Being dependent on constant performance is a lonely way to go through life.
“Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.” — Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
“You got a C… and you were happy with that?” As soon as I’d spoken, I wished I hadn’t.
“Shouldn’t I be?” My brother’s voice had changed from light and happy to unsure and disappointed.
Ten years younger than me and still a student, my brother had just finished his exams for the semester. He’d called just to tell me. While I tried to make him feel better by explaining what I’d really meant, it was too late. Our connection was lost.
Thinking about this phone call still makes me sad. If only I could go back in time and say something supportive — even just “Congratulations!”
That’s what the real me would have said. Let me explain. The real me is the one writing this text. It is me who noticed the shift in my brother’s voice, felt empathy when I heard his sadness or anger or both, and the one who cares deeply about my brother and couldn’t care less about his grades.
So why did I say those words? Now I know that they came from my “hyper-achiever” — a voice in my head I like to call “the A student.” She focuses so much on achievements and results that other elements of life like relationships, fun, and good health suffer. When I’m not careful, she pops up, is judgemental and arrogant, and echoes sentiments I used to hear myself while still at school.
I first got to know the term “hyper-achiever” while I was doing a coaching course in Positive Intelligence. It was then I understood why I too often focus on achievement and performance. During the course, we also learned how hard it is for many of us to feel good and worthy enough without being busy with work or studies.
For us who scored high on the hyper-achiever on this assessment, the pushy voice of the hyper-achiever in us had become a deeply integrated mental habit. This voice makes it hard for us to look at ourselves with love, acceptance, and validation without basing it on performance.
Life gets more lonely and harder than it has to be. We are constantly “hustling for worthiness,” in the words of Brené Brown.
Luckily, there are ways we can learn to turn down the volume of the hyper-achiever in us, and here are some of them:
7 mental fitness habits to have a healthy relationship with achieving
1. Reflect on the idea of “You will be happy when…” to see the emptiness of achievement-oriented fulfillment.
Ask yourself how long the good feeling after an achievement will last, and then what? Journal, ponder on it on a walk, or talk to a good, empathetic listener.
2. Use the tool of reframing.
Reframe depending on other people’s attention, acceptance, and validation as “you have given your power away” and ask yourself what the cost of this is for you. You could write down all the costs if you want.
3. Practice unconditional self-love every day.
You can do this by giving yourself empathy. There are lots of resources on self-love, but remember it is a daily practice and you might find it hard in the beginning. I have started meditating and often choose a guided loving-kindness meditation — for me, a powerful way to connect with that place of me that knows love and kindness.
4. Think about how hyper-achiever can result in lower achievement.
Either because you give up when things don’t go according to plan, don’t get other people involved, or only do the things you know you can do well. One way could be thinking back over the last day, week, or year and writing down instances of this you can think of and what you would have wanted to do in those situations instead, even visualizing yourself doing it.
5. Play with your perspective on a stressful job, role, or project into a game.
Choose something that is creating worry for you. Ask yourself how you would do things if this was a game. Play to win, but have fun with it and don’t take it or yourself so seriously. Know that you’ll be ok even if you don’t win.
6. Get to know yourself.
There are so many parts of you. To self-actualize, you need to know what is important to you and what works. Do whatever it takes: Get professional support, journal, read, spend time alone, talk to good friends, or whatever works.
7. Get to know emotions to get to know yourself.
Take frequent breaks to check in with yourself throughout the day: How am I feeling? Many of us with a strong hyper-achiever in us find it unpleasant to dwell on feelings, and even though we can feel empty and depressed inside sometimes, we don’t stay with our emotions. A good reminder is that feelings are best felt in the body, so focusing on how your body feels is a good start.
Creating the habit of real self-love, self-respect, and self-acceptance takes practice and intention
These are seven points on a list, making it look easy, but I believe it requires practice, intention, and small steps to change our habits.
It is my hope that you find some of these tips helpful. For many of us, changing our mental habits can be a winding road, so having a support team, like a coach, a therapist, a friend, or a family member who is an empathetic and supportive listener, can be invaluable.
My hyper-achiever hasn’t gone away and probably will always be lingering, whispering in my ear. Now though, I know that when she shows up, filling me with stress, performance anxiety, and negativity, these feelings are a reminder for me to stop. To stop what I’m thinking, saying, or doing, and to take a few deep breaths and remember who I am — someone who cares about people, not their grades.
If “hustling for worthiness” is something you do too, why not take a minute now to tell yourself that you are okay, you’re good, and you’re worthy of love.
You can also get some help from Brené and tell yourself: “No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.”
Because no matter what gets done and how much is left undone today, you really are enough.
And so is your brother, your sister, your partner, your colleagues, and your friends.
We are all enough. Don’t let anyone, especially not yourself, tell you otherwise.