The Upper Limit Problem – Embracing Joy

Do you try to self-sabotage when things in your life actually turn out well? If so, you may have hit your upper limit when it comes to how much happiness you are comfortable with.

Normally we think of the “straw that broke the camel’s back”—of that last piece of bad news that leaves us down on the ground, sprawling and unsure how to stand back up. We sometimes forget that we also have an upper limit problem—we may find ourselves unable to know what to do or how to handle when things go right.

Marie Forleo, in her article on the topic, describes it like this:

“Each of has an internal thermometer for how much success, wealth, happiness, love, and intimacy we’ll let ourselves experience. That’s our upper limit setting.  Kind of like our success comfort zone.

When we exceed our internal thermostat setting and life gets super duper OMG good . . . we unconsciously do things to sabotage ourselves, so we can drop back to the old, familiar place where we feel in control.”

From my understanding, this is less about self-sabotaging because we feel bad about ourselves and more because we don’t feel comfortable with that much success.

In my case, I struggle with receiving good things because I fear losing those things or having something bad crop up unexpected. However, I also feel uncomfortable because I’m not used to it. It doesn’t feel familiar or comforting. Yes, weird as it sounds, bad days and shitty events can become comforting because at least you are familiar with them, can train your brain to expect them, and can spend time trying to control what will happen when things go south.

However, by doing this, we leave ourselves totally unprepared for what to do when things go right. And so all this amazing stuff happens or we feel very happy, and we don’t know how to handle it. Instead, we feel overwhelmed by that much goodness and self-sabotage so we can experience the comfort of loss and missed dreams. It sounds funny writing it out that way, but perhaps you can relate. It’s risky allowing happiness into your life, and we’re not always taught how to handle it.

So what can you do? Read the article I linked to above or watch Marie’s video for some practical tips, and have a brainstorming session to see if you can come up with more helpful steps unique to you and your situation. A mantra might be useful here: “I accept and enjoy the good things that come my way.” Journaling after reading the article/watching the video might also be helpful as you explore how specifically the upper limit problem applies (or doesn’t) to you.

For myself, the challenge will be embracing the good things and accepting them, even though there is that risk of loss. To be happy is to be vulnerable, but if we choose not to be, we miss out on so much. I miss out on so much I deserve and want to experience.

I’ve learned to be wary of happiness and of “good things.” I’ve learned nightmares can come true, and I’ll be darned if I’ll be caught off-guard again. At the same time, I long for unbridled happiness, and that only comes when we allow ourselves to submerge in the excitement and joy of the moment.

But self-sabotaging is not how I want to live my life, and not how I want you to live yours. For me, it’s meant accepting and embracing the good things in my life just as I’m learning to do with the bad or difficult things I encounter. I’m just starting on that journey—as in, I started a week ago!—so I’m as new to this as you are! But I’m so excited to finally embrace and allow for good things to happen to me. I’m eager to share more as I continue this practice, but in the meantime, I want to hear from you!:

Do you struggle with welcoming the good or getting excited? How do you embrace the positives in your life, especially when it feels uncomfortable?


One thought on “The Upper Limit Problem – Embracing Joy

  1. Interesting – I’m reading (listening, actually) The Big Leap, by Gay Hendricks. Not sure how much I like the book but it is full of interesting and useful concepts – like Upper Level Problems (I like ULP).

    Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

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