Cash, Truth, and Upper Limit Problems

I woke up this morning in a sheer panic. It felt like there was a small rodent eating a hole in my stomach from the inside out. Graphic and gross, I know, but that’s what it felt like. I usually don’t wake up before 8:30am but it was 6:00am and my body refused to sleep any longer. Actually, my body was yearning for sleep—my mind refused to let it happen.

Last night at a powerful-woman, inspiring-idea-studded event called the “Happier Hour” two women I don’t know who recognized me from this blog came up to me to tell me how much they’ve enjoyed reading it so far. Woah! I launched two weeks ago and I already have fans. It felt good and it totally freaked me out at the same time. It made me uneasy and self-conscious. It made me smile in a really goofy way. It made me scared. It made me proud. It made me want to throw up.

Back to me in bed this morning at the ungoddessly hour of 6:00am. My mind was going totally nuts about money. And I was listening intently, even cheering it on to give me more evidence as to why I am a total disaster and I’m going to go broke in two months and I should probably just curl up and die. I tried a favorite Louise Hay affirmation: “All is well. Only good can come of this situation. I am safe.” No go. The little rodent in the pit of my stomach cheekily gnashed his gnarly little teeth at the idea that I could let myself off the hook so easily.

I tossed and turned and tried to go back to my delicious dream in which I was spooning with a guy who looked like a cross between an Abercrombie and Fitch model and Mark Ruffalo (one of my all-time top crushes). Not happening. Up I sprang to do some intense cash flow calculations. When I get scared I like to do projections of some sort —usually I look at my calendar and plan my year but today my brand of projection was financial. I looked at my expenses up through July 1st and my income for the same period. Before I wrote it all out and did this reality check I had a running monologue that went something like this: “I don’t have enough money for what I want. Who am I to think I can spend the summer at the beach writing? That’s too expensive. I’m too young. How dare I take such an indulgence? I should cancel. Good. I’m going to cancel the trip and spend the summer in the city eating ramen noodles and not getting pedicures. Better yet, I’m going to sell my apartment. Yes, that’s brilliant. I’m going to sell my apartment and move back to Maine and spend no money ever again.”

Yet when I did the numbers there was a significant surplus in income versus expenses in my life for the next two months. I’m often so scared and stuck in my head, too busy beating myself up for past spending and being scared of future expenses to take a moment to get real and look at the truth. And when I looked at the truth this morning it was way better than I’d thought. Take that, gnarly-toothed, stomach churning rodent!

The truth is, I woke up this morning totally freaked out and in a complete mental tailspin because I had hit an “Upper Limit Problem.” Gay Hendricks goes into detail about this in his book The Big Leap but the long and short of it is that we each have a thermostat for how good we can allow ourselves to feel. Then, when something amazing happens that takes us beyond the level of good we usually allow ourselves to feel, we subconsciously create an “Upper Limit Problem” to bring us back down to our usual, comfortable level of feeling. (An “Upper Limit Problem” might look like picking a fight with a loved one, overeating, getting in an accident, etc.)

The moral of the story is multi-fold:

1. Get real about your finances. The reality of your cash flow might be delightfully surprising.

2. Sometimes your mind is not your friend. We think 60,000 thoughts a day; 98% of them are negative and they’re also the same thoughts we thought yesterday and the day before. Take them less seriously. As Marie Forleo said last night at the “Happier Hour,” “We have minds but we are not our minds.”

3. When things are going really well and then suddenly things start to go South, it’s generally an “Upper Limit Problem.” Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, thank your adorable mind for trying to keep you comfortably in a mediocre state of semi-happiness, and then go for bliss. I find when I acknowledge that the disaster that I think I see in front of me is simply my mind’s way of trying to protect me from getting happier than it’s used to, often that problem disintegrates.

What kind of “Upper Limit Problems” have you experienced? Have you ever been surprised by the delightful reality of your cash flow once you got up the courage to actually get real about it? Do you think I’m nuts? Are you nuts? Any and all comments welcome!


  • I am extremely intrigued by this idea of an Upper Limit Problem. I have never heard this term, but the concept makes total sense to me. From time to time, I have really amazing days when everything is better than I could imagine – things fall into place, I feel good and optimistic, opportunities arise, etc. I call these my “invincible days” because on them, I really feel as if I am invincible and can do anything. But almost invariably, they are followed by damp days full of doubt and self-criticism. Now this makes sense to me. My mind is trying to bring me back to the status quo, more moderate level of happiness. This is beyond interesting…

    I am so thrilled that you were at the Happier Hour last night, that you connected me with the magical Marie, and that you have chosen to share your thoughts and wisdom here on your blog with all of us.

