So there I was, enjoying a fantastic vacation, a 14-day hiking trip in Ireland, and one of my evil little Gremlins caught up with me.
You wouldn’t think a nasty Gremlin could swim across the pond; I was pretty sure I hadn’t packed him in my suitcase. And, yet, there he was, all crabby and out of sorts, buckled in next to me as I rode in the back seat of the car.
He fumed about the cramped space in the backseat, because one of us, in our group of seven, had exceeded the agreed upon baggage limit and now there was a suitcase wedged in the middle. He fumed about the beer can collection clanking behind his head which another person in our group was accumulating as trip mementos. He fumed about the annoying plumbing problem at the last place we stayed. He worried about upcoming accommodations.
There was no call for such ridiculous kvetching. This day, like yesterday, was absolutely gorgeous. In fact, the day before I had relished a glorious day of hiking in the Maumturk Mountains. The rolling range had us scrambling up steep green slopes to reach their summits: lunar-landscape peaks covered in enormous rock slabs and masses of shattered white quartzite. The eventual decent had us veering next to cliff edges as we made our way down through broken crags. Our winding path down followed the occasional tracks made by sheep as they grazed along the hillsides composed of purple heather, mountain thyme, and damp bog grasses. Yes, it was stunningly beautiful.
Sunshine, fresh air, outstanding scenery, and hiking with good friends, what was there not to like? Why had I, on day nine of our trip, turned into Miss Crabby Pants? How did I go from feeling good in one moment to manufacturing a stream of complaints the very next day?
The Upper Limit Problem or How to ULP Yourself:
Turns out I was suffering from what is affectionately known as The Upper Limit Problem. I had hit my upper limit of happiness and my Gremlin was more than delighted to bring me back down to “normal” levels. The complaints of my Gremlin were manufactured specifically to dampen my mood.
The Upper Limit Problem – the ULP – is a common phenomenon; most of us have experienced it at one time or another and simply didn’t have a name to give to what was happening. Gay Hendricks, author of The Big Leap, points out the simple pattern of ULP-ing: enjoy a period of feeling really good; then do something to mess it up.
Hendricks suggests we do this because there is some part of ourselves afraid of enjoying positive energy for any extended period of time. We all have a happiness threshold, or ceiling, we’ve installed based on any number of reasons: messages we received in childhood, experiences of young adulthood, or life events which seem to confirm the fact, that yes indeed, other shoe will drop if we get too happy, excited, and optimistic.
The UPL Pattern:
Becoming aware of this pattern, of how we limit our state of bliss and contentment, we can see other areas of our life we tend to UPL ourselves.
Think about the last time you began a healthy eating or exercising regimen. Yes, you might have called it “lack of will-power” when you binged on chocolate or stopped waking up early to go to the gym, and it also was a way to bring yourself back down to something you are much more comfortable feeling – not so healthy and less energetic.
Consider the pattern of ULP-ing in a relationship. Perhaps you’ve been enjoying a positive, healthy, satisfying weekend and then Sunday night you find yourself in an argument over something really trivial. Yep, you’ve just reached your self-imposed limit of the amount of happiness you can absorb, and it is time to bring your relationship back to what feels normal – slightly distressed and stressed.
I’ve realized my grumpy, dark-cloud Gremlin likes to materialize when I am in the midst of a ‘pinch-me-this-is-my-life’ moment: Here I am on a hiking trip in Ireland with the man I love – wow!
Once the car was parked and suitcases were distributed, I took myself on a walk down to the beach to watch the sunset and ask myself the following questions, and I invite you to explore them also:
Can I let the annoyances go and choose to live in harmony?
Am I willing to increase the amount of time every day that I feel good inside?
Am I willing to bask in feelings of contentment and satisfaction, and be okay with those feelings?
Am I willing to accept all the good stuff in my life as the new normal?