciate it, you're sent crashing back down to earth. Why is it so hard to catch a break?

My brother traverses the ridge high on the Lagginhorn, with Italy hidden beneath the layer of clouds in the background.
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At first, it may feel like the universe is plotting against our success. But looking back, we realize that we were actually the ones at fault all along. Just when everything starts to come together and the life we always dreamed of starts materializing, we somehow manage to sabotage ourselves and throw it all away. It is so frustrating, isn't it?

This self-sabotaging behavior is explained by a concept called the Upper Limit Problem. Today, we'll explore what it is, why it occurs, and how we can overcome it and start accepting the success that we deserve.

Understanding the Upper Limit Problem

The phenomenon of the "Upper Limit Problem" was first coined by Gay Hendricks in his book "The Big Leap". It refers to the subconscious self-sabotage that occurs when we reach a level of success beyond what we believe we deserve. It's like we have an internal thermostat that sets an artificial limit on our abundance, joy, and happiness. Many factors, including our upbringing, our limiting beliefs, and our fears set the temperature on our thermostat, keeping us within a comfortable range.

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At this point, you might be wondering, why on earth would we prevent ourselves from achieving happiness and success? Well, it all boils down to our familiarity with discomfort and our fear of the unknown. Our minds are subconsciously skeptical of prolonged periods of positive growth and abundance. They seem somehow foreign and potentially dangerous.

You've likely spent most of your years conditioned to believe that life is a struggle, so when joy comes easily, it feels suspicious and undeserved. Additionally, reaching new heights of success makes us more vulnerable, and we develop a deep fear of losing what we've gained.

Our "upper limits" are deeply influenced by a variety of factors, shaping our perceptions of success, happiness, and abundance. One of the key contributors is our upbringing, as the beliefs instilled in us during childhood play a significant role. Messages we received from our parents, caregivers, and influential figures about what we deserve, what is achievable, and what constitutes "enough" can become ingrained in our subconscious minds. Perhaps you've heard phrases like "money doesn't grow on trees" or "life isn't meant to be easy" during your formative years. These beliefs become deeply ingrained within us and influence our perception of what we deserve.

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Limiting beliefs may also stem from financial struggles, scarcity mindsets, or cultural conditioning that emphasizes humility over individual achievement. If you have ever struggled to pay your bills, you might believe that money is meant to be scarce and subconsciously sabotage future opportunities to accumulate wealth. The personal traumas you've endured can further reinforce your upper limits. Past failures, rejections, or setbacks can create a fear of repeating those painful experiences, causing you to hold yourself back from achieving greater levels of success.

Each and every person's upper limit is unique, as it is shaped by their individual journey and the various narratives they have internalized. It is only through understanding the factors that have formed our beliefs and mindset, that we can begin to challenge and overcome our self-imposed limits. This process requires honesty, compassion, self-reflection, and a willingness to confront our inner barriers.

How to recognize upper limiting behavior

If you believe that you're engaging in self-sabotage due to your upper limit, here are some common signs to watch out for:

  1. Excessive worry: Do you find yourself constantly worrying about things you can't control? Acknowledge it, feel it fully, and then try to let go.
  2. Blame and criticism: When we engage in negative talk about others, we are often deflecting our own faults. Focusing on the positives and helping to uplift others is a far more productive response.
  3. Guilt: Feelings of guilt often stem from a belief that we don't deserve the happiness and success we're striving for. Challenge the notion that you're unworthy and gradually replace it with self-love and acceptance.
  4. Self-doubt: Self-doubt creeps in when we fear judgment and failure. Recognize all the ways that you have proved your capabilities and reach for your full potential.
  5. Illness: Physical illness can be a subconscious way of keeping us in our comfort zone. Take the time to rest and reflect on what is happening under the surface.
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Strategies to overcome your upper limit

If you've recognized some ways in which your upper limit is preventing you from progressing, let's explore some strategies to get past it. Remember that this can be a long and arduous process, so please be patient and compassionate with yourself as you navigate it.

  1. Cultivate self-awareness: Closely observe your thoughts and emotions, especially when things are going well. Recognize your patterns of self-sabotage and what triggers them.
  2. Challenge your limiting beliefs: Deep dive into the beliefs you hold about success and happiness. What is holding you back in the moment, and is it really valid?
  3. Focus on your strengths: Instead of comparing yourself to others, shift your focus inward and recognize your unique gifts and talents. Think about all the ways in which you can leverage your strengths to achieve your goals.
  4. Practice self-care: Set time aside for activities that nurture and rejuvenate you, such as getting a massage, practicing mindfulness, enjoying a nature walk, reading a book, or spending quality time with loved ones.
  5. Express gratitude: Create a daily practice of gratitude for what you have and what you've achieved. Shifting your focus to appreciation attracts more positivity into your life.
  6. Set strong boundaries: Make it clear that you won't tolerate people who continually drag you down. Protect your energy by aligning yourself with supportive and uplifting individuals who genuinely want to see you succeed.
  7. Ask for help: Break free from the belief that you have to do everything alone. Allow yourself to receive support, help, and opportunities that come your way.
  8. Embrace setbacks: Understand that setbacks are part of the journey. Surround yourself with supportive friends who can help you find laughter and perspective during challenging times.
Starting your day with laughter and friends is pure happiness.
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Understanding and addressing how our upper limits show up in our lives can profoundly impact our pursuit of health, wellness, and personal growth. By identifying the self-sabotaging patterns that arise when we experience success and happiness, we can navigate these challenges with bravery and resilience. Through self-reflection, practicing gratitude, setting boundaries, we can gradually release our limiting beliefs and expand our capacity for joy.