    Indeed you have fans. And I am a big one :)

    • Kate

      Oh I’m so thrilled that I introduced you to something new! When I read about Upper Limit Problems for the first time I was completely stunned by how I could trace the timeline of my life according to those “invincible days” and how they would quickly be followed by things going down the toilet. I’m glad that you’ve found the same thing in your life because it makes me feel less neurotic and pathetic when I read that other people have the same problem…especially talented, beautiful, smart, successful, kind other people like you :) Thanks for joining the conversation Aidan! I’m eternally a fan of yours too.

  • I love that you gave yourself the gift of clarity in your numbers. God is in the details. And I hope you can keep expanding your upper limits because I bet your fan base is just gonna get bigger! Love, Annie

    • Kate

      Aaaaah, God is in the details. I wish that weren’t true but it so is. Thank you for cheering me on. You are a great source of inspiration in the category of clarity around money so your support means the world to me. Love you my darling sister!

  • Mike Ryzewic

    I think it is fantastic that you’re bringing attention to this sort of issue. I’m certain that all of us have experienced the converse situation (and been aware of it) when you’re not feeling great, and things can only get better – the local maxima are probably less important, but more interesting, than the minima.

    Personally, I feel like I hit a “Upper Limit” sometime every Monday morning – Sunday night I’m getting stoked for the week, reading my friends twitter feeds as they are getting stoked for the week, then I run into reality sometime on Monday. My goal each week is to make my job more and more like what I believe it to be on Sunday. I can certainly second Ms. Rowley’s concept of a center-seeking tendency; the goal has to be to keep your status quo as up-biased as possible.

    It’s interesting that you use “cash flow” as the focus of your anxiety in this article – I find that generally when I’m thinking about this, it is really a proxy for some more basic facet of my existence. Is this important to you in the Maslowian sense of food and shelter, is it a way of keeping score, or do you feel that financial success (or lack thereof) reflects upon your life choices? This is a question that I grapple with frequently, so I’d certainly appreciate any insights you have!

    I think that this post has sold me on the “Kate Kool-Aid”, in that it made me feel a bit tingly, and encouraged me to go back and read your post on “Selling as as Spiritual Practice” (that sort of work feels like vacation). I can’t guarantee that I’ll be a fan of everything you write here, but I these two posts really speak to me, and I’m going to have to do a little bit of sleeping and a LOT more thinking before I can really digest them (especially since I didn’t even get this one until 12:05 a.m. this morning!).

    In closing, I’d say you will probably end up with lots of fans – you are smart, interesting, blonde, beautiful, and quirky – if that is not a recipe for success on the internet, I don’t know what is!

    Keep up the good work!

    P.S.: I’m jealous that 8:30 is your normal wake up time – I generally do 6 each day so I can hit work by 8:30!

    P.P.S.: You are definitely nuts, but this post mostly deals with being borderline bipolar, and I’d bet I have you beat on that one…

    • Kate

      Mike, your verbosity, hilariousness, and adorableness astounds me. First of all, let me just say that I’m delighted to have male readers/commenters because you bring a refreshing new flavor to the conversations I’m used to having pretty much exclusively with my girlfriends. I’m glad you’ve drunk the “Kate Kool-Aid” and that you’ve found it to your liking. Great questions about me using cash flow as the focus of my anxiety. That wasn’t so much a conscious choice as what my mind decided to perseverate on in the moment. But, I would say my panic came from the erroneous thought that, from a Maslowian perspective, I wasn’t going to be able to support myself…but also it came from the fact that I’ve made some larger spending decisions of late than I’ve been used to in the past which is making my happiness/abundance/joy thermostat uncomfortable. And I do very much believe that financial abundance is simply energy. We can have abundance in love, money, health, friendship, peace of mind…they are all just gauges of the same thing: how good can you stand it and how happy are you willing to be? How much are you willing to love life? Money certainly isn’t a solution, nor is it the path to happiness by any means, but I would say it certainly makes life easier. This is great fodder for a future post. I hope you will honor me with a thoughtful and verbose comment when I write about money as simply a manifestation of energy. And thank you for calling me beautiful :)

  • Lori Hepp

    In the dictionary under Upper Limit Problem…there is a picture of me! Ha! My life is fantastic and the more fantastic it gets, the more my mind conjures shit up! However…once I get out of my own way, look at the situation at hand, be it $ or something else, I can usually get a grip on it. Sorry about the rodent in your tummy, doll, but it is refreshing to hear others suffering from the same junk! Thanks for a fun website! Love it!!!

