The Upper Limit Problem

Have I mentioned that I love my journal?

Oh, yeah, I think I have.

This was me once I got everyone out the door this morning.

Okay. Maybe it was before I got everybody out the door.

Luckily, I didn’t have to get out the door first thing today. I’m sure the ‘witchy’ me would have broken through the Stepford facade and taken somebody’s head off at the waist. Instead, I was able to vent in my journal and get to the nub of things.

And here’s what I found.

I was suffering from the Upper Limit Problem.

I was first introduced to this concept by my coach, Karen McMullen, and she learned it from her mentor, Gay Hendricks, who wrote all about it in his book, The Big Leap.

What it says, in a nutshell, is “Each of us has an inner thermostat setting that determines how much love, success, and creativity we allow ourselves to enjoy. When we exceed our inner thermostat setting, we will often do something to sabotage ourselves, causing us to drop back into the old, familiar zone where we feel secure.”

I thought back over my weekend.

I had an amazing Saturday.

I took a glorious drive to Cremona to go shopping at a clothing store that I had stumbled upon a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been looking for a nice pair of boots for a long time, but was always put off by the price and couldn’t ever find a style that really appealed to me. Coyote Designs had some great boots at a great price. They also carry the Papillon brand of clothes which I had been trying to source in Calgary and found right here in Small Town, Alberta. Go figure!

Anyway, I browsed to my heart’s content–there was no need to rush, no appointments to get to, no to-do list to attend to–and bought myself some lovely things (including some boots) on sale.

Then, on the drive home, I turned down side roads to check out the Lions Youth Camp and For Sale signs and anything else that piqued my fancy. Yeah, I know–how thrilling can the Lions Youth Camp be? But I had driven by the sign countless times and wondered where it was exactly and what it looked like and on Saturday I finally had the luxury of time and a beautiful day to explore and nobody else at the wheel to insist we head straight home.

When I finally made my convoluted way home, Stephen and I went for a walk downtown to pick up some books from the library. We strolled along in the scrumptious heat of an unseasonably warm February day and chatted about nothing and everything.

Then we came home and prepared dinner for friends we hadn’t seen in awhile. We had a lovely meal (complete with chocolate fondue – yum!) and a great visit and then drove out to a tiny community hall to listen to some amazing folk/bluegrass/celtic singers called The June Bugs and then we came home again to play a rousing game of Quiddler with the kids.

Like I said, a lovely day, start to finish.

And then on Sunday, in the middle of another sun-drenched walk, I picked a fight with my husband.

The ironic thing about all this is that I was aware of the Upper Limit Problem. In fact, during our Saturday walk, I was telling Stephen how great I felt and musing about the whole Upper Limit thing and wondering what I would do to sabotage it or if I would sidestep it because I was so aware.

Apparently I wasn’t aware enough.

About half an hour after the squabble, when we were both glowering in our separate corners, the lightbulb went on.

Oh, man. I had done it. I had tripped the switch on all those good feelings and started thinking negative thoughts in order to bring myself back down again. And it wasn’t enough to think the thoughts, I had to be sure to smear everything around me with muck, so I dragged Stephen into it, too.

So, I steered my thoughts away from the runaway negative train, apologized to my husband and we enjoyed the drive to Lowe’s to buy some light fixtures for our basement. We were served by a delightful fellow, who I’m sure is a comedian in his spare time, and when I wandered into the tile section, I stumbled upon the perfect tiles for our rec room fireplace, on sale.

We came home, had a nice supper and then capped off the week with our family’s Sunday night tradition of bananas and ice cream in front of an episode of the Walton’s and an episode (or two) of Corner Gas.

It turned out to be another delightful day.

I was quite proud of myself for pulling myself out of the mire.

And then, after a restless night, I woke up this morning, back in the emotional dung heap and wrestling a cold.


So much for being aware.

Fortunately, I don’t have to keep myself on this yo-yo ride. Gay Hendricks provides a solution that is as easy as re-focusing.

“If you focus for a moment, you can always find some place in you that feels good right now. Your task is to give the expanding positive feeling your full attention. When you do, you will find that it expands with your attention. Let yourself enjoy it as long as you possibly can.”

The important thing is to find and nurture the capacity for positive feelings now rather than waiting for something else outside of ourselves (like more money, better relationships, more creativity) to occur.

What do we tend to do, though? We focus on the negative instead.

Or at least, I do.

According to Mr. Hendricks, however, each time you can consciously let yourself enjoy the money you have, or the love you feel, or the creativity you are expressing in the world, your capacity to remain feeling good will expand. And every time your capacity for enjoyment expands, so too does the financial abundance, love and creativity in your life.

Which, I’m thinkin’, would look something like this.

So that’s the theory.

Simple, right?

Yeah, simple, but not easy.

The Upper Limit problem is an insidious thing, mostly because it all takes place unconsciously (even when we think we’re conscious).

Think back over your life to the times when something really great happened. You got a raise or a promotion or reached a goal or shared a special moment with someone you loved. You celebrated, no doubt, but how long did that last? Did you wake up the next day with the flu or get an unexpected bill in the mail or have an accident or get into a rip-snortin’ fight with that very same loved one not long after the desired event?

That is the Upper Limit Problem at work.

And apparently NO ONE – not even people who are considered “successful”- is immune to it. Everybody has their own personal glass ceiling that keeps them from feeling too good.

Even your friendly-neighborhood millionaire can only handle so much goodness. (S)he might have plenty of money, but horrible relationships or hover forever at the two million mark and never be able to create any more than that.

(I know, what a problem to have, right?)

I find this whole thing very fascinating. I can definitely remember times in my life where it’s played out exactly as Gay Hendricks describes. Something really good happens. Whomp! Something not-so-good arrives on its heels–that proverbial ‘other shoe’ that people are always waiting to fall. It’s as if we expect something rotten to happen to balance out whatever good we’ve received.

And now that I think about it, last Thursday, thanks to the encouragement of my mastermind group, I allowed myself to think big and had been carried away with excitement and possibility. That euphoria stayed with me for three days (minus the mid-afternoon Sunday blip) so I needed something equally big to balance it out. And this thick-headed, runny-nosed, miserable, sneezy cold  fits the bill perfectly.

My, oh my, what powerful beings we are.

Okay, Maxine, enough of that.

Sit up straight. Blow your nose.

It’s time to focus on your Happy Place.

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4 Responses to The Upper Limit Problem

  1. Yvonne says:

    This is amazing Maxine. As I think of my own life in this way, it is so obvious when the kick backs happen. And some of them are the same scenario over and over and over again. So, the trick is to get a little higher before kickback each time? And be aware when I am walking into the trap? Sigh.

    • maxinespence says:

      I don’t know if it’s ‘higher’ each time so much as deeper and wider, allowing ourselves to fully enjoy all the goodness we are experiencing. It’s almost like building a tolerance for it so we can handle staying there for longer periods of time. As we get more and more accustomed to the good feelings we have less need to ‘balance’ them with yucky stuff. And we notice it sooner when we hit our heads on our own personal glass ceilings so that maybe it’s a slight bump rather than a smash.

  2. Mona Caukill says:

    Gay Hendricks is right–to a point. There are times in your life that you can’t find the ‘good place’; times that you wallow in the darkness of the black hole. So… give yourself permission to wallow–alone, by yourself, so you don’t pull anyone in with you–until you’re so fed up with listening to yourself moan and gripe that you look for that little chink of light that leads to the ‘good place’. As you look, the chink widens until you can slip through and see that life is good and that you are, indeed, blessed to have what–and who–you have in your life. My blessings are many.

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