Are you Upper Limiting Yourself?

Mar 06, 2023

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We can unconsciously keep ourselves stuck. Subconsciously, we limit ourselves on the level of happiness, abundance, love, success – you name it – that we believe we deserve or believe we can handle. How we get them is from the things we hear, see and experience as we go throughout our lives. Even if we don’t specifically remember being told a limit, inferred ones become solidified in our subconscious.

But what if we can discover those ingrained beliefs? And what if, by doing so, we can break through them? To begin, we need to acknowledge the truth that, like negative emotions, we tend to also limit ourselves in positive emotions. We somehow believe we don’t deserve better or that too much good is somehow wrong. So let’s talk about it, starting with asking the question: Are you upper limiting yourself?

“All of these [limiting beliefs] are gonna keep you from feeling and being as amazing as you could be… [But] the good news is, this upper limit problem doesn’t have to persist for you.” – Dr. Sara Dill

What You’ll Learn

  • Our limit thermostat
  • 5 Upper limiting fears
    • We’re fundamentally flawed
    • Disloyalty of moving beyond
    • More success means more problems
    • I’ll diminish others
    • Inviting bad
  • 6 Ways we upper limit ourselves
    • Worry and two questions
    • Blame and criticism of self and others
    • Deflection, brushing off accolades
    • Arguing, fighting
    • Integrity breaches
    • Accidents and illness

Contact Info and Recommended Resources


The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks

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The Big Leap Video  

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I'm Dr. Sarah Dill, and this is the Stressless Physician Podcast, episode number 56.

Welcome to the Stress Less Physician Podcast. I'm your host, Dr. Sarah Dill, MD. Using my unique combination of coaching and mindfulness tools, I will teach you practical ways to reduce your stress level, feel happier at work, and create a better balance between your medical career and personal life. If you are a busy practicing physician who wants to design a life and medical career that feel good to you, you are in the right place.

Hey everyone, welcome back to the podcast. I am excited to talk to you today about something that's called the Upper Limit Problem. And if you are sort of new to self-development and self-help, this might be something that you have never heard of and if so, welcome. This is a great topic, I think, and one that when I was introduced to it through a writer and a teacher that I like, it really helped me spot some of the reasons and some of the ways that I would keep myself stuck in my life.

And so let me start by just defining it. The upper limit problem is a term that was coined by a writer and a speaker named Gay Hendrix in a book called The Big Leap. This is a book I love and it actually has lots of other things in it as well that I love. But in it, he talked about this idea that each one of us has an unconscious or subconscious limit to how much success, abundance, happiness, love that we think we are deserving of, or that we can tolerate in our life. It's as if we each have our own thermostat setting for happiness and abundance and success.

And this thermostat - I like the idea of that - it's really dependent on a number of things. A lot of it has to do, maybe with our family of origin, with our upbringing, with a lot of limiting beliefs that we might unconsciously or subconsciously hold, fears that we may have about life, or our abilities and just beliefs that we were told growing up or by influential people, or even in our culture at large.

And so the way you might notice this is to ask yourself, have you ever noticed, or if I asked you to reflect right now in your life, is there any situation where right after you got a dream job or created a great relationship, or finally started feeling as though you were at a place in your life where you were happy and had everything you need. Did you ever feel yourself overcome with fear, or stress, worry and doubt in that very moment? And when that happens, what we do is we often find ways to bring ourselves back into our sort of comfort zone of our own level of happiness that we can tolerate.

And it's really interesting, but this happens a lot in coaching as well, is that people not only are very uncomfortable with negative emotions, with stress, or fear, worry, any of those, sadness, but often we're equally uncomfortable to feel good feelings too much, right? To feel joy, to feel happiness, to feel contentment, to feel achievement, to feel any of that. It's almost like we keep ourselves very small and don't really like to feel too much of any good or bad. It's a very narrow limit that we tolerate. So I again, just wanna talk about this.

So typically this upper limiting that we do with ourselves, our limit of how much we can allow in our lives, how much success, abundance, wealth, love, happiness, whatever it is, comes from some core belief errors or deep fears that we have. And Gay Hendrix lists four. I have a fifth one that I'm adding to this as well. The four sort of fears that he describes and that I certainly have experience with both personally and in coaching others and just talking to friends and family.

The first is a feeling that because we might be fundamentally flawed we somehow can't experience this level of joy or success or happiness or abundance. So if you have this sense deep within you that you can't really expand to your full potential of happiness and contentment and success because there's something fundamentally wrong with you, this might be an area for you to start to. So if you have a belief that there's something wrong, bad, flawed, or broken about yourself, this is a belief that is probably gonna keep you from expanding beyond your upper limit of happiness and success and achievement.

The second one that Gay Hendrix talks about is a feeling that moving beyond your upper limit of happiness and success is somehow disloyal and means that you're abandoning those people from your past, that this means that you might or actually will end up alone or somehow be disloyal to your roots or to your family or friends, or leave people from your past behind. So it's about being disloyal and abandoning those in your past. That somehow your own success is going to mean that you're alone or somehow leaving them behind. And that fear will come up and trigger these behaviors that will bring you back down into a level of success that you feel is somehow not going to trigger that.

