Have you ever seen a bungee run? No, there’s no
punch line. That’s a real question.
A bungee run is one of those huge inflatable games you
see at carnivals or kids’ birthday parties. It’s a game where
two players run as fast and as far as they can with bungee
cords strapped to their backs. The object is to get as close to
the end of the inflatable track as possible before the bungee
cord snaps you back to the starting point.
It occurred to me recently that when we talk about
success in life—about achieving the goals we set for
ourselves—that the road to success is sometimes like a
bungee run. When we enter the race, we muster all our
strength to get us to the goal, but, inevitably, something
snaps us back before we get there. And the snap isn’t
The bungee cords—or the things that snap us back
from success—are what I refer to as personal constraints.
These are behaviors that hold you back and keep you from
achieving greater success, performance and fulfillment.
Here’s a little quiz for you. See if you can answer this
question in 10 seconds or less:
What is the No. 1 personal constraint that keeps you from
being more successful?
If you’re drawing a blank, you’re not alone. I’ve asked
this question to audiences all around the world, and
I almost always get the same response—silent mind
searching. Unfortunately, you can’t get rid of a constraint if
you don’t know what it is!
And if you are one of those rare individuals who can
answer the question, keep in mind this is not the end of
the exercise. You’ve just got a diagnosis. Now you need
Maybe you’ve never thought about your constraints
because you think that maximizing potential is all about
what you’ve got—your talents, strengths and skills. And
that’s true to a certain extent. I highly recommend that you
identify your strengths and fi nd ways to utilize them.
But what if you’re already playing to your strengths and
still missing the mark? Or, what if you’re playing to your
strengths and hitting the mark, but believe you are capable
of much more?
Then it’s time to take a look at what’s holding you
back—to identify and address your personal constraints.
In my book The Flip Side, I identify some of the most
common personal constraints and associate them with
“characters” to help describe these behaviors. The
following are just a few of the 10 characters:
Icebergs—Constrained by too little nurturing,
empathy and emotion
Bulldozers—Constrained by an off-the-charts need
Volcanoes—Constrained by volatility
Turtles—Constrained by an inability to handle change
Critics—Constrained by excessive negativity
Do you see yourself in any of these characters? I sure did! In fact,
I should have finished writing The Flip Side years ago. Ironically, my
book about personal constraints was held back by my own personal
We all have things that hold us back and keep us from realizing
our full potential. If you think you don’t, then right off the bat I’d say
one of your personal constraints might be denial.
The real question is not if you have personal constraints, but
rather what are those constraints and how do they affect you. Once
you answer those questions, then you can focus on confronting your
constraints head-on and getting them out of your life.
The Constraint-Breaking Process
First, you must identify your constraint. If you think you might be
a “bulldozer”—someone who is overly dominant and always has to
be in control, take the bulldozer constraint quiz. Check any of the
following “symptoms” that occur:
I often finish other people’s sentences.
When I disagree with others, it’s OK to interrupt and
Being strong-willed allows me to accomplish more than others.
When others are talking, I am
already thinking of what to say next
and looking for an opportunity to
win them to my way of thinking.
I can be pushy and maybe even hardheaded,
but I’m usually right.
If I’m in charge, I don’t like people
stepping on my toes—people should
stick to their own roles.
People have said I’m stubborn, but I
just have strong opinions.
Weaker people shouldn’t be in charge
If you checked several of the symptoms,
then you clearly show some bulldozer
tendencies. So, what do you do with
Well, you develop your own personalized
TrAction Plan™ (TrAction is pronounced
the usual way, but we capitalize the A to
emphasize the need for action)—a customized
plan to help you break your personal constraint.
If you’re a bulldozer, here are some things we recommend you
include in your TrAction Plan:
Periodically start taking a step back during group interactions
and let others speak. Watch the group dynamic closely and
work on getting others more involved.
“Check in” more during conversations by asking things like,
Am I answering your question?” and
"Is this helpful information?”
Get some brutally honest feedback
about how you are perceived by
others. For example, ask someone to
rate you on a scale of 1 to 10 on your
stubbornness or your listening skills.
It’s amazing to see what happens when someone breaks a
constraint. I’ve spent years researching characteristics of successful
people and helping high performers maximize their potential. What
I’ve learned is that when you break a constraint, you don’t see a
gradual increase in performance. You literally see a leap in performance—
as if immediately propelled to the next level.
Personally Constrained Leaders
So far, I’ve focused solely on how personal constraints limit your
own success. But we don’t live in a vacuum. Personal constraints can
also kill the success of people around you, especially if you are in a
leadership position. I summarize this concept in one of my Laws of
Personal Constraint for leaders:
No organization can rise above the constraints of its leadership.
Whether you’re the leader of a family, a business, a classroom,
an athletic team or even a country, your constraints impact those
Since I teach this concept, I would love to
tell you that I have always dealt with my own
constraints. But I haven’t.
I didn’t really get serious about dealing
with my own constraints until I had children.
I remember one time getting really frustrated
with my oldest son about an incident in which
he got angry. In the midst of that frustration,
I realized that I was getting angry about his
anger! I was literally passing on my constraint
to my son. I realized, then, how my personal
constraints were impacting my family. That was
the day I decided to make some changes.
You see, your personal constraints really
aren’t personal. They aren’t just about you. They
are also about the people you care about.
So I want to challenge you over the next few
days to put some serious thought into the things
that limit or constrain you. If you need some
help, consider asking your spouse or someone
who’s close to you—someone who cares about
your best interest, who can be both honest
Or, you can pick up a copy of The Flip Side, which offers strategies for
identifying personal constraints and for breaking those constraints.
Because those with the least constraints… win!
Flip Flippen, author of The Flip Side, is the head of The Flippen Group, a corporate and educator-training company.