The Upper Limit Problem

I just finished reading a book by Gay Hendricks called The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level. I read a lot of self-help, how to unlock hidden potential books for several reasons. One of my purposes in life is to help others (namely school and college-aged) discover their potential. So, I consider these books research and a nice way to discover new ways of thinking about potential, motivation, and success.


When I first finished reading the book I thought it was a nice concept, but I wasn’t sold on Hendricks’s Upper Limit Problem theory. However, I let it sit with me for a few days and really paid attention to my actions and those around me. Once I submitted my resume for a promotion at work my brain and peace of mind spiraled. Instantly I recognized that I was going through an Upper Limit crisis. I was plagued by negative thoughts. I’m not good enough. What if I can’t handle the work? What if they hate me, I still have to work with these people! Then came the nightmares.

After that jarring epiphany, I find the book worth sharing.

In essence, the Upper Limit Problem is a very sophisticated, well-framed way of saying self-sabotage. I think by calling it a problem it signifies the possibility of a resolution, whereas self-sabotage tends to be thought of as something ingrained that one must live with or constantly battle. Once you identify your Upper Limit Problem you can begin to move past, or in some cases into, your Zone of Excellence (ordinary success and proficiency in skills), with the ultimate goal of moving into the Zone of Genius, which is a mental state in which you thrive and step into an extraordinary level of abundance, love, and creativity.

The one problem that holds you back.

According to the book, the Upper Limit Problem is “the one problem that holds you back.” This problem manifests in many ways at innumerable times in one’s life, but it is essentially the key to unlocking true potential. It is caused by a “too-low thermostat setting” on one’s belief in their ability to achieve and enjoy ultimate success. Solving the Upper Limit Problem will untangle the inner struggle and unlock infinite creativity and love. Hendricks says, “in fact, the more successful you get, the more urgent it becomes to identify and overcome your Upper Limit Problem.” There is merit in this observation as I can think of countless artists/entertainers who flamed out or harmed themselves at the peak of their career. Many of these talented souls are no longer with us.

To spot your Upper Limit Problem, just examine your own behavior, particularly the behaviors that follow success or good feelings. Upper-limiting is simply defined as engaging in behaviors that cramp the flow of positive energy. There are several common ways of upper-limiting. They include: worry, criticism and blame, deflecting, squabbling, getting sick or hurt, and an integrity breach (lies, broken agreements, omitting truths). The author also identifies four common barriers, false beliefs, that people carry with them that tend to be the root of the Upper Limiting Problem. He proposed that each person carries at least one of the four false beliefs in some fashion.

  1. You are fundamentally flawed.
  2. By succeeding, you are being disloyal to and leaving behind someone in your past.
  3. You are a burden to the world.
  4. You must dim your brilliance, so you won’t outshine someone else (usually someone from your past).

Using myself and the possible promotion as an example, I know that I can do this job. In fact, I’m doing half of it right now. However, the instant I submitted my resume I began to experience worry, a great deal of anxiety, and deflection. Someone said, “you’ve got this, just prepare and wear a good suit.” And I said, “Well, not necessarily. I don’t really know the technical parts of the system all that well, and I’m not sure Susan* will want me to get the job. She might not think I’m ready or she might not want me to leave the position I’m in.” I even argued with my suit, one I knew I looked good in, and in fact had looked good in even when I was ten pounds heavier. This week of emotional turmoil and self-doubt was clearly me self-sabotaging to keep myself in my comfort zone. The tale of the job is still in progress, but I was able to spot that I was experiencing symptoms of upper-limiting and talk myself down.

Once you are able to spot the negative behaviors, the next step is to uncover the root cause of the barriers and work on resolving the Upper Limit Problem.

What is my genius?

Once you recognize your Upper Limit Problem you can then work on discovering your genius, and therefore learn to work within your Zone of Genius. Hendricks provides lots of exercises and examples to help you through this work. One major question to ponder is, “How can I bring forth my genius in ways that serve others and myself at the same time?” Personally, I think this is a much better way to frame the conundrum of monetizing passions. In fact, your zone of genius and your passion may not be the same.

One quick note about the book itself. I listened to the audio and skimmed the e-book. This book is very conversational and has a ton of anecdotes from Hendricks’s work as a therapist. Many of the examples for his theories are from his clients or his own life. Some reviewers found these anecdotes to be fluff or filler, and I can see how that opinion holds some weight depending on personal preference. However, Hendricks isn’t just a therapist, he also worked as a corporate consultant so much of the book is him giving examples of walking through the exercises with clients. I still recommend the book. I felt it gave me a new perspective in which to examine a subject I both struggle with and am passionate about. It also gave a new insight into why I’ve been feeling burned out and apathetic lately. I’m operating in my zone of excellence and I need to figure out how to leap into my zone of genius.


Photo credit: Free photo 3166308 © Martin Allinger –

For more information on the book and the Zone of Genius, check out these articles from Four Minute Books and Forbes. Comment below and let me know if you’ve read this book or something similar.