The third deep fear that we have that keeps us in our comfort zone of happiness and success, is believing that more success means more and bigger burdens. That either we become a bigger burden or we're going to experience bigger burdens. That the more successful I am, the more problems I'm gonna have, the more I'll be a target.

Maybe you're hyper-vigilant or looking for danger. Like, we all are, that's our human brain. But this might come up for you. And so the solution is either to live in constant fear, which also detracts from feeling happy and enjoying your success, or to limit how successful you are. Thus you aren't, triggering that fear of being a big burden.

And the fourth one that Gay Hendrix talks about, and this is one that I definitely experienced a lot of, is a fear that, by moving out of my comfort zone above my thermostat from my upper limit, I'm gonna be outshining other people. So this is the fear that my own success and happiness or shining brightly means I'm making others look or feel bad, or somehow less than. That my success takes away from their success or my success makes others feel bad or less than.

And so this fear of outshining people means you either dim your light, so you don't allow yourself to expand into your full potential to create an amazing life that you love. Or we often deflect or don't acknowledge. We play small or pretend that we're maybe not as happy as we are.

And I wanna add another deep fear or belief error that I see a lot of to his original list of four. And that's one that is more rooted in superstition. And it's a belief that if things in my life get too good, if my relationship is too good, or my job is too good, or my life is too good, that something bad is inevitably gonna happen. And that in particular, although this is very illogical, that something bad is gonna happen because everything was too good. It was sort of too good to be true. Or it's like the other shoe is going to drop.

It's this anticipatory anxiety. Fear really of too much happiness and I can see that in myself as well as the fundamentally flawed right belief system or fear and the outshining, others. And it's so interesting to notice how irrational they are and also simultaneously to notice how much they've driven a lot of my life and really kept me in this upper limit before I was aware of it. So just check in and see if any of these resonate with you.

So do you feel that there's something fundamentally wrong, bad, flawed, or broken about yourself, that is gonna limit how successful, happy, and content you can be, or how amazing your life can be? Or do you feel that you'll be disloyal and abandoning people or be yourself abandoned if your life gets too amazing or you have too much success or abundance or love? Do you believe that the more successful and happy you are and the more amazing your life is, the more burdens you're going to either experience or the bigger burden you will become to others in your life? Do you have a fear of outshining other people that if you allow yourself to get too happy or too successful, if your life is too amazing that somehow you are gonna be making others look or feel bad or less than. And lastly, do you have a belief that if things get too good, whatever that looks like to you, too successful, too abundant, too happy, too content that something bad is gonna happen? And so you better keep things in a more comfortable or safe zone.

So those are the beliefs that underlie this upper limit problem where we limit how much abundant success and love we think we deserve and are allowed to experience. And so I also wanna mention the ways that we actually then put those upper limits into effect. So just picture the scenario where you got a promotion or you did great at work. You had a day where you really came up with a great diagnosis, or you saw several patients who thanked you profusely, and really were appreciative. Maybe you were feeling good about yourself. Maybe you right are earning more money than you ever thought you could. Maybe you're in a relationship that is more amazing than you ever thought would be possible. Maybe a lot of things in your life are going well. What happens next? What happens? Usually the story is, and then blank happened, right? And then pretty soon we find ourselves back, maybe not quite so happy, not quite so joyful, not riding the wave of our success.

The first way that we upper limit ourselves is by worrying. So, worry is a very common way that this upper limit problem kicks in, or, not really the problem, I guess, but the way that we upper limit ourselves. That we bring ourselves down from feeling too good, especially if you notice you're worrying about something over which you have no or little control. That is always gonna be an upper limit problem.

So if you are someone who worries a lot, and I'm gonna do another podcast on this, there's two questions you can ask yourself: is it a real problem I'm worrying about? Like when I worry, "Did I leave the garage door open?" That's a real problem. And the second question: is there any action I can take right now to make a positive difference?

So if I'm worried that I left the garage door open, I can drive back home. I actually now have some automatic feature where I can go onto the app and it'll tell me if my garage door is open or closed. I think that's amazing. Or in the past when I was less technologically savvy, I would ask my neighbor to walk by and let me know if the garage door was open. That's a problem that I can take a solution for it.

But if you're just worrying about nebulous things or things you have little to no control over, or anticipatory anxiety, that is you upper limiting yourself. That is you bringing yourself down to a level of happiness or unhappiness that you feel more comfortable with.

So I want you to start to notice that another way that we keep ourselves upper limited is through blame and criticism. This includes self blame and blaming others and self-criticism and criticizing others. This is when we're really into judgment mode or "I'm Right", or "They're right".

