Reaching success without sacrificing your wellbeing
What comes to mind when you think of an ‘overachiever’? Perhaps it’s discipline, strong work ethic, intelligence, grit…the epitome of determination. Although this can result in producing incredible work and achieving fantastic results, this doesn’t come without a cost. Sacrificing a balanced lifestyle to achieve success isn’t necessarily a good thing, and your health may be at risk.
But how do you know if your mindset and behaviours are overachieving or a high performing? Yes, there’s a difference – a big one, which can have a huge impact on your mindset, your health, and your success.
The criteria of an overachiever
Overachieving thoughts and behaviours may include: never being satisfied with accomplishments, always striving to achieve more, and rarely feeling any sense of reward from your work. People who exhibit this behaviour will likely have a high-stakes mindset and spend an excessive amount of time revising, editing and worrying about their work. This downward spiral of self-induced pressure, self-criticism and procrastination may bring about excellent, high-quality work, but this success may often be tied to the feelings of pain, fatigue and struggle that were felt in the process.
A person who may be high performing, on the other hand, can channel their skills and abilities and achieve great results without the unrelenting high expectations of self. They may be equally as ambitious, yet have a more balanced mindset and feel less overworked, exhausted and worried.
People with both overachieving and high performing mindsets may be just as successful, but one will be a lot happier, content and balanced. If you’re still not sure what camp you fall into, here are some signs that you may be an overachiever:
#1: You feel personally attacked by criticism
You may harshly criticize yourself, but how do you handle criticism from others? People who lean towards an overachieving mindset can find constructive criticism devastating because to them it indicates failure. If you find yourself taking evaluative criticism personally, try and take a step back to gain perspective on the situation.
#2: You only care about the outcome
Those with overachieving characteristics tend to only focus on reaching the finish line, seeing the end result as a representation of their self worth. When they do accomplish a goal, they are more likely to feel relieved that they’ve avoided failure than pride in their work.
#3: You’re a workaholic
Never taking time off is another important indicator. Staying late in the office, spending all their time working, and even skipping lunch are common behaviours for people with overachieving tendencies.
According to Clinical Psychologist Brooke Daniels, overachieving is not a positive or helpful trait. “If ‘overachieving’ is synonymous with an over excessive drive to achieve unrealistic standards, then it can be detrimental to one’s self worth,” says Brooke. “It can be counterproductive and often leaves a person feeling low.”
Perfectionism, another tell-tale sign of people inclined towards an overachieving mindset, is a term that many people use to describe their greatest weakness. Why is that?
“Perfectionism is not necessarily about being “perfect”, but having unrelenting standards for yourself – standards that a person with perfectionist tendencies would often not expect of others,” says Brooke. “People with perfectionist tendencies do tend to overachieve, and are likely to exhibit behaviours such as procrastination due to fear of failure, giving up easily, taking constructive feedback personally, and avoidance, just to name a few,” says Brooke.
Don’t be misled if you don’t have the overwhelming desire to achieve the impossible goal of perfection in every aspect of your life. “People may have perfectionistic, unrealistic expectations in one area of their lives but not in another,” says Brooke. For example, you may be extremely driven to achieve the highest possible grades, but don’t particularly care about doing well in sport.
The mental and physical impacts on your health
Not only can overachieving tendencies and a perfectionist mindset lower your quality of life and create imbalance between your work and social life, but it can also have ramification on both your mental and physical health.
Risk factors linked to stress and anxiety may impede your physical sleep, potentially manifesting in physical health issues such as:
- Low appetite
- Poor sleep
- Weaker immune system
This also takes a toll on your mental health and may cause:
- Low self worth
- Chronic stress
- Lacking motivation
“The long term consequences of excessive drive to reach unrelenting standards can be related to both mental and physical health. Unhelpful thoughts, rules and assumptions are linked to the way we interact with our world and the people with it,” says Brooke.
How you can change your outlook
If you identify with an overachieving mindset or know someone who exhibits these traits, the good news is: you can challenge and amend the unrelenting standards associated with overachieving behaviours! You are not doomed to be a slave to your self-deprecating thoughts and relentless feelings of dissatisfaction. Brooke recommends three ways in which you can start actively changing your mindset to create a happier, more balanced life for yourself.
Talk to someone
Don’t minimise the issue or push it to the back of your mind. Visiting a psychologist will help you gain a new perspective, or at the very least understand your current one better. They can help you identify unhelpful thoughts and behaviours and work with you to create strategies to implement long-lasting change in your life.
Take a step back
Take a timeout and think to yourself about what you would say to a friend who was in the exact same situation. Chances are, you wouldn’t be so harsh on them. So give yourself a break! You don’t judge your friends based on unrealistic expectations, so there’s no reason to judge yourself that way.
This may be the simplest step, yet it is crucially important to disrupt the false foundation upon which a perfectionist mindset has been built. Perfection is an illusion – it cannot be quantified. Reflect upon what is realistically within your control and practice letting go of what is not. Accept yourself, your skills, and your work for what they are. Do not deny your flaws or your failures – they contribute to the wonderful person you are!