Upper limit stuff and Zone of Genius. 

Recently I asked in a group I run online, if anyone had heard of the ZONE OF GENIUS concept. And it reminded me that there is quite a lot of juice in the book that I learnt this concept from. 

The idea of the Zone of Genius is talked about quite a lot in the book I’m referring to. The book, The Big Leap by Gay Hendrix is predominately about what he calls, the Upper Limit Problem. 

The ULP in the simplest description goes like this.

Things are going well, you are moving in the direction of your ideal life and then you hit a level of satisfaction that you wont allow yourself to exceed. Like a set point at which we can allow ourselves to experience ease and joy. 

Humans, over a millennia have experienced pain and struggle. Humans are hardwired for it, and we have lived it generation after generation. So, it’s in our DNA. 

Humans know really well how to feel bad. They know well how to feel depressed and anxious and worried and afraid. It is only relatively recent in our history that we are actually encouraged to feel good, and love ourselves and go after what our heart desires. Previously we were just trying to not get killed by some form of lethal pathogen or war. 

It’s new to our nervous systems to allow ourselves to feel good..consistently. 

A few years back I went to see Brene Brown in Sydney, give a presentation on living brave. 

If you haven’t yet heard of Brene, well, it’s time you did. Just google her. It’s all there. 

She’s an incredible story teller and told this story about a movie scene that most of us are deeply familiar with. 

Picture a car filled with a young family, all packed up on their way to visit their family at Christmas time. The family are singing along with the music coming from the speakers. Christmas carols about joy and merry things. 

Everyone is smiling. The scenery is bright and moving quickly out the widow view. 

The camera pans away from the car. And what happens next….?? 

Where did your mind go? 

I tried not to let my mind go to the crash scene, I wanted my mind to go to the next scene where they arrive at their family home. 

But it didn’t. How about you?

We are not entirely to blame for this though. Our culture is bombarded with images of tragedy. We are constantly reminded not to get ‘too happy’ because something will go wrong and we will be worse off than when we started. This in a sense is upper limiting. 

To me, an upper limit problem is very similar to what Brene calls, forbidding joy. 

Another example that has been used might help illustrate this a little more. 

You know when you go and check on the kids at bed time, besides saying, “thank god they are asleep” there are moments where you look at their little innocent faces and your heart melts and you feel so incredibly lucky to have them. And then, moments later you start wondering what you did so good to be blessed with healthy children and then think to yourself, “don’t get too happy, this could change at any moment. Temper this joyful feeling”. 

Consider how you have learnt to be in the world. Consider the knocks you have encountered, the let downs and struggles. It can feel tiring. And anything BUT joyful. 

In The Big Leap, Gay takes us on a journey TO our zone of genius using the navigation of our upper limit problem. 

So what is the zone of genius? Really, it is just another way of describing your purpose or your personal passion. 

It is a discovery process, one that requires us to pay deep attention to our lives. Our selves. And discovering our zone of genius is life’s big leap. 

Gay describes most of us as having 4 zones that we can choose to operate from. 

  1. Zone of Incompetence.
  2. Zone of Competence
  3. Zone of excellence
  4. Zone of Genius

1. Zone of Incompetence

This is where we are engaging in things that we have very little understanding of and or are not skilled at. Naturally, we all experience this when we are embarking on mastering anything. 

2. Zone of Competence

This is the zone where you are doing what you are efficient at, may get some positive feedback for and also notice that there are plenty of other people that are competent and efficient at these skills as well. 

3. Zone of Excellence

You are doing something that you are extremely skilled at. This is where there has been a lot of practice and over time, develops into a significant skill level. 

It makes good logical sense to be in that zone but there is a lack of natural flow and ease. It can feel tiresome and requires a great deal of ‘push’ to keep doing the tasks that fall into the excellence zone.

In the zone of excellence, we can experience a sense of dullness and sluggishness. Sure, we can do all the things, and do them well and even earn a lot of money for these things, but there is a lacking of vibrancy and lightless that we experience in our zone of genius.

It is likely that people will give us positive feedback in this zone, and reaffirm how clever we are. But something doesn’t feel light about it. Doesn’t feel completely connected. It is the most difficult zone to move away from, because of the rewards that exist here.

4. Zone of Genius. 

In this zone you capitalise on your natural abilities and skills that are innate and not learned. This is the state when we find ourselves in constant flow and ease and effortless engagement with whatever we are doing. We find an abundance of inspiration and come up with ideas that are fulfilling and unique to us. It is here we find joy and connection to our gifts. 

Many of us, through making ‘the right’ decisions, have found ourselves in our zone of excellence. This is where we chose to learn skills and practice those skills to mastery. But the missing piece is that there is exactly that…a missing piece. It doesn’t feel effortless. 

Discovering our zone of genius is life big leap. And the key word here is ‘discovering’. Most of us want to just have a neon sign and say ‘this is it’ and for some people, it is like this. But it is rare. Like a supermodel, they are a very rare find. And comparing ourselves to a supermodel, when we clearly are not, is not good for our self worth, and also, doesn’t really make a lot of sense. It is either in our DNA or it isn’t. 

If you are feeling dull and sluggish most days, it might be that you are in your zone of excellence. It may be that you have fallen into the ‘hopping on the spot’ and not the ‘tiny little leaps’. Little leaps that might look a little like an insect jumping from one leaf to the next. It’s risky, but the leap is worth it for what might be ahead.

The Upper Limit Problem is raised as we raise our game. The bar continually raises as we do more work. 

The better we get, the better we want to be. Part of us wants to be in the zone of genius and yet, at the same time, we are tied down to forces around us. The people around us want us to stay in the zone of excellence because we are familiar to them there and we are reliable there. 

If you were asked to answer this, “If it wasn’t for ________________, I could be doing what I really want to be doing”….how would you respond. This is where truth telling gets real and we get to see some of our upper limit problems. 

The short cut, is that these things are all symptoms of not taking the leap to the zone of genius. 

If outside influences like money and children and partners and family were not a problem, what would you really love to be doing with your days?

Most of us have a well crafted and well justified story about why they can’t take a leap. “I can’t possibly find the time to…..” or “I have a bunch of kids that need my attention so I can’t….” or “ I can’t possibly do what I want to because I won’t get paid well enough for it”.

Underneath all of the fears really, is if I choose to do what I want, I will fail. “What if I open up to my true genius and find that it isn’t good enough”? 

Better to keep the genie in the bottle than to risk finding out it isn’t good enough. 

That way, we don’t have to discover that we may not actually have a zone of genius. 

Unless we are really lucky or totally enlightened, you are likely to hear those nattering and nagging stories within you. They are part of the deal. No use trying to talk ourselves out of them. Where would they go anyway? 

We just acknowledge them, wave at them or give them a high five and let them know that we are aware of them and then carry on learning to live in the zone of genius. 

Genius Questions 

  1. What do you love to do? You love it so much that you can do it for long stretches of time without getting tired or bored or distracted. 
  2. What work do you do that doesn’t feel like work? You can do it all day long and you don’t get tired, in fact you end up feeling energised. 
  3. In your work, what produces the highest ratio of abundance and satisfaction to the amount of time spent? Even if you do this for ten seconds or for a few minutes, an idea or a deeper connection may spring forth that leads to huge value. 
  4. What is your unique ability? There is a special skill I am gifted with. This unique ability, truly realised and put to work, can provide enormous benefits to me and any organization I serve. 
  5. I am at my best when______
  6. When I am at my best, the thing I am doing is _______
  7. When I am doing that thing, the thing I love most is _______

These can be REALLY tough to ask yourself, but if you can deal with the discomfort on the other side is clarity. 

And it’s a process. It is a process. And life is a process. An adventure. 

Let me remind you that you haven’t been on the earth in this body, so don’t be an arsehole to yourself while you adventure. 

As always, I am here to support you in your humaning adventure. It’s my genius. 

Big love

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