5 min read

How the Enneagram Can Help You to Avoid the Upper Limit Problem when Setting Professional Goals

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Are you taking stock of how you are progressing against your goals for the year?  Ironically, if you are tracking well and likely to nudge close to your goal, or possibly even hit it out of the ballpark, you may fall prey to self-induced behaviors that could ensure you won’t reach your goals. 

In Gay Hendricks' book called The Big Leap, he talks about the Upper Limit Problem — how we sabotage ourselves on our journey toward attaining success. When the stakes are high, the pressure to perform is high, or when the success is more than you’ve experienced before, Upper Limit Problems can strike. Hendricks says, “Each of us has an inner thermostat setting that determines how much love, success, and creativity we allow ourselves to enjoy. When we exceed our inner thermostat setting, we will often do something to sabotage ourselves, causing us to drop back into the old, familiar zone where we feel secure…”

Reset your upper limit

To set our success bars higher for ourselves inherently means we are resetting our upper limit.  This is setting ourselves up to be outside of our comfort zone.  When setting our professional goals, most of our growth goals – to get promoted, to change jobs, to get visibility for our work by senior management, even to carve out more time to do more strategic planning can be interpreted by our inner brain as tampering with our known, tried and true behaviors. If we face pressure from stretching ourselves, or the outcomes of success is potentially so unfamiliar to us, our brains will perceive this as a threat to our survival even if the success goal is something we desire. 

The Enneagram and Upper Limit Problems

I recently conducted a focus group discussion with a group of young professionals.  We explored how they experience upper limit problems based on the Enneagram Personality System.

Each Enneagram personality type describes a motivational drive that compels us to behave in pursuit of fulfilling emotional needs. Below are ways the participants connected their Enneagram type to upper limit problems.   

  • Type 1-

    Motivated by improvement and perfection ones can become rigid, rule-bound and critical, potentially constraining the potential of the success they desire from being realized and alienating those they are working with. The pursuit of success means facing their underlying fear of being flawed.
  • Type 2-

    Motivated by being of service and help to others they forego their own needs, often depleting them from being their best and putting pressure on others to affirm their value in ways that can push the very people they need for help further away from them. The pursuit of success means facing their underlying fear of  not contributing in ways others will value.
  • Type 3-

    Motivated by ambition and succeeding at their goals they can fail to anticipate risks, authentically engage others collaboratively, and resist pacing themselves to think about the most productive action to take vs. simply checking thing off their to-do list. The pursuit of success means facing their underlying fear of being of no value if they are not successful.
  • Type 4-

    Motivated by authenticity and a search for meaning they often get caught in a continuous loop of comparing themselves to others cultivating a sense they are missing out on what others have and feeling insecure about themselves. This insecurity can lead to inactivity, redoing things to put their own mark on them that may be unnecessary of useful, and oversensitivity to receiving feedback that may make them more effective.  The pursuit of success means facing their underlying fear of missing something that others have attained.
  • Type 5-

    Motivated by surrounding themselves with knowledge and information they can envision their desired goals so fully it can be more rewarding to spend time thinking about the goals than doing what it takes to actually manifest them. Being inclined toward detached connection and a sense of being all-knowing can diminish the way others interact with them and could provide help or value. The pursuit of success means facing their underlying fear of success creating unwanted external demands on them.
  • Type 6-

    Motivated by safety and security for themselves and others they over analyze what they need in order to achieve success, which can slow down their progress. Mistrust of themselves can prevent them from stepping too far out of their proven behaviors. Their vigilance toward risk may result in falling short of attaining their goal if they if the outcome seems too unfamiliar to what they know.  The pursuit of success means facing their underlying fear of being exposed to new threats or risks at a new level of success.
  • Type 7-

    Motivated by trying new things and seeking joy in life they struggle with focusing on any one thing for too long to avoid the possibility of something becoming unpleasant, boring, or limiting. They may move on to something new before realizing the full extent of what they originally desired to achieve. The pursuit of success means facing their underlying fear of being limited by the new levels of success.
  • Type 8-

    Motivated by building strength and avoiding weakness, type 8’s don’t perceive themselves to have any upper limits. If they encounter a limit, they believe they have the ability to overcome it.  They do acknowledge, however, that their tendencies to be blunt, direct, and sometimes lack of emotional sensitivity with others can become a self-induced upper limit as they risk alienating others that can be enablers toward their success.  The pursuit of success means facing their underlying fear of being vulnerable to limits of their capacity a new level could create.
  • Type 9-

    Motivated by creating harmony and avoiding conflict they may allow themselves to be sidetracked by others with strong agendas and lose their own sense of direction and desires. The pursuit of success means facing their underlying fear of losing connection with group harmony in favor of finding and utilizing their own voice. 

To learn more about what the Enneagram is and using it in your business, click here, or below!


Take stock of where your yearly goals stand at this point in time. See if there is one "type" that resonates most with you, that is creating an upper limit problem.  Each Enneagram type is another way of describing your “set point” or some refer to as, the box you live in.  You may find being honest about your tendencies will give you a new way to partner with yourself more productively on your journey toward achieving the success you desire. 


Have you had an upper limit problem get in the way as you are setting professional goals for the year? Tell us below!

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