    • Kate

      Thanks Lori! It feels so good to know we’re not the only ones with rampant self doubt, right? I love that the more fantastic your reality becomes, the more creative your mind gets at trying to keep you small. Thank it for sharing and shine on baby!

  • Good Morning Kate!
    Each time I read a post I think, Go Kate! You are amazing and such an inspiration with “Your Truth”.
    My back went out the day before I was to become a radio personality. Upper limit problem or too much exercise?
    Keep them coming Kate!

    • Kate

      I think Upper Limit Problem for sure Mary. You do exercise a lot (and that’s something I so admire about you!) but of course your back would go out before you were going to share your brilliance on the air waves. YES! It’s a sign of growth. I love it!

  • Thanks Kate! You put into words, my reality.
    Thanks for the reminder and keep it up, please! Spend 3 months at the beach – have a ball! I’ll see you there!

    • Kate

      I’m so glad you resonated with what I wrote. It turns out that every human being is fundamentally having a very similar experience on the planet on the inside, it just looks drastically different on the outside. Thanks for contributing your thoughts!

  • Kat

    I’ve been having some of the same… except my “rodent” shows up in the form of a 9″ tall Napoleon (with hat) who is thrashing me, at approximately 6am with my to-do list…. Including the plants I didn’t water, the futon mattress I need to buy, all the ways I am coming up short, you name it.

    Loving your transparency in your blog. Thank you!

    • Kate

      Congratulations for manifesting a tiny little Napoleon to remind you that you’re growing. I love that. You are hysterical!

  • Holy hotness, batman! You are one flaming hot, truth-seeking, soul-baring goddess! I was instantly sucked in by the beginnings of this post and fell more deeply in love with it as I read. What a brilliant exampl of a ULP. I love that you instantly began writing cash flow projections and they proved to you that you ARE IN FACT FINANCIALLY FREE to enjoy a summer of writing.

    Rock on, Kate!!

    • Kate

      Thank you Deb…I am one of your biggest fans and I’m honored to have your voice here on my blog. Thank you for reading and cheering me on. I can’t wait to post my interview with you soon!

  • Hi Kate,

    I had a total meltdown last night too. I’ve been running into ULP’s since January, when I started a semester-long sabbatical from my teaching job. I seem to alternate between being totally bored, freaked out by what a failure I am and how much time I am wasting…to being grateful for this time to step back and just think and reflect. My middle of the night tactics include listening to hypnotherapy tapes by Wendi Friesen (currently working on abundance), listening to Joe Vitale and Pat O’Bryan’s clearing audio, or just giving in to the anxiety and getting up for a burst of writing to make myself feel better. Bravo to you for your courage. I don’t think I could handle financial projections in the middle of the night!! And best of luck with your summer of writing. That’s always been my dream, but I usually manage to fill my summers up with ULP trivia :-) You are an inspiration. Thanks for sharing!

    • Kate

      I love the idea of listening to hypnotherapy in the middle of the night to silence the distracting voices. Congratulations on taking a sabbatical…what wonderful ULP fodder for your mind! When we make changes that bring us closer to our heart, our purpose, our pleasure, our joy, etc. those ULP start popping up everywhere! I say, let them pop up and celebrate when they come because it shows that you’re growing. Congrats!

  • Annette

    Hi Kate,

    Thanks for this post. It reminds me that I’m not alone in this crazy, amazing journey we call LIFE! I’m in the process of launching my new business, owning my power and allowing myself to shine. It’s all been very exciting but of course, the upper limits (I’m a Hendricks fan too) hit when I started getting rashes on my face. Not so convenient on my way to my professional photo shoot,nor going to biz networking meetings, nor facing my incompletions with old relationships. Talk about letting go of perfectionism. Thankfully, I still have the ability to laugh at my “lizard” face and keep taking steps forward.

    It’s refreshing to get to know you better and not just know you as Kate, Dr. Northrup’s daughter from Team Northrup. So, know that I’m swimming along with you and everyone else who is transforming to a new improved version of themselves. Pretty soon, we’ll collectively make a big wave large enough to make it easier for others to deal with the “rashes & rodents”! Peace, Annette

    • Kate

      Annette! So great to “see” you here! And guess, what? You’re the first person I’m responding to because I just figure out how. I love your story about your “lizard” face being an upper limit problem. Thank you for bringing the piece about our bodies shouting to us loud and clear as upper limit behavior to the table. So true. Rock on sister…I’m really excited to see what you’re doing as you launch your new business. Please keep me posted!

  • Okay– I love that you followed through and WROTE this blog. I was reading it while waiting to have my hair done this morning. And I kept thinking, ” Kate was a great writer as a child. I’m SO glad she’s now sharing this with the world.” Then guess what happened? I sit down and in the chair next to me, your second grade teacher Mrs. Redman is finishing with her stylist. ( She has fabulous hair. Very romantic, long, and curly.) And I tell her about your blog. And she says, ” Kate was already a great writer in the second grade.” No kidding. Love the way God works.

    • Kate

      Well, you know what Woody Allen says, right Mom? 80% of success is just showing up. So when you suggested I write about this particular freak out I figured I might as well do it. That’s so cool that you ran into Mrs. Redman at the salon. The universe works in wild and wonderful ways. I LOVE that. Thanks for spreading the blog love and for being my #1 fan. xoxo

  • Patricia

    Of course you’re totally nuts! And so is everyone else, at least part of the time. What I love about
    your posts is that you start out with this total transparency about those “crazy” moments and then
    you show us your process for getting back to sanity, and going for bliss. It’s wonderful and useful
    and fun to read.

    Like Annette, I’ve been listening to hypnotherapy at night to quiet that busy mind chatter!
    Also, I realize that the weight I’ve regained recently is a perfect example of an upper limit thing, and
    a very convenient and familiar way to stay in the realm of familiar okayness! It’s actually cracking me up right now!!! Off I go to get some fresh air and sunlight.

    Hopefully see you soon, Kate!


    Thanks for writing.

  • That concept of a financial thermometer is so true! John and I have been married for 13 years. As you know, we have the career-of-the-month club. We’ve found that no matter whether we are walking down a safe, smooth, sunlit financial path or climbing a friggin’ mountain, our income makes the same steady upward progress. That got a little tiresome. So we decided to try our hand at cliff-diving. It’s a win-big or crash-hard strategy. I pick win-big!

  • Annette

    Hey cool-cat Kate,

    Absolutely, I’ll keep you posted on my biz! Keep the writing coming- you clearly have fans!

  • Beth

    Kate, this resonated HUGELY for me this week. I start to jump up a level, and then some inner circuit breaker flips and I lose the flow of energy. Becoming aware of that has already been a big help. Thank you!

  • Hi Kate! I love your blog and I’ve been a fan since the first day I met you..U ROCK!!

    First, I would like to say I love the relationship that you have with your mom and your sister. It’s so loving. Reminds me of my relationship with my mom and my sister. Their support and love is everything to me.

    This post is exactly what I needed to hear right now, I also worry about money and being able to achieve my dreams. Without a doubt, as soon as something good happens in my life, I hit my Upper Limit and work myself into a tailspin. Thank you for being so authentic with your story and providing tips. The message I keep receiving loud and clear GET REAL with my finances. I am listening Universe!

    Thanks Kate!!

  • Hi kate, and hi to all of you posting and contributing here. I live and work in Italy, where I was born.
    In the past few years I have been going through a long series of tough curves which do not seem to want to stop as yet, but I’ve always tried to read those fact so to grasp their meaning in my life. I see the ‘upper limit problems’ as a repeat pattern in my life so far. Recently got two of them within less than 10 days. The very moment I felt I was legitimately receiving what I deserved (did I really think so? I wonder now) wooof! those money literally disappeared in front of my face, money I desperately needed. The moment I started to feel safe, started to kindly feel comfortable, able to plan and move on to leave the marshes behind, bloop! All gone. I felt anger, frustration, I felt stupid all the sudden, I felt I needed to scream and have the world hear my rebellion. That’s when I decided to go for a long walk to let it all out and calm down, cause I knew I wasn’t getting any better going down that path.
    I do consider myself as an optimistic kind of person, but for a long moment I questioned it big time! The question now is WHAT IS IT THAT I’M not GRASPING?

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