To be an overachiever is a laudable goal. To succeed takes passion, determination, and talent.
It’s true that countless of the world’s great inventions and advancements came about because of the hard work of overachievers who dreamed big. An overachiever will get the job done—no matter what—because they’ve set their sights on winning, and won’t accept failure.
These are useful traits that look like a winning formula, but few people realize how painful it is.
Overachievers are driven to succeed because it’s how they derive their self-worth. However, psychiatrists say that these people fear they have no value apart from their achievements.
Since it is impossible to win all the time, overachievers tend to live with a lot of regrets and disappointments, and feel dissatisfied and empty inside.
I wrote this article to help overachievers, and anyone who identifies with their traits, to become more like high performers.
High performers are just as successful, if not more so. They view the world differently, and they are most certainly happier.
I feel overachievers can learn from high performers how to achieve without all the painful baggage.
The Difference Between Achieving and Performing
High performers take it as their role to complete a task and make it whole, versus to achieve a task. This involves dealing with complexity and being okay with uncertainty.
It involves embracing the process, and valuing productivity over achieving.
Sometimes, it means putting the task down and having some fun because performers know they’ll come back reinvigorated and full of new ideas.
High performers have learned how to be humble about their work. They actively seek feedback from their managers and see criticism and failure as opportunities to learn.
If an overachiever sees the achievement as the cake, a high performer sees it as the icing.
Do you identify with the traits of an overachiever, and want to learn how to be a high performer?
Or maybe you are still wondering which type you are more like?
In case you missed it, see our companion post and self-diagnosis chart at “Are You An Overachiever Or a High Performer?” online.
Below are 12 tips that will help you practice.
Apply these tips to your daily life, and gradually you will adopt a true winning mindset for success and happiness.
1. Identify when your accomplishments make you feel more lovable.
This is about learning to recognize that you don’t need others’ recognition or approval to validate your self-worth.
In fact, even if you do get it, you should understand that it means very little.
What really matters is whether what you are doing has meaning and value to you.
2. Learn to be okay with failure.
Failure is not a personal reflection on you. It isn’t a measure of your self-worth, or whether you are good enough to exist on this earth. Scrap this kind of thinking.
Anything worth accomplishing will require some failures along the way.
Try taking a step back and seeing the bigger picture. Isn’t failure part of the path to success?
High performers take failures as an opportunity to learn, and they move on.
3. Take up a new hobby just for fun.
Overachievers tend to limit themselves to hobbies where they can excel, and, at the same time, serve their professional goals.
High performers, on the other hand, are willing to learn things just for the sake of learning.
To cure yourself of your overachiever mindset, try learning something just for fun. Crazy idea? Impractical? It doesn’t matter.
4. Spend more time with friends and family.
The trait that you are trying to change is your tendency to prioritize work over family and friends.
High performers know how to put something on the back burner, and then return to it after enjoying a restorative break.
Spending time away from work enjoying yourself is a chance to gain perspective.
Once in a while, seeing the larger picture is just what a project (and your peace of mind) needs.
5. Get active.
Along the same lines as the last point, taking time out for regular physical activity, or perhaps cooking a meal from scratch, is bound to do wonders for your state of mind.
It will also force you to let go of your perfectionist tendency to put in extra hours at work fine-tuning things.
You need to ask yourself if the extra work you are doing is actually necessary. Maybe there is a more efficient solution that could come from collaboration or strategizing?
6. Notice when actions become mechanical.
Overachievers need to constantly be in motion, writes LaRae Quy, a former FBI counterintelligence and undercover agent who now teaches mental toughness.
And when they lose interest, overachievers will move on to another project.
When you find yourself in “doer” mode, try slowing down, or even stopping. Reflect and observe, and try to understand if you can work on the problem at hand, rather than moving on.
It likely will require greater patience, and possibly reaching out for help or feedback.
7. Notice when you have the desire to change directions.
This can easily be an expression of trying to reframe an impending failure into a success.
Ask yourself if you are simply looking for a win, instead of looking for the optimal solution, which is what high performers do.
8. Note when you are ‘putting on a show.’
Quy writes, “as an overachiever, I could slip on any mask and act the part to perfection. The role protected and motivated me.”
However, in retrospect, she calls this behavior acting like a fraud.
She encourages overachievers to practice being transparent, authentic, and honest. I would like to add vulnerability to that list.
Maybe sing a song in front of a crowd, or embrace a situation where you put yourself out there. See what happens.
Hopefully, you will learn that it is okay to not be perfect, and people will still love you.
9. Learn to accept criticism.
Overachievers tend to interpret even the slightest hint of a suggestion to them for improvement as criticism, and it makes them shudder. Get it through your head that criticism does not mean you are failing.
It is an opportunity to improve and get better. No one can be perfect and earn only praise 100 percent of the time.
10. Find a mentor or coach.
High performers regularly seek out feedback on their work and see it as an opportunity to improve.
You could either try asking your boss for feedback, or you could find a personal coach or mentor to help you.
The latter can be more intimate, and can help you target anything on your mind, rather than only what would be appropriate in a professional setting.
The key is to seek out feedback. This will also help you learn to take criticism and find value in it.
11. Get a safety word.
This point comes from business expert Arment Dietrich, writing on Medium, and it is for people who are serious about being vulnerable and seeking change.
A safety word is where you openly inform your colleagues about your intention to transition from an overachiever into a high performer.
You would ask your colleagues to help you by pointing out each time you fall back into your habitually formed tendencies by saying the safety word.
That way, you’ll know to stop yourself. Maybe take a few deep breaths, before continuing with a different tone or approach.
12. Get checked for biochemical imbalances.
Sometimes, it isn’t enough to want to change your thinking and practice new behaviors. You might need medical support.
Research has shown that biochemical imbalances, specifically a methylation disorder, can lead to self-destructive behaviors in overachievers, such as negative thinking, self-doubt, and depression.
A doctor who practices integrative therapy can test for a condition known as under-methylation, which affects DNA, liver, and brain functions.
Such a person has low levels of serotonin and dopamine, high whole blood histamine, and elevated absolute basophils, along with deficiencies in a few other key vitamins.
This biochemical state correlates with the traits of overachievers, and it can be treated using an entirely drug-free vitamin therapy.
An individual treatment plan can also address a person’s holistic health needs, so they can quickly get back on track to living a healthy and productive life.
Jingduan Yang, MD, is a leading physician, board-certified psychiatrist, foremost integrative medicine expert, and fifth-generation teacher and practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine. Dr. Yang is known for pioneering a holistic approach to health that focuses on finding the root causes of disease in the physical, biochemical, bioenergetic, and spiritual dimensions of the human body. He is the medical director of the eponymous Yang Institute of Integrative Medicine.