The Common Overachiever Trap
Updated: Apr 30
You may love the song by Queen, but not the state of being under pressure.
I began to think about pressure at work and the pressure we put on ourselves when I came across a circulating post written by Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy (@lizandmollie), authors of No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions At Work.
The post (see below) describes the discrepancy, through an illustration of two pie graphs, of what they perceived would make them productive and what actually does. The pie-chart that they perceived would make them more productive, just says “Hard work” and the other pie-chart –the reality of what makes them more productive- is divided into different sized pieces representing: “Exercise, Hard Work, Time Off, Sleep and Healthy Eating.”
How many of us have fallen into this perceived trap of believing that working hard or harder is being more productive? I know I have. The pressure and stress were at times debilitating and, subsequently, my performance suffered. Thankfully, my life is now like the second pie which represents more balance.
Balance, and taking the pressure off, is one of the things I help guide many of my clients who are focused on working hard.
Most of my clients are overachievers. Unfortunately, they know all too well that unhealthy pressure eventually leads to burnout. For example, one of my clients was completely wound up when we first started to work together. The stress in her life was affecting her health, relationship, and business. She thought the answer was to put more pressure on herself, as if she wasn’t under enough. It took her some time to realize that pressing on was unproductive and that the answer was to take the pressure off. By doing the opposite and learning to unwind, she could perform more effectively in the areas she actually cares about, including nurturing her health and relationships.
Michael Simmons, in his article, Why Successful People Spend 10 Hours A Week On ‘Compound Time,’”[i] also affirms this notion in his work with top performers in business. He writes:
"I’ve explored the answer to this question by reading thousands of biographies, academic studies, and books across dozens of disciplines. Over time, I’ve noticed a deeper practice of top performers, one so counterintuitive that it’s often overlooked.
Despite having way more responsibility than anyone else, top performers in the business world often find time to step away from their urgent work, slow down, and invest in activities that have a long-term payoff in greater knowledge, creativity, and energy. As a result, they may achieve less in a day at first, but drastically more over the course of their lives.
I call this compound time because, like compound interest, a small investment now yields surprisingly large returns over time."
Simmons calls this compound time. I call it “being time” as in, being versus doing. Call it whatever you want, as long as you take the pressure off, and allow yourself time to be.
Some clients are uncomfortable with this idea at first, they feel it’s counterintuitive: How can you do more with doing less? Some are afraid that if they give themselves an inch, or incorporate more “being time” in their day, they would become a bump-on-a-log. They may become an overachiever in underachieving. I ask them what would be the likelihood of that happening, considering their life-long habit of overachieving? I assure them that it is highly unlikely to go from one mode or modus operandi to its opposite, overnight.
Of course, feeling like a bump-on-a-log generally doesn’t feel healthy either. You want to find Goldilocks' quest for what’s “just right.”
Sometimes our circumstances call for a different mode altogether. I definitely don’t accomplish as much as I did in a day before our newborn daughter was born. However, I’ve accepted it will be like that for some time.
If you’re an overachiever, ask yourself what is it really about? The need for acceptance? What drives this behaviour?
If all of this resonates with you, here are some tips to help take some of the pressure off:
· Add “being time” to your day: Create a list of activities (i.e. meditation, walks, baths) and try to schedule more being time into your day and week. Add it to your agenda to increase follow-through.
· Give yourself permission to take the pressure off: It’s okay, you will not melt or become a “bump-on-a-log.”
· Simplify your life and tasks
· Identify your Needs and Values: Filter everything through those. Does your career, relationship, etc. meet them? Often getting clear can take the pressure off by getting rid of what’s not working (energy and psychic drains) and investing in what does.
If you are a chronic overachiever, some of these suggestions are easier said than done. Start small or do (be) what inspires you. For God’s sake, don’t feel you have to do all of it. Remember, you want to break your pattern of continuously high achieving! Please take the pressure off and enjoy being a human being not doing. It’s not all hard work and no play. That mentality and approach is a trap.
Ps. If you identify as an overachiever and feel you need more help than the tips I provided then please contact me for a complimentary Get Acquainted Call to see if I can help
[i] Medium. (2017). Why Successful People Spend 10 Hours A Week On “Compound Time”. [online] Available at: https://medium.com/accelerated-intelligence/why-successful-people-spend-10-hours-a-week-on-compound-time-79d64d8132a8.