When Things Get Too Good

I should have seen it coming–should have predicted it a week or so ago. After a glorious 50th anniversary celebration for my small-sized, big-hearted congregation, and the promise of my favorite singer-songwriter’s CD release concert tomorrow night, I began to feel achy yesterday afternoon. “I think I have the flu,” I announced to my husband over dinner. “Would you feel my forehead? Do I feel hot? Cold? Clammy?”

By morning, the aches were joined by a sore throat, pink eye in my left eye, and a deep desire to stay in bed rather than face the day. As I stumbled downstairs, turned on the coffeepot, and attempted to look out the window through my puffy, red eye, Matt and I turned to one another with a knowing smile. “Hidden upper limit problem,” we said simultaneously. It’s the (seemingly inevitable) crash that comes when life gets just a little too good.

Though the particular movie is eluding me, I can hear in my mind a character who has just been asked out by the date of her dreams say, “I bet I get hit by a bus.” In other words, “Life cannot be sustained with this much joy, satisfaction, and success.” Gay Hendricks, who coined the phrase “hidden upper limit problem” in his book The Big Leap, writes, “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 (20)”.

While I have become fairly skilled at naming and noticing when I reach my hidden upper limit, I am still developing my ability to ward it off. Perhaps you, like me, experience the limit in your body. Maybe sickness sets in on your first day of vacation. Others might pick a fight with a partner or friend–a sure way to dampen your spirits after a success at work. Whatever your particular pattern, learning to identify and work with your limit is vital to continued growth.

How do I manage the free fall when it begins?

First, I name it–I recognize my symptoms for what they are. I actually take a little delight in this, as hitting the limit means I am experiencing an extraordinary amount of love and success in my life.

Second, I cut myself some slack. In addition to cold and flu-like symptoms, my hidden upper limit often manifests as a magnifying glass to very small problems. When I discovered this morning my daughter had neglected to bring her order form for today’s junior high picture day, I went into full-blown over-thinking mode: “Did she forget it on purpose because I’ve been talking about money more and she thinks we can’t afford it?” And so on. I give myself a few minutes to feel the agitation, and then I move on.

Third, I solve the problems I can fix. I drove the picture order form to school, and I ceased considering whether or not I am ruining her life by being overinvolved in picture day dilemmas. Solving the problems for me is about returning to the basics. I clean my desk. I empty the dishwasher. I change the sheets. I give my life some much-needed order.

Fourth, I name the deeper problems I cannot fix, and I feel whatever comes with them. I learned this morning that a former colleague’s husband has died; she herself is suffering from a virulent cancer. I cried, and I prayed for her and all those who are suffering on this day.

Fifth, I remind myself that I do indeed deserve joy, satisfaction, success, and love….always love. We all do. I am privileged as a coach and a pastor to remind people of this all the time.

Need a little reminder? Let me know. The great news is that those thermostats can be reset. (And my eye feels better already.)

© 2014 Jennifer L. Sanborn. All Rights Reserved.



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