How being an overachiever can lead to serious long-term misery and simple steps to become a high performer

Are you an overachiever or a high performer? Throughout my coaching experience I have coached many hardworking clients who have come to me because they are working long hours, are anxious and stressed about the future and unbalanced. In a recent article I was recently asked what the difference between an overachiever and a high performer was and to give tips on how to transition from the unhealthy role of an overachiever to the more healthy and rewarding role of a high performer.

Before I delve into some detail about the traits of an overachiever through a set of questions, it is important to sumarise the key aspects of the high performer. These people understand that the process is just as important as the result. They are the ones who nurture the people around them and build up businesses. The journey becomes the vital component in ensuring true long term success. So as you can see it is very healthy and fruitful to become a high performer, but why is it so unhealthy to be an overachiever?

Q) In your opinion what qualities or characteristics set overachievers apart from the rest?

  • They are future focused, constantly worrying about what the future holds rather than enjoying the present and the journey itself.
  • They are perfectionists, going above and beyond on each and every task they do.
  • Work long hours, doing more of the work that people would stay away from.
  • They hate failure or fear it and if they fail they view it as a slight on themselves.
  • They secretly have a lot of self doubt, thinking they are not good enough.
  • They seek love and approval through external ways. They will work harder than everyone else and do more on a task because they think it equates to love. By working hard people will love them more.

Q) Do you think that once a person starts doing well in a certain field there is a certain pressure to continue to excel? Both internally and externally?

  • Yes if you start very well and set high (unrealistic) expectations to start with you will be putting pressure on yourself and facing pressure from others to maintain or even surpass that level. Raise the bar too soon and you are expected to keep growing and pushing on, sometimes to an unrealistic level. I believe slow and steady wins the race and it is better for long term emotional health. Pick and choosing what to excel or work even harder on is key. The bosses will give more work and praise lots. You may come addicted to the validation that you associate with praise, feeling love and respect comes from working harder and getting praised. You will then search for more to do and say yes to things you should not be doing and that others don’t want to do.

Q) Tell me about that internal pressure — how can it take a toll on a person?

  • It can lead to that person becoming stressed and exhausted. All the long hours to get ahead of the game and doing work to ‘perfection’ – editing it, improving it and never quite thinking it will be good enough. It may lead to you not sleeping that much or have interrupted sleep as your brain is engaged and active.
  • The never-ending competition with yourself and others will inevitably take its strain. Overachievers view failure more as a personal reflection on themselves and it will eat them up inside, whereas a high performer is more likely to embrace failure as part of the journey to ultimate goals. Rather than fear it and stay in the comfort zone they seek challenges and the growth that comes from that.

Q) Can it lead to an early burnout?

  • Yes over achievers tend to be unbalanced. They tend to sacrifice their social life for a perfectionist life duly working on everything they are given regardless of the value it adds.
  • They will feel resentment in long term and quickly burn out. If you imagine spinning lots of plates at once, eventually you will become tired and drop them.

Q) What can over achievers start to do to handle the internal pressure?

  • They can set a realistic time limit on their decisions and tasks and stick to it as best as they can. Flawlessness and perfection is impossible, in fact it’s the enemy of good. Yes its ok to do over and above for some things but not everything. Pick over and above for the high value tasks.
  • Start to do less important things imperfectly – set a certain time for those tasks and do the best job within that time slot. Then assign more time for the high priority, bigger, and most valuable tasks.
  • Think about your work duties and strengths and take a moment to ask yourself the following things:
    “Is this something I’m expected to do within my job role?”
    “Is this something I enjoy and have a strength for doing?”
    If yes…
    “How will it benefit me or the company if I do it?”
    “What is the value added of doing this job?”
  • Focus on work that adds value not putting excessive work into things anybody can do and becoming a busy bee. Anybody work does not get you the promotion.
  • Know when to wait, when to attack, how to sacrifice, and when to change direction.
  • Take a moment to meditate daily (headspace app) so you are in the present instead of angry/upset about past and being anxious or worried about the future.

Q) What can over achievers do to handle the external pressure? (from parents/ friends/ teachers or colleagues if they’re working)

  • Communicate openly and honestly to manage expectations
  • Learn to say no on occasions to work that does not add value.
  • Take time out to strategies and target the value added / most important task first.
  • Listen to your own self-talk and be more loving towards yourself. Your words and thoughts are more valuable than others.
  • Take time out for self (life balance). Make your health (physical and emotionally) the most important priority.
  • Start meditation. Try first with Headspace – a free app to get you into the present frame of mind for 10-15 minutes a day. Remember you don’t need to be great at it, do your best and know you will improve. Know that great things take time and commitment.
  • Learn to take off the mask and put the ego aside. Practise being your transparent, authentic and honest self.

Q) What should all overachievers keep in mind in order to transition into high performers (achievers)?

