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How to adjust the “upper limit” you place on your happiness and success

Start dreaming about £50K pay rises, advises Viv Groskop

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By Viv Groskop on

Have you reached your “upper limit”? Or do you need to adjust it upwards a tiny bit? This is a concept that various gurus and authors are talking about, including my new best friend, Marie Forleo (the life coach dubbed “Oprah for the next generation”).

When I say “new best friend”, I do not mean that I have ever met Marie. I just feel like I have, as lately I’ve been mainlining her online videos and status updates. She’s great at explaining simple, life-changing ideas that move things forward for you in life and work. That is the best way I can put it. (It doesn’t exactly hurt that she is a former hip-hop dancer who looks like a model with hair woven from molten black gold. Not that I’ve become obsessed with her or anything.)

The idea behind “upper limit” is that we all have a sort of level of happiness tolerance that we think we are meant to receive. Think of it as a metaphorical high-jump bar that you don’t think you can make it over. For example, for most of us winning £1m on the lottery would be way above our upper limit. Or being offered a pay rise of £50,000. Or being told by your boss: “We’re offering you a paid sabbatical for a year. Oh, sorry, I made a mistake. Not on single pay. On double pay.” In short, you have reached your “upper limit” if something good happens and it seems too good to be true. The trouble comes when the good thing does turn out to be true and you really can have that thing. It’s within your reach. And yet it doesn’t seem real, so you sabotage it or feel horribly guilty.

The more you extend your ‘upper limit’, the more comfortable you are with good things coming into your life, and the more generous you are with helping other people get the opportunities they deserve

Sometimes life sends you the equivalent of a double pay rise (whether it’s an unexpected gift or a big favour someone didn’t need to do for you or a free holiday) – and we need to adjust our “upper limit” and tell ourselves that it’s OK to have good things. It’s also OK to expect them and work towards them. The more you extend your “upper limit”, the more comfortable you are with good things coming into your life, and the more generous you are with helping other people get the opportunities they deserve.

Marie Forleo champions this idea, as does Denise Duffield-Thomas, the brilliant money mentor whose philosophy is all about adjusting your own perceptions about what you do and don’t “deserve”. (Guess what? You deserve whatever good things are coming your way.) But the original idea comes from a book called The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks, which gives specific advice on how to raise your own bar in terms of what you expect from yourself.   

Yes, agreed, some of it is hokum. Realistically, how is anyone ever going to get a £50,000 pay rise just like that? But the theory of it is genius. If you can imagine £50,000 or at least be able to think about it, it does really help in negotiating £5,000 or even £500. Once you start working with “upper limit” (“Maybe I could go for £750 instead of £500?”), you look for ways to make it happen.

“Upper limit” is about looking at the good things that come into your life and questioning why you feel bad about receiving them. But it’s also about breaking through your own limitations. Why shouldn’t you ask for a £5,000 pay rise? What would you have to believe about yourself and your performance in order to convince someone else that you’re worth it? What more could you do to prove you’re worth it? It starts as a dream and ends up as a concrete, achievable plan. Now all I have to do is adjust my “upper limit” for hip-hop routines and I’ll be real best friends with Marie before you can say “positive mindset”.


Viv Groskop’s show, Anchorwoman: When The News Gets Too Much, is at The Stand, Edinburgh, from August 3-26:

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