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We all have the same problem

There’s something you should know about me. I almost never get headaches. Or hangovers. Maybe I’m immune to negative health-related matters starting with the letter “H.”

I wrote about the reasons why I never get hangovers, but the thought of writing about my non-existent headaches hadn’t crossed my mind—until a few weeks ago when everything changed.

A headache started creeping up on me one afternoon. I avoided it to make it go away because it didn’t matter anyway. In the morning, I’d wake up headache-free. I had a very busy day ahead and my headache would be respectful of that, right?

I had a hard time falling asleep because my head hurt. Despite my high pain tolerance (I do have several tattoos and piercings), headaches are outside of my area of expertise so maybe I’m a bit dramatic about how having one feels like.

When I woke up, my headache was worse.

upper limit problem how rude gif

How could my brain do this to me? I thought we were in this together.

And it wasn’t just my brain. I also woke up with hypotension. Usually, having a lower blood pressure is a good thing, but mine was abnormally low.

The Eisenhower Matrix

The Eisenhower Matrix, named after the 34th President of the United States, is a popular tool for prioritizing your to-do list “correctly.” Eisenhower divided tasks by two factors—urgency and importance—to create a four-quadrant matrix that looks like this.

upper limit problem The Eisenhower Matrix
Image: Eisenhower

Well, that day I had a bunch of first-quadrant tasks, urgent and important, but I also had a crushing headache and hypotension. What did I do? I decided to push through and do the work. The pain would go away eventually.

I’m joking!

I went by the lake, had coffee with my mom, and didn’t even bring my laptop.

A few days ago, I’d written Internalized Capitalism- In Defense of Boredom so I was particularly averse to putting work first and my health second. I’m also always averse to not practicing what I preach.

But I wanted to realize why this was happening. Luckily, I had recently finished a book that gave me a satisfying answer.

The problem with problems

In The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level, Dr. Gay Hendricks gives some famous examples of what he calls the Upper Limit Problem:

  • Referring to the White House, “Bill Clinton casually said to an attendant, “I am going to live here someday as president.” And he achieved that goal. But then his Upper Limit Problem kicked in. He self-sabotaged his success by getting involved in a sex scandal that led to impeachment and disgrace.”
  • John Belushi rose to enormous success quite rapidly; at his peak he had a number-one album, the top-grossing movie, and a hit TV show. Then, his Upper Limit Problem got him; he self-destructed as meteorically as he had risen.”
  • “The actor Christian Bale starred in the Batman movie The Dark Knight, which had one of the most profitable openings in movie history. In London for the movie’s premiere, he got into an altercation in his hotel room (with his mother and sister, no less) and ended up with assault charges filed against him.”
  • The late Jack Whitaker, the lottery winner of $315 million dollars, was arrested, sued, lost his home in a fire, robbed on two separate occasions, got a divorce, his 17-year-old granddaughter and her friend died of an overdose, then his daughter died of cancer at 42. “He was often quoted as saying he wished he had torn up the ticket.”

What do these people have in common besides all being men? Dr. Hendricks writes: “They receive an award at work and then have a screaming argument with their spouse later that same night. They get the job of their dreams and then get sick; they win the lottery, then have an accident.”

What is the Upper Limit Problem?

The Upper Limit Problem is our limited tolerance for feeling good and our lives going well. When we hit our Upper Limit, we fabricate bad thoughts and do things to put an end to our positive feelings—start an argument with our spouse, blow money away, or get sick.

kid playing piano

The author explains why we self-sabotage this way, and as with many other issues, it all starts with family. Dr. Hendricks tells the story of a boy passionate about playing the piano, whose sister had passed away and whose family struggled financially:

“He was seized with joy and gratitude. He hugged his parents and, with tears streaming down his face, sat down at the keyboard. As his fingers were about to touch the keys for the first time, his mother said, “We would never have been able to afford this if your sister hadn’t died.” Instantly his joy became suffused with guilt and grief. A pattern was set in motion that would play out for the next forty years.”

One of our Upper Limit barriers stems directly from our childhood narratives. The author recommends asking yourself these two questions to understand if this affects you:

  • Did I break the family’s spoken or unspoken rules to get where I am?
  • Even though I am successful, did I fail to meet the expectations my parents had of me?

There are a few other influential factors, but I don’t want to give the whole book away. Plus, according to my Kindle app, I highlighted 21% of the book. It’s hard to cherry-pick when I loved so much of it. I’m sure that if what you read so far resonated with you, you will find a way to learn more about the Upper Limit Problem.

The Big Leap

The author explains how most people never take what he calls “The Big Leap.”

The big leap is our conscious decision to live aligned with our true self and desires. “Most people have a carefully crafted, well-justified story about why they can’t take their Big Leap. For one person it was about the family: “I can’t possibly take the time to write [“make a video,” etc.] because my family needs me.”

If you’re looking for reasons not to take the big leap, you will find hundreds. The most popular ones include family, money, time, and society. If your big leap involves something creative, your repertoire probably includes “it has been done already,” “no one will care,” and “it’s too late to start now.”

That italicized quote about the carefully crafted, well-justified stories is from when Dr. Hendricks and others who got their Ph.D.’s from Stanford in the 70s gathered to celebrate one of their professors. Dr. Hendricks talks about how out of a room of 50 people, only about six of them were happy, genuinely happy. The excuses were bountiful.

Are you in the zone?

It’s okay to feel good most of the time. Really, it is. Dr. Hendricks calls this the Zone of Genius. When we operate (fun fact: Sade’s Smooth Operator is playing right now) out of our Zone of Genius, we prioritize what matters most to us.

“I think of the Zone of Genius as a continuous spiral. You go higher and higher every day as you expand your capacity for more love, abundance, and success.”

The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level, Dr. Gay Hendricks

So how did my lake adventure pan out? I realized that my health problems were related to my work. I had so much to do because things were kinda great. My freelance career was low-key thriving, I was working with clients whose values were closely aligned with mine on projects I love working on. I was even getting work inquiries because of my articles on here! I was working, writing, sharing, living, hitting. My Upper Limit, that is.

In a parallel universe, I would’ve self-sabotaged, either by getting straight to work and further worsening my health condition or by abandoning my tasks, calling things off with clients, and feeling useless for the rest of the day.

But since I was aware of what this was and that if I persevered, it meant I’d be expanding my capacity for success, I gave myself all the time and love in the world. I had coffee, looked at the lake, read for fun, then when I got to work, it all got done.

Tirana lake. Photo: Rozana Xhaferaj

 “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”

Lao Tzu

I’m not a fan of shaming people into making the right decisions, but I have to say this. When you reach your 60s and happen to be in a room with 50 people where only six of them are regret-less and genuinely happy, which side will you be on?

Obviously, I hope that when we’re in our sixties, that proportion is the other way around. Obviously, the only way to make that happen is by taking control of our lives and taking the leap.

1 thought on “We all have the same problem”

  1. Don’t get the hangover thing? I think you have super powers with regards to that? Haha!! But I am a rookie in the 60’s club with aspirations of being a “Power of Now” Ninja for years to come!!! Cheers!!

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