  • It is so important to remember that the joy is in the journey itself and not purely on the outcome. Success or failure is simply feedback and learning that will help your future growth.
  • Life is about taking risks and sometimes failing. It is how you will ultimately grow. Good and great things come outside the comfort (dying) zone and on the other end of fear are the challenges you need to grow.
  • Choose tasks that will quicken your growth, that are a struggle, yet add great value. You cannot win and be great at everything. Pick and select what you will do and what you will work over and above at.
  • You feeling of love do not come from someone else praise on the tasks you do. It comes from inside of you. Work on loving yourself regardless. Get in the habit of talking positively about yourself and your worth.
  • Differentiate between the image you project and the real person you are. As an overachiever, you are tempted by the trappings of success because they are proof that, “You won the game.” At least this one. You feeling of love do not come from someone else praise on the tasks you do. It comes from inside of you. Work on loving yourself regardless. Get in the habit of getting self recognition (talking positively about yourself and your worth) rather than external recognition
  • Start to say no to unrealistic expectation from others and most importantly from yourself.

10 strategies for successful revision from a child that knows…

My job is pretty amazing. On any given day I get to work one to one with some great insightful minds, whether it be a top leader of a car company here in Dubai or a child.

Seb, age 12, has gone on an amazing journey of development over the last 6 months. He has been relentless in his quest to improve his focus and grades at school. I am sure his exams over the coming month will reflect the progress he has made internally and externally. Below I have taken some of his amazing strategies for revision success. The beautiful thing is some of these tips were in our discussion to get success in sport or gaming and then he realised they can also be applied to exams.

Note: I have added my own coach tips below his.

Feel free to share this blog post on your social media or with your child. The best bit about coaching is the contribution we can make when people share what they like to read…

1. Remember the worst thing that can happen is that you will get feedback. Yes failure or mistakes are just feedback. The key is to take the learning from it, change something for the next time and go again. When taking the learning ask yourself better questions. What can I do differently? How can I _____?

Coach Tip: Ask yourself better questions, questions that will get you to see the possibility of changing something.

2. Winning is an amazing addictive feeling. If you are going to be in school and have to study anyways then it is best to put 100% focus, attention and effort in. The more wins you can get the greater the momentum and the better the feeling.

Coach Tip: A win breeds more wins – positive momentum follows and attracts more success.

3. If you practise in between exams it releases pressure and helps your in exam skillset. Practise the technique over and over again. If you only learn facts but don’t learn the technique of writing an essay your grades will not reflect your knowledge.

Coach Tip – Learn the strategies that enable success and that you can apply your knowledge too.

4. Rewrite notes to aid memory and watch videos to inspire learning. It is well known that people remember things that they rewrite in their own words or that they watch. Children nowadays can find great ways of learning something online.

Coach Tip – Understand how you like to learn and use that medium. There are brilliant subject revision games on sites such as bbc bite size or documentaries on youtube for History.

5. Set an amount of time per day on test revision and stick to it. Be consistent. Try to do two half hour slots or one hour slot per subject / day for example.

Coach Tip – Scheduling is crucial. Design a quick timetable of what topics you will do/day and stick to it.

6. On weekends get at least one early night so you can get up early and while brain in shape you can revise. Then you have an early victory with which to build on during the day. You will also be refreshed. Tiredness can create stress and affect grades.

Coach Tip– Rest and sleep is crucial to exam success. Stay balanced. Go to bed early and wake refreshed.

7. Start revision a couple of months early and if you have not started start now. It is never too late to start and also you will know better for next time.

Coach Tip – Do a little bit of active revision each week throughout the year. If you do this you will have less to do in the last month before exams and always be one step ahead practically and emotionally.

8. Take control of your state. Listen to music you like that gets you in the mood. This is something you can fully control going into exams. Choose a different music song per subject. Before the English exam listen to the song that you chose to listen to during the English revision.

Coach Tip – Your state is under your control. You may not know exactly what will happen in the exam but you can set yourself up for success pre exam by committing to being in a great up lifiting state. State > Behaviour > Result.

9. Always reward yourself with breaks between revision topics and blocks. The breaks are a great way to clear your mind before you go onto another topic or subject.

Coach Tip – “The space between the notes creates the beautiful music” – enjoy the refreshing breaks with a clear head when you know you have done your focused block of revision.

10. Write down four revision goals for day. Reward yourself when you have achieved those goals as you deserve it. Imagine how good some treats will be when you fully deserve them.

Coach Tip – Enjoy the journey and the outcome will take care of itself. Reward the small milestones within your exam success journey.

I hope this has helped. Would love to know your thoughts on these tips and which one was the best for your child.

Have a wonderful day,

Adam Zargar
Director of UAE Coaching

If you would like further information regarding our child development life coaching service click here