It's a lot of blame and criticism. Blame and criticism are one of these things that really never lead to anything good. So just notice, do you spend a lot of time blaming others, blaming yourself, criticizing yourself, or criticizing others? Notice what that does. It gets you into a place of not feeling as content, not feeling happy. Maybe not noticing your successes or not allowing yourself to feel content or notice the abundance that you have in your life already. So that's another big way that you can see where you're upper limiting yourself and keeping yourself in that sort of thermostat of good feelings that you're allowed to feel.

Another way that many of us do this is by deflection by not allowing and appreciating and acknowledging good things when they happen to us. So this might look like brushing off compliments about maybe a good catch that you had or a good patient outcome or anything. Brushing off accolades, achievements, or successes. Maybe just attributing them to luck or hard work or being in the right place at the right time. What would it look like when someone says, "Great job", or, "I really admire you", or, "That was amazing", or, "You're a really kind person"? Rather than deflecting or brushing it off, letting it in, appreciating it, acknowledging it, saying thank you.

Notice how that feels. It often feels very uncomfortable. Another way that we can upper limit ourselves is by arguing, or picking a fight, or being argumentative.How often have you had some sort of success or a good experience, and then somehow, you're in a fight with someone; your partner, a colleague, a patient, a family member, or a friend. One of the fastest ways to produce feeling good is to pick a fight or start an argument with someone. It's a very surefire way to bring yourself down out of an uncomfortable level of happiness or success or achievement.

And then a couple other ways that we can upper limit ourselves. One is notice if you have any integrity breaches. This might look like lying to yourself or other people. Might look like broken promises or not keeping agreements or withholding a truth, or how you're feeling from someone. It's being secretive or not honest, not in your own integrity. That will also get you right back down into whatever zone you feel comfortable living in. It'll definitely contribute to your upper limit problem.

And the last way that you can see this sometimes is, are you someone who tends to get sick or get hurt? Do you have a pattern of accidents or illnesses right after a big success or achieving a goal or being in an amazing relationship? This isn't true for all accidents or all illnesses, of course, but sometimes some of us will maybe notice. "Oh, right. I tend to get migraines after something". I don't know. It's interesting. I sort of would play around with this as well.

So these are all ways, and there's probably others, you could just look for other ways in your own life. Do you upper limit yourself by engaging in a lot of worry. Especially if you're worried about things over which you have little to no control. Are you hooked on blaming and criticizing yourself and others? Are you someone who deflects appreciation or acknowledgement? Do you brush off compliments and achievements? Do you not take pride and acknowledge your own success, your own happiness?

Do you tend to engage in arguments or conflict, perhaps unconsciously or subconsciously as a way of limiting yourself? Do you have a pattern of getting sick or getting injured right after things start going really well in your life in whatever way? Or do you have a pattern of integrity breaches? Broken promises or agreements, or withholding truths, lying. All of these are gonna keep you from feeling and being as amazing as you could be, from having the life that you might dream about, the career that you dream of, the relationship that you dream of, all that potential.

And so the good news is, is that this upper limit problem, it doesn't have to persist for you. As with everything that I talk about, the first step to escaping this problem is knowing that it exists. So I really want you to start by noticing your pattern or patterns. What are some of the underlying beliefs you have in terms of outshining others? Or if things get too good, something bad is gonna happen?

Believing that too much success means bigger burdens, or that you're gonna be alone or be disloyal, or be abandoned, or be the one abandoning people from your past. Or do you feel fundamentally flawed in a way that means you don't deserve all your happiness and success? Notice your patterns that underlie that, and then notice what do you do when you're feeling particularly successful or happy? When everything seems to be going amazing. When you're riding that wave of feeling good, when you're full of success and abundance and love and happiness, what's your pattern for unconsciously or subconsciously bringing yourself back?

So start by noticing, catching yourself, and then I want you to practice creating more space. This can be like in your body or in your life, and letting yourself feel and appreciate natural good feelings. This often for me looks like lowering my shoulders, opening my chest, taking some deep breaths, noticing if it's uncomfortable to feel happy and feel successful. Notice if you do try to scrunch it down a little bit or escape it. Can you practice letting yourself feel good?

And thirdly, I want you to try to make this fun and playful, right? Not serious and stressful. Making it serious and stressful, and criticizing how you're doing it is just gonna upper limit yourself again. It's sort of sneaky that way. Can you be playful with this? Can you make it a game a little bit? Can you encourage yourself and challenge yourself? How good can I let my life get? What if it can get better and better? What if It doesn't mean that anything bad is gonna have to happen? What if I can move beyond that?

Get curious, explore, and if this is something that you wanna work with on, I would love to work with you on this. I love this. And I think really working on those underlying beliefs that we have are so essential. Because you can't really change your behavior if you're still believing in some of those core, fundamental, flawed belief systems that we probably pick up as children. And they make sense to us. Then keep us safe then. But no longer allow us to move beyond just safety into creating a delightful, amazing, incredible life.

Thank you so much. I love talking with you, and I will talk to you next week. Okay, bye.

If you are a busy practicing physician ready to start feeling less stressed, enjoy work more, and learn how to create a more balanced and sustainable medical practice and life, sign up for a consult call with me at It would be my privilege and pleasure to work with you.

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