Change processes need Mindfulness – a Paradox?
7. August 2022

How we perceive our ability to perform has a strong impact on our sense of self-worth – and the worth we believe others to see in us. Who wouldn’t like to be a high achiever? Doesn’t every leader want people on their team who’d tackle any challenge, powerhouses who will get things done and lead others to success?

Achievers: a definition.

According to Gallup’s Clifton Strengths matrix, “people exceptionally talented in the Achiever theme work hard and possess a great deal of stamina. They take immense satisfaction in being busy and productive.”

Hard work, a great deal of stamina, and the satisfaction of being productive – at first glance, that seems pretty good, a combination of traits that you would expect to have a positive impact on your life. But of course, there’s a “but”. Performing well is seldom enough for us Achievers. We need to prove ourselves over and over again, we want to deliver the best performance ever, we want to outperform ourselves, do even better. But what, or who, exactly is the benchmark for “doing better”?

Have you met your Inner Achiever?

The part of us that is driven to ever-greater achievements gies by manynames: highflyer, go-getter, live wire, high performer, etc.

What’s your name for your Inner Achiever?

The Inner Achiever has a lot of positive facets. They are goal-oriented and persevering, they love challenges and are easily inspired by new ideas and projects. Our Inner Achiever believes that anything is doable. And they do get things done. Their arguments and actions are driven by facts and they do not get hung up on emotional issues.

Rarely satisfied with any actual achievement, or at least not for long, the Inner Achiever is always on the lookout for the next challenge. Even on weekends, a time for some R & R for most people, your Inner Achiever finds it hard to switch off. They fill your free time with demanding activities or can’t resist sneaking a peak at their job mail inbox to make sure that whatever’s in there won’t stay unanswered for 48 hours. Anything to avoid a lull. Lulls are horrifying to the Inner Achiever.

My Inner Achiever and me.

My Inner Achiever used to sit, as she still often does, on my shoulder, watching closely over whatever I and others delivered. What she loved even more was sitting on both my shoulders, whispering in my ears, “Seriously? You think this will suffice?” Or she would make me doubt myself, saying “Is this really good enough? Can’t you do better? And do it faster?”

Even when I tried to ignore her, she wouldn’t relent. She’d twist and turn until she could purr directly into my ears again: “Come now, don’t stop while you’re ahead. You know you’d only get bored. Take the next achievement. Just do it, it’s what you’re good at.”

You know the worst thing? When she hit a wall with me she would turn on my teammates, spouting vitriolic sentiments like, “Are you sure you’re satisfied with that?” or, “Well, fine, but what’s your next step? Don’t you want to evolve and grow?” She could get pretty mean.

What are your typical “Inner Achiever” moments?

You may have noticed that I’ve been writing in the past tense about my Inner Achiever. By now, I’ve come to know her pretty well; I know what makes her tick and I can control her. Sometimes I really love to watch her appear, e.g., in coaching sessions with high achiever client. In the past, she’d have run along with the client’s need to (over)achieve and would have egged them on. Today, she’s usually pretty chilled. She just observes and is okay with being told, “just relax and hold back, your moment will come.”

What’s best is that my Inner Achiever is still there. Whenever I really need her, I can rely on her.

A moment ago, I asked what you called the part of you that needs to perform at all times. What are the situations in which this part of you becomes active or even dominant? How do you experience these situations? How do you feel when you Inner Achiever takes control? Great? Really good? Merely fine? Or do you ask yourself: WHY do I keep driving myself like this? Is there a way out of this pattern? How do can I STOP or slow down?

How many balls do we have to keep in the air?

I’m pretty ambivalent. On a rational level, I know that trying to keep too many balls in the air will eventually cause me to drop something. It’s just like juggling. As my German children’s encyclopedia explains, skilled jugglers can juggle with five or more balls. For this to work, you must be able to throw the balls ever higher and faster. This, in turn, makes it harder to catch the balls. The current record holder can juggle fourteen balls at a time.

Every child knows that with every new ball makes it more difficult to catch and throw all the balls skillfully so they all seem to stay in the air, seemingly effortlessly. But that’s not all – the more balls there are, the less able are we to perceive and really experience each one of them. We can hardly tell what color or size the balls are, how they feel, let alone what we are feeling at any given moment. We just keep performing, trying really hard to keep all the balls in the air. As I said before: on a rational level, I know all that, and I’m sure you do, too. It’s just that sometimes this knowledge doesn’t really penetrate.

So what can you do? Stop and slow down. Slow down?

Slowing down and taming the Inner Achiever: it’s a process.

Pausing and slowing down isn’t as easy as flipping a switch. It’s a process. I recommend daily check-ins guided by the following list of questions:

1.   Reflect and become aware: Where are you standing right now? How many balls, i.e. tasks, are you trying to keep in the air right now? Which of them are too much?

3 5 6 9

  • Pause and slow down: How would it feel to set aside one of the balls, one task, right now?
  • Feel inside yourself, maybe with your eyes closed: what do you feel as you let one of the balls, a task, a thought, drop to the ground and roll away?
  • Does that idea feel unsettling? Be aware of that feeling and ask yourself: What is the worst that could happen?
  • Replace one ball with a small timeout.
    This timeout might only last three or four minutes at first.  As long as doing a breathing exercise, or shooting some hoops, or listening to your favorite song, or maybe even taking a short walk. I’m sure you can think of something.
  • As you take your short walk or pursue your other chosen activity, become aware how this time you just “won” by letting go of one ball feels.
    What positive feelings do you notice? Feel free to write down or sketch your feelings.
  • Reflect: what did your Inner Achiever do during your walk/other activity?
  • Enjoy the knowledge that you were able to take your Inner Achiever with you on your walk.
  • Slow down and reflect: What are you really afraid will happen when you don’t push yourself?
  • Awareness: Just take these thoughts with you.

Imagine this.

Let’s finish with a mental image. Picture yourself, as a child or an adult, sitting on a lawn watching a juggler doing his thing a few feet away. You’re watch the colorful balls whizzing through the air at incredible speed. This is fun, it’s a thrill! You’re electrified – will the juggler be able to add yet another ball? You’re trembling each time they throw yet another ball up in the air. And then it happens: one of the balls changes its trajectory, sending all the others off course. A rainbow of balls in bright colors tumbles down around you. What do you feel?

Are you surprised and a bit startled? – Yes, for sure.

Do you feel relief? – Very likely. The tension you’ve been holding eases and you can relax.

What else do you feel? Joy and exuberance over the many colorful balls surrounding you as you sit on the grass. See? That wasn’t that bad at all.

Would you like to get to know and understand your Inner Achiever and find out more about where it comes from? Let’s make an appointment for coaching.

You’re worried about a friend, spouse or partner because they are stuck in an overachievement pattern and keep juggling more balls, faster and faster? Feel free to share the article with anyone who might benefit.