Humans love stability. And balance.
Just like thermostats, we have a set point. Diverging too far from our internal average leaves us feeling vulnerable. And vulnerable is no fun at all.
Gay Hendrix calls this the Upper Limit Problem. Basically, we all have our own upper limit for how much success or happiness or closeness or abundance we’re able to feel without totally freaking out.
Exceeding our own set point can feel so uncomfortable that we’re prone to self-sabotage. If we excel too much, we’ll shoot ourselves right back down to what we’re used to. (Not consciously, but through our comfort-seeking automatic patterns).
What this might look like in relationships: complaining about something minor or picking a fight when things are going really well.
What this might look like in business: making a risky decision just as the business starts turning a profit. Or getting sick and not being able to speak at that big event. Or deciding to change your fulfillment center just as a slew of new orders come in.
What this might look like in terms of your health: bingeing as soon as you hit your goal weight or pulling a muscle a week before the race.
My Upper Limit Issue
I’ve been feeling a little anxious lately about how well things are going. Thinking about how blessed I am has been triggering thoughts of how bad it would suck to lose it all.
It can be scary when you have a lot because you have a lot to lose.
Here’s a thought I’ve had: My marriage and family life are almost too good to be true.
Not coincidentally, big stuff has been happening to people close to us. Family members have been in the hospital and friends in their 40s have died or had accidents.
The other night, I was thinking about how much I love having my husband around and how awful it would be if he weren’t.
My healthy appreciation turned somewhat needy. I love him in a detached, unconditional, nothing-to-with-me way, but this time I was feeling kind of graspy about it, in a I-might-not-be-okay-without-him kind of way.
A few hours later, I got really mad at him for something that wasn’t his fault.
It happened FAST. Almost without my input.
Definitely without my conscious input, logic, or reasoning. Just like an automatic pattern.
The next morning, as I wondered how I turned so quickly from full appreciation to anger, I thought back to the Upper Limit Problem.
Maybe my family life was pushing up against my upper limits for how much good I can handle.
Or maybe it was the fear of needing him that felt scary, so I got mad at him because that little bit of distance felt safer. Feeling too close was too vulnerable. Maybe my old story, “I don’t need anyone—I can take care of myself—And good thing, because you can never really count on anyone, anyway”, felt familiar and safer.
If it was about feeling too good, it’s a classic Upper Limit Problem. If it was about feeling too needy, it’s still about letting a destructive pattern run in order to avoid feeling something I think I can’t handle.
Either way, my instant anger wasn’t at all about the thing I claimed to be angry about. When it feels fast and without your input, it’s a fair bet that it’s NOT about what you’re saying it’s about.
That’s a perfect time to get conscious and aware. And choose your reactions instead of letting your patterns run you.
I thought of other times I face my Upper Limit Problem. When else do I knock myself down a few rungs in order to feel safer and less vulnerable?
- I’ve observed myself feeling kind of relieved, safe, and anonymous when stats show that page views on this blog are down. I’m consciously trying to grow my readership, but part of me gets nervous when something I write gets too much attention. I was recently Stumbled and I kind of freaked out…not in a good way. .
- I get most upset with my husband when things seem “too good to be true”.
- I occasionally use the phrase, “too good to be true”. Really, Amy?
- After weeks of green smoothies and food choices that make me feel great, I have a strange mental urge to eat a vat of raw cookie dough. I don’t physically want the cookie dough, but I mentally want it.
So, now I know. When I notice these things, it’s time to get uber aware and not let the automatic patterns call the shots. Time to get conscious and deliberate and make choices based on what I know I really want, not what my Upper Limits dictate.
What about you?
And here’s what others have to say about their Upper Limit Problem:
Cash, Truth, and Upper Limit Problem by Kate Northrup
Do You Have an Upper Limit Problem? by Marie Forleo