Is Your Upper Limit Problem Holding You Back? Here's How to Break Through.

Have you ever experienced a huge accomplishment, only to immediately afterward: get sick, get into an argument, worry incessantly about something out of your control, get in an accident, etc.? This may not have been a coincidence. It may have been an Upper Limit Problem.

Shortly after moving to California and beginning my job at Stanford, I flew to Denver to present at the annual conference for career development professionals. I was riding a wave of success, until all of the sudden I was slammed with a terrible sinus infection. “But things were going so well! Why is this happening now?” I wondered.

I chalked it up to a change in climate and allergens…until it happened again...and again...and again.

This past year has been one of taking risks and reaching totally outside of my comfort zone. And with each stretch, I’d feel a pull back to safety, not just through getting sick but in other ways too. I’d pick a fight with my husband. Or I’d throw myself in a tizzy of worry about the future.

One day I was having a conversation with a colleague and fellow coach. She stopped me dead in my tracks:

“You’re getting in your own way. What are you afraid of? Get out of the way because you’re meant to do amazing things!”

About the same time, I read The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks and began to see what was really going on: my Upper Limit Problem.

Hendricks explains that the Upper Limit Problem holds us back because we all have an “inner thermostat for how much love, success, and creativity we allow ourselves to enjoy.” Hendricks goes on to say, “When we exceed our inner thermostat setting, we will often do something to sabotage ourselves, causing us to drop back into the old, familiar zone where we feel secure.”

Aha, I had reached my Upper Limit!

Questions like: “What did I do to deserve this?” and “Who do you think you are?” plagued me. My inner critic was constantly on repeat while I tried to keep myself from feeling the happiness and success I’d worked so hard for.

Hendricks outlines four hidden barriers that form the basis of our Upper Limit Problem, all based on fear and our own limiting beliefs. Although they may appear as reality, they are not.

These barriers must be dissolved in order for us to experience the freedom to move beyond our Upper Limit Problem:

1.     Feeling Fundamentally Flawed: I shouldn’t be this happy/wealthy/creative because I am fundamentally flawed.

2.     Disloyalty and Abandonment: I cannot achieve this because it would cause me to end up alone, to be disloyal to my roots and leave behind people from my past.

3.     Believing that More Success Brings a Bigger Burden: I cannot reach my full potential because I’d be an even bigger burden than I am now.

4.     The Crime of Outshining: I shouldn’t strive for this accomplishment because if I did I would outshine ___ and make him/her look bad.


The best way to overcome your Upper Limit Problem? Come to recognize it when it shows up again in your life. Instead of listening to those limiting beliefs, take a time out to soak in the joy, acknowledge yourself for your efforts, and generously accept compliments from others.

Remember: We are wired to avoid discomfort and risk, so it takes a very conscious effort on your part to fully embrace the steps outside of your comfort zone.