How we reject success

A few years ago I came across a great book by the psychologist Gay Hendricks, The Big Leap. In that book, Hendricks makes a strong case that all of us have a limit to how much success we are able to tolerate, in certain areas of our lives. He says that we have, what he coined, an upper limit problem (ULP) – and that when we reach this limit, we sabotage our success, whether it is in the area of finances, friendships, relationships, work, or health and well-being. He then goes on to describe why we experience this, and how to break free from this barrier.

Here are some of the key questions Gay Hendricks had me pondering on that book, that I invite you to answer:

  1. In what area(s) do you experience big highs and big lows in your life? That is the area where the upper limit problem is most predominant for you.
  2. what do you experience when you are getting close to that limit? For example, do you experience a sudden debilitating pain in your body that prohibits you from working out, or maybe you experience ‘sudden and unexpected’ expenses that drain your just cushy bank account? In whatever area you experience this ULP, you should be able to see a pattern.
  3. underneath all of this there is a fear, and according to Hendricks, we generally fear one or more of these:
  • a fear of feeling overwhelmed
  • a fear of being left alone
  • a fear that there is something inherently wrong with us
  • a fear of outshining others

These fears are typically imprinted in our minds by the time we are 10 years old, and are a result of a childhood experience (or experiences) that lead us to conclude that too much of  THAT (whatever THAT may be for you) will result in one, or more of the above.

I have never encountered anyone in my work that does not experience this upper limit; it is always present. The deep work is in uncovering its source, and more importantly, how to retrain ourselves to let go of the fear, and be ok with abundance in these areas of our lives. If we can realize the destructive patterns with which we engage right when we are being challenged to welcome success, then we can increase our tolerance, and ultimately re-write the course of our lives.

I have seen that while one area is definitely more predominately impacted by this upper limit, many other areas of our lives are indirectly compromised along the way. Let me give you a personal example. The area of my life where I had always experienced this ULP is in love. I would meet someone, fall madly in love, and experience a BIG high, to only, so very quickly hit bottom – experience turmoils, fighting, and eventually dissolution. As I created the storm, by rejecting love in its many forms, I also experienced a decay in my health. But, I compensated all of that by working harder, making sure career and finances would neutralize the pain from the loss I would feel in my personal life. So resolving the ULP in my love life led to improving other areas as well, and so it is the case with most of us.

First, recognize that it is not bad luck that puts you in a constant experience of having IT, and then losing IT. We create our lucks by either staying in the confines of our past stories, hard-wired in a dream (or nightmare) that is simply not real, or by painfully and consistently rewriting that story.

In my experience, the only true way of navigating the upper limit is by becoming a detective to our thoughts, a witness, as it is said in Buddhism. We need to stop before reacting, taking a pause before acting upon our thoughts. The more we do that, the more we can control the destructive behaviors that keeps us stuck. I have also noticed that the motivation to do that must come from an unshakable desire to create a new life, to experience a different way of being. Writing a vision of what this new future looks like, and making a decision that that is more important than anything else, keeps us moving forward even when the process becomes (and it always does), very painful.