I’m terrified of being too happy.
I know this because for several years now, I’ve been watching how I respond when life is just a little too amazing.
Watching an epic sunset cuddled up with someone I love? “Better start worrying about a deadline,” my subconscious orders.
Celebrating great work that made a difference for a client? “Eat so much sugar your head starts to hurt,” yells my shadow.
The pattern takes many forms, but it always goes something like this:
- AMAZING THING YAY THIS IS SO GREAT.
- Thought, action, or difficult ‘coincidence’ that brings me back down into the “safe zone” of normalcy
This isn’t just my weird problem, either.
We pretty much all do this.
(It’s just not that common to notice it.)
I first started paying attention to this pattern in myself after reading the book “Conscious Loving” by Gay and Katie Hendricks.
They call it the “Upper Limit Problem.”
It’s a big obstacle people need to face in order to have deeply fulfilling relationships.
(Gay’s book “The Big Leap” elaborates on Upper Limits as well, in the context of finding your most meaningful work. Add it to your must-read list, please!)
Essentially, our psyches are scared of life being too good.
We experience increased positivity as a threat, and then take action (often unconscious) to get us back into our comfort zone.
That can look like: A big illness after a promotion. Starting a fight after deepening intimacy. Trouble sleeping after making a big investment in yourself.
If you want to grow in success, abundance, and love, you’ll need to learn to overcome your Upper Limits.
Here’s what’s helped me:
- Start to notice it’s happening.
This is the hardest and most important step.
You can notice if you’re bringing yourself down, or pre-emptively watch out for your sneaky Upper Limit tactics when something great is happening.
Meditation lays a good foundation for noticing yourself, so if you’re not doing that, start there.
Also enlist other people to help you see when you might be Upper Limiting.
- Change your mental soundtracks.
Gay Hendricks offers what he calls the Ultimate Success Mantra as an Upper Limit antidote: ““I expand in abundance, success and love every day as I inspire others to do the same.”
I like that one and say it to myself often.
I’ve also been finding these words quite useful: “I can have EVEN MORE than this.”
- Feel your joy and ground your energy.
When something great happens, give your nervous system a boost by doing something simple and resourcing.
Walk. Sweep. Chop vegetables. Fold laundry. Help your body take in the extra yum.
Meanwhile, I also find it helpful to deliberately invite my joy to be as big as it is.
Sometimes I imagine I’m an aspen tree wiggling all its leaves at once. Or else I dance like the penguin in Happy Feet!
Transcending your Upper Limits is ongoing, lifelong work.
But it all starts with noticing they exist.
PS – Have you noticed an upper limit in yourself? Got any great tricks for dealing with them?
This post was originally sent as an email to the Magic Words of the Week newsletter list. Every week, I share reflections on a word, quote, or phrase I think will help you thrive in your life’s work.