An Introduction to your Upper Limit and your Zone of Genius
A partial summary of The Big Leap, by Gay Hendricks
How do you celebrate a big win, or a perfect moment? What do you do when you are in one of those precious mountaintop experiences? What we tend to do in the moment is to sabotage it. We get the high, and then we immediately do something to lessen the experience or the joy we get from it.
For some reason a memory that sticks in my mind is a rare opportunity a couple of years ago when my oldest son and I went to a baseball game together, just the two of us. We got some hot dogs, were enjoying the game, the weather was perfect, the stands weren’t crowded. The moment was perfect. And then we decided to get ice cream, because it was an opportunity to get dippin dots. A few minutes after eating them we both didn’t feel good and my son was so distracted by his stomach feeling unhappy that we left, really early. In the middle of the perfect weather and the non-crowded stands and the rare occasion for just he and I to hang out, just be together in such a perfect setting. But I knew enough to tell the spell was broken, he was unhappy, we might as well go home.
I could tell you other stories from my life. Once I understood the Upper Limit, I started to recognize my behavior of self-sabotaging myself in those moments of perfect happiness. Since I’ve learned about my Upper Limit, I’ve become much happier more consistently, because I learned about an obstacle to my happiness, and how to recognize and overcome it. Most importantly, I have a radar in my head that watches for those moments where I’m really happy, and reminds me to savor the moment, and to really question anything I seek to add to it.
What is the Upper Limit? It’s the main premise in a book called The Big Leap, by Gay Hendricks. From years of research and experience of his own and with his clients, he concludes that we each have a kind of ‘set point’ for our happiness and that we are not used to being happier than that level, so much so that when we raise our happiness to that level, we will do something to sabotage ourselves and bring ourselves back down to a level where we are comfortable. This is mostly subconscious, but you can learn to recognize it.
This affect often shows up when you are starting to have success in multiple areas of your life. Unless you dismantle your Upper Limit, when you have financial success, you will sabotage yourself in the area of relationships, or vice versa. It also shows up in small everyday events. A good example is when you’ve prepared for a party or a dinner and everyone is hanging out, and then you have the urge to go get one more thing, or run to the store for something. Is it really necessary, or are you just avoiding sitting still and receiving the good that wants to come into your life?
Your Upper Limit will keep you from living in your Zone of Genius which is his other big supporting concept in the book. You’ve probably heard this phrase used recently, it’s gaining traction because it’s a fun, powerful idea that evokes an emotional reaction. But people often talk about genius similar to passion, as if you just need to find it.
But your Zone of Genius is something you need to fight for. Hendricks identifies four zones; he says we each have a zone of incompetence, of competence, of excellence, and of genius, and that the temptation is to stay in our Zone of Excellence because that is where we are successful, and predictable; people can count on us. But he says if we don’t make the leap to the Zone of Genius, something precious inside of us will die.
The key to making the leap is removing your Upper Limit. This is done in two basic ways. The first is to identify your key limiting beliefs. He identifies four primary ones and calls them hidden barriers. The second is an ongoing process of reconditioning yourself and changing your thinking; he provides a great list of practical strategies for doing this.
So what are the limiting beliefs, the 4 hidden barriers he identifies? These are reasons that we believe we cannot expand to our full potential. They are: feeling fundamentally flawed, avoiding disloyalty and abandonment, believing that more success brings a bigger burden, and a concern around outshining others.
Here are the sentences he gives that represent the unconscious beliefs. He says everyone has at least one, some people have a few. For myself and everyone I’ve talked to, at least one of these jumps off the page at you.
I cannot expand to my full creative genius because something is fundamentally wrong with me. (ie. I’m not worthy of it)
I cannot expand to my full success because it would cause me to end up all alone, be disloyal to my roots, and leave behind people in my past.
I can’t expand to my highest potential because I’d be an even bigger burden than I am now.
I must not expand to my full success, because if I did I would outshine others and make them look or feel bad.
Having laid the groundwork, he calls it the ‘root structure’ of the Upper Limit, he says, “Your Upper Limit Problem lives in the moment-by-moment interactions you have with yourself and the people around you. There is only one way to get this data, and that is to focus your keen awareness on specific aspects of your daily life.” (pg 61)
For the ongoing process – he calls it a ‘lifelong pursuit’ – of removing your upper limit, he provides a list of common behaviors to watch for: worry, criticism and blame, deflecting, squabbling, getting sick or hurt, hiding significant feelings, not keeping agreements not speaking significant truths to the relevant people.
His approach here is to look at each of these behaviors when they occur, to ask yourself what they are really about, and challenge yourself to embrace and receive abundance, success and love in your life, and reject these behaviors when they come up, along with the mental thoughts that created them.
Your goal through this ongoing activity is to expand your capacity for abundance, love and success.
After establishing all of this, he goes on in the second half of the book to talk about how to find and live in your zone of genius.
For more on how to dismantle the four hidden barriers read my next post on this, How to Dismantle Your Upper Limit: 3 Truths for Removing Limiting Beliefs