Do You Suffer from an Upper Limit Problem?

11 Ways to Overcome Self-Sabotage to Achieve Your Dreams

by Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Emotional Well-being

Do you ever worry about what people think of you? Do you blame or criticize others? Do you engage in negative self-talk? If so, you are not alone. And, according to my friend and colleague Gay Hendricks, you may have what he calls an “upper limit problem.”

In his wonderful book, The Big Leap, Gay talks about upper limit problems – or how we sabotage ourselves when we’ve reached success. For example, you achieve huge accolades from your boss for your work on an important project, but then you mess up terribly on your next project and are passed over for the promotion. Perhaps you save your vacation days and plan your dream vacation only to get sick on your departure date. Maybe you pick fights with loved ones when everything is going well between you. Or, you finally lose those last five pounds and then go on a chocolate binge and gain it all back.

Does this sound familiar? If so, you have an upper limit problem.

Why We Set Upper Limit Limits

Sabotaging our own happiness and success seems like a crazy thing to do. But, most of us have at least one limiting belief that keeps us from achieving our goals. So, why do we do it? Gay says it’s because there is a part of ourselves that fears being truly happy. When we get close to achieving what we most desire, our negative beliefs kick in because we can’t tolerate exceeding our previous level of success or happiness.

This inner thermostat for how much happiness, success, love, or money we allow ourselves to have is programmed in early childhood. Common upper limit problems include fear of failure, fear of being alone, and fear of outshining others, especially your family and close friends. And, these types of hidden barriers exist in many areas of our lives.

For example, you may have heard your father say, “There is never enough money to go around,” so you developed the belief that you will never have enough money. When you reach the point of possibly making enough money, your inner programming kicks in to sabotage your ability to reach your goal. This ensures that you will continue to be included in your family, and you won’t feel guilty for outshining anyone.

In order to move past your upper limit problem and achieve your dreams, you must be able to identify your subconscious negative programming and false beliefs about yourself to overcome them.

6 Signs That You Have an Upper Limit Problem

Recognizing how you think and act when you are upper limiting is the first step toward being able to overcome your upper limit problem.

Some signs of upper limiting behavior may include:

  1. You worry a lot. Worrying about something that you cannot control or change is usually a sign of an upper limit problem. Now, if there is actually something you can do about the situation you are worrying about, then take positive action so you can stop worrying. This frees up space to move forward in other areas of your life. However, if you recognize that your worry is an upper limit pattern, acknowledge it, feel it fully, and then dismiss your worry. You can use a mantra such as “I am safe” when letting go of worry. You may also want to say, “I am open to learning from my thoughts and feelings”
  2. You blame or criticize others. When you engage in negative talk about others, you are not only avoiding your path toward success, but you are bringing that same energy of blame and criticism on yourself.
  3. You feel guilty. Guilt keeps you from feeling happy and stems from a belief that you don’t deserve whatever you are aspiring to achieve. Recognize when you feel guilty and ask yourself why. Get to the root of your guilt by continuing to ask why after each answer. Then tell yourself that you are worthy and you deserve your success.
  4. You doubt yourself. Saying “I don’t know if I am able” is your ego’s way of protecting you from trying something you have never done before and may potentially fail at. It stems from believing you will be judged if you fail (or if you succeed!), so you judge yourself before anyone else can. When you feel self-doubt creeping in, make a commitment to live in your full potential. Tell yourself, “I have the ability to create anything I want.”
  5. You get sick. Getting sick when everything is going well is a classic sign of an upper limit problem. Whether it’s something as minor as a cold or something more serious, illness is your body’s way of helping your subconscious keep you in your comfort zone. The next time you are sick, take time to rest and think about what potential happiness or success is trying to break through.
  6. You throw away success. It’s a common behavior of people with an upper limit problem to have success within their grasp and then throw it all away. Whether you lose weight only to binge-eat and gain it back, or drink too much at a work function and end up embarrassing yourself, these types of behaviors ensure that you don’t experience your full potential.

11 Ways to Conquer Upper Limiting Beliefs and Behaviors

When you are stuck in your comfort zone, here are some ways to break through your upper limit problem and achieve your dreams:

  1. Be an observer. Awareness is the first step to overcoming an upper limit problem. Start by observing your upper limiting thoughts and feelings. For example, if you feel anxious, sit with the feeling. Then, identify what positive thought is trying to break through. Be especially observant of your upper limit thoughts and feelings when things are going well.
  2. Change your patterns. You may indulge in one of the six upper limiting behaviors described above, or you may have your own, unique ways of sabotaging your happiness and success. Once you become familiar with your upper limit patterns through observation, write them down. Do not judge them. Simply thank them for keeping you safe and then say, “I release my outdated limiting beliefs and patterns so that I can grow.”
  3. Stop negative self-talk. Negative self-talk is a form of self-sabotage. When you catch yourself saying something negative about yourself, reverse the pattern by following it with a compliment. For example, if you say, “I can never lose weight,” change the pattern by saying, “That’s in the past. I now lose weight easily and effortlessly.”
  4. Focus on your strengths. When you focus on other people’s actions, goals, and achievements, you’re not able to honor your own unique gifts. When you find yourself trying to emulate someone else, bring your focus back to yourself. Choose one personal strength and then create a plan for using it to achieve whatever you desire. You can write your plan in your journal. Or, write an actual business plan for achieving your future happiness.
  5. Work on your self-esteem. Self-esteem is a cornerstone of good health, and the best part is that your self-esteem does not detract from others people’s self-esteem. In fact, improving your self-esteem can enhance others’ self-esteem. It will also help you attract people who are like you and support you.
  6. Use affirmations. Daily affirmations can help boost your self-esteem, which in turn helps you move past your upper limit problem. You can say, “I give myself permission to achieve my goals,” or, “I firmly believe in my ability to attract success.” Or create your own affirmations. Say them in front of a mirror every day or incorporate them into your daily meditation. You can also use Gay’s “ultimate success mantra.” Every morning before getting up and every evening before going to sleep, spend a minute or two saying to yourself, “I expand in abundance, success, and love every day, as I inspire those around me to do the same.” Remember that the subconscious mind controls most of our conscious behavior. And, the word “expand” is a word that the subconscious can’t push up against! That’s why this mantra is so powerful.
  7. Release guilt. Guilt is a feeling of doing something wrong. Feelings of guilt around happiness and success often stem from childhood wounding. In order to release guilt, practice the behaviors and emotions that are the antidotes to your wounding. For example, if you feel guilty that you don’t do enough for your mother and therefore feel unworthy of her love, then practice self-love and self-acceptance. You can do this through rituals such as a loving-kindness meditation and practicing regular self-care
  8. Set boundaries. When tackling an upper limit problem, friends and family may say or do things to hold you back. It’s important to remember that you set the standard for how others treat you. Tell them the truth about how their words and actions make you feel. Say that you are not willing to hear negative comments about your goals or successes. If you are unable to speak directly to someone who is sabotaging you, write down your feelings in a journal. Whatever you do, don’t apologize for your happiness or success! You may also need to limit the amount of time you spend with certain people until you have surpassed your upper limit problem. Realize that you may disappoint or anger some people (especially energy vampires). Learn to be okay with that.
  9. Be open to receiving. Women are traditionally givers. In order to achieve a high level of success at anything, you need to be open to receiving. Sometimes that may involve asking for help. Other times it may mean taking time for yourself to develop a skill, so you have the confidence to pursue your goals. When you are in receiving mode, take time to allow that energy to imprint on your cells.
  10. Express gratitude. Gratitude allows for expansion. When you are grateful for what you currently have, you bring more of what you are grateful for towards you. So, if you are grateful for the money you have in the bank, you attract more financial wealth. In addition, studies show that people who practice gratitude daily report higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness, and energy than those who don’t – all qualities that can help you overcome an upper limit problem.
  11. Laugh. Everyone experiences setbacks when tackling upper limit problems. Laughing it off with a good friend can be therapeutic. Make sure it’s a true friend who is with you on your path and who will be there when you achieve your dreams.

Overcoming an upper limit problem is not a one-time thing. It’s a journey and you are always right where you should be. As you continue to increase your tolerance for happiness and success, remember that by doing so you are providing the highest possible service to everyone around you because when you experience increased levels of joy, you are making the world a more joyful place.

Have you conquered an upper limit problem? Please share your stories in the comment section below.

Last Updated: April 30, 2019

Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Christiane Northrup, M.D., is a visionary pioneer and a leading authority in the field of women’s health and wellness. Recognizing the unity of body, mind, and spirit, she empowers women to trust their inner wisdom, their connection with Source, and their ability to truly flourish.


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  1. Marija
    5 years ago

    Wise remarks on our usual behaviour. Long time ago I’ve read about self-sabotage, but in modern times it appears in another forms. In my oppinion, this is more problem of elder generation of women, who are mostly trained not to aspire too high. Now we have a guide to change it. Thank you, dr. Northrup on these helpful advice.

    1. Melanie
      5 years ago

      I think it’s a common problem for all ages and sexes, actually.

  2. Debra
    5 years ago

    I love this book and especially very powerful affirmations to say for change.
    I’ve been sabotaging for years and preventing success, so hard on myself. From childhood I allowed others actions, especially my dads behaviour become my life’s mantra. Becoming aware has brought on sickness and my body shuts down for a day it two. I see how it’s affected all my relationships. My mantra today,
    I am divinely connected to spirit. Divine wisdom flows thru me. All is well.

  3. Marian
    5 years ago

    Thank you so very much, I truly needed this “Boost Up” – things have been a little confusing to say the least…. Helped tremendously and needed for us all – Namaste

  4. Marian
    5 years ago

    I’m realizing there are several layers to conquer/peel, I truly understand the cliché. Just when I thought I “had it” – there “it was” again…… As I read this guidance, for the first time in a while, I followed the affirmations and “I thanked my old limiting beliefs for showing me what I needed to see and that I was safe to observe it and I am grateful for the expansion of love, abundance, happiness, joy, successes, in all areas of my life every day, in every way, and I inspire others to do the same”! I thank you for this guidance/wisdom, today I truly needed a “Boost Up”. Thank you for this, just what I needed. Feeling Grateful – Namaste

  5. Ms
    5 years ago

    Dr Christine,

    Thanks so much for this blog post. I have an upper limit problem based on reading this article. The thing is I have been paying attention and recognized my behavior so this is one of those ahh ha moments that puts into words what I was working on figuring out. I have been on a journey to just be me and this article has helped me to recognize where I am so I can decide what to do next.

    Thanks again!!

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