How I Shattered My "Potential Ceiling"

I recently started working with a dog trainer to resolve my dog’s aggression issues with other dogs. Although I approached the dog trainer to work with my dog on his aggression, we instead started at the root of my dog’s aggression issues, which was my inability to communicate with my dog and to help him establish emotional control in stressful situations.

I found this very interesting because I’ve been finding this pop up in every area of my life — the problem that we’re often attacking on the surface usually is not equivalent to the problem that’s causing it at its root.

This led me to think about my career as an entrepreneur and the problems I’ve repeatedly been cycling through and their roots. Reflecting back, every stressful and challenging moment I’ve experienced in the past decade has been a product of the same 4 root issues that admittedly, I’ve self-imposed on myself. 

Gay Hendricks in the book The Big Leap describes this as the Upper Limit Problem, the triggering of hidden barriers you self-impose when you’re pushed to live up to your full potential. We self-sabotage our ability to grow by circling around habits that allow us to stay in our comfort zones and play small. We have an overarching theme(s) and supporting behaviors or actions that we take to self-sabotage any movement forward. 

For me, my theme has been failure — and my recurring, self-sabotaging behaviors have been these 4 roots: 

Avoidance

“So often the treasure you’re looking for is hidden in the work you’re avoiding.” — Jim Kwik

I used to complain about hitting a revenue ceiling, but then not make any sales calls, meet with potential leads, or hire the help I needed to make more money. I was avoiding doing the hard work — expending the energy to meet new people, overcoming my shyness to make phone calls, and spending money on a new hire. The truth was if I put 100% of my effort into solving this problem and failed, it was confirmation that I was a failure — and that wasn’t a confirmation I wanted to receive.

I used to also avoid starting businesses without a co-founder because starting a company alone gave me 100% responsibility for the company’s failure. In my head, splitting a business with a co-founder meant that I was only 50% responsible if it failed (and that there was still hope for the remaining 50% of me).

Expectations

Goal-setting is a great tool for entrepreneurs because it helps motivate and inspire on this lonely road of building a business. In my worst moments, goal-setting has also confirmed when I feel like I’m not enough because I had failed to hit my month’s sales goals.

Although I love setting goals and knowing where to aim, I’ve become increasingly cognizant of not putting my goals on a pedestal. The more I confuse my goal as an expectation, the more I stress myself out for absolutely no reason other than this invisible expectation I had set for myself.

In a sick way, I had created a monthly opportunity at the end of every month where I could wallow in my sorrow of “failing” because I didn’t hit a make-believe expectation I had created for myself. This is self-sabotage at its finest. 

Taking Things Personally

Taking things personally has been a common behavior trait I’ve consistently cycled through in order to confirm my inner dialogue of failing at my job. 

Rather than viewing disagreement as a healthy discourse, or grasping that the reason why someone is angry with me usually has nothing to do with me (their reaction to be angry was a choice they made) I’ve let negative inner dialogues run me to the ground rather than viewing the situation objectively.

Believing In My Limits

I used to believe that I wasn’t capable of running my own business, incapable of doing a public keynote, incapable of eating healthy, incapable of being athletic — the list goes pretty deep. 

Rather than viewing my limits as beliefs, I held on to my perceived truth that certain things weren’t possible for me to accomplish. 

It took me a long time to come to the realization that all of my problems have repeatedly hovered around these 4 behaviors, and that it was these roots I had to get better at improving in order to shatter my “potential ceiling”, rather than creating a better customer experience, setting more ambitious revenue goals, or creating a better marketing plan.

This discovery has been a game-changer for me, allowing me to 4x my monthly income, live a healthier life mentally and physically, become a better partner and friend, and think more clearly about my daily decisions.

Here’s how you can apply this exercise to yourself: 

1. What is a negative theme that you keep pushing about yourself?

Not good enough? 
Doomed to fail? 
Not deserving?

2. What are the recurring behaviors related to your theme that you keep doing to keep yourself in your safe zone? 

3. Once you’ve found your roots and can name them, stop doing them! In addition to the obvious ways you display these behaviors, figure out the sneaky places where they show up in the way you treat the people around you. 

4. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Changing years of negative self-talk is not easy, so keep at it even when it feels tough. 


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Sophia Sunwoo