Do you love, love, love to get things done? Does crossing things off your to-do list give you an incredible buzz?
But my drive for achievement can come at a high price. I’ve discovered that I am darned hard on myself.
If you tend to be hard on yourself, too, this blog post is for you.
Let me introduce you to my overachieving tendencies….
I planned to write a book in two weeks over the Christmas holiday time. Yes, a whole book.
I had two weeks off from my part-time job in the Mills College MBA program. I figured I could spend two hours a day