Get past your self-imposed limitations and self-sabotage to find greater happiness
Do you believe you deserve happiness? Of course you do . . . or do you? Have you unknowingly imposed a limit on how much happiness you allow yourself? Most of us have. That seems strange, at least on the surface. Why would anyone limit their happiness?
According to psychologist and personal growth coach, Gay Hendricks, humans have an inclination to self-impose psychological barriers to our own success and fulfillment. He calls them Upper Limit Problems, and suggests they are the only problems you really need to solve. Hendricks says that once you reach your personal limit, or “happiness threshold,” self-sabotaging behaviours are triggered (The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks). We actually do things to stop ourselves from getting any more happy and keep us from reaching our Zone of Genius, which are the things you are uniquely talented to do!
This idea first makes me wonder how we each determine what brings us happiness, then exactly how much of it we’ll allow ourselves to experience. The answers to these questions are a result of the millions of experiences we each have had to this point in our lives. And no two collections of experiences are the same.
The first question is very personal; what are the things, people, experiences, and achievements that bring you happiness? They won’t be the same for everyone because happiness is intrinsic to each individual. Just because a hot mug of coffee and a yummy smelling candle fills me with happiness, doesn’t mean it’s going to do it for you. Maybe you hate coffee and have something against yummy smelling candles. In a work context, I find happiness in knowing I’ve helped another human find value within themselves that they didn’t see before. You may find that something entirely different floats your boat.
Hendricks extends the idea of happiness to include the feeling of fulfillment. So I ask you this: what makes you feel fulfilled? Again, our answers will be different.
I’ve been writing about change recently; the idea that at some point in our lives, many of us come to the realization that what we’re doing isn’t bringing us the same joy it once did. It takes courage to overcome the fear of change AND we all have the power to make a different decision and seek a new future.
The first step to taking that first step in a new direction is knowing what direction you want to take, what Hendricks calls our Zone of Genius destination. And the first step in knowing where you want to go is to figure out what brings you happiness and fulfillment. Otherwise, how do you know* that the new future you envision will bring you more happiness than you already have? (*You never really know what a change will bring. I address the fear of uncertainty we humans have in my previous blog: Choice is a funny thing)
That second wondering I had about the amount of happiness we allow ourselves to experience is a curious one. On the surface, it seems wacky to place an Upper Limit on our happiness. But think about it. Once you achieve something that makes you happy, how do you feel once it sinks in? Does self-doubt about whether you deserve to feel the way you do creep in? Do you sometimes feel guilty for having the thing you’ve always wanted? If yes, you know how frustrating it can feel to be swelling with happiness one moment, only to eventually feel “off” about it. Talk about a buzz kill. You have just Upper Limited yourself!
You can blame the millions of experiences you’ve had that have brought you to this very moment. Maybe in the past, someone has made you feel less than wonderful about achieving something great, or you’ve felt guilty that you have more than others. Does that mean you shouldn’t feel happy or fulfilled? Your brain says,“Yes!” I say, “No!”
Only when you push past those pesky (false) beliefs about what you deserve, can you push yourself toward being even happier and more fulfilled. Once you accept that you are deserving and that you are “enough,” envision what that looks like. If it’s a change to your work you want, consider what brings you joy by asking yourself a few questions (adapted from The Big Leap):
- What do I most love to do, so much that I can do it for long stretches of time without getting tired or bored? (Mihály Csíkszentmihályi offers similar thinking in his definition of “flow”: a state of complete immersion in an activity. Being immersed can be defined as a state of focus in which a person is completely absorbed and engrossed in their work)
- What work do I do that doesn’t feel like work?
- In my work, what produces the highest ratio of satisfaction to the amount of time spent?
- What unique ability or skill do I have that provides the most value to others?
Your answers will help you hone in on the pieces of your work that bring you the most joy and satisfaction. Then, you can identify ways to bring more of those pieces into your every day. Whether it’s tweaking your current job or moving in an entirely new direction, if you seek this type of “flow” with intention, where you end up will produce more happiness and fulfillment than today.
Don’t you owe it to yourself to find the most possible happiness in your life and work? If you’re unsure, believe me when I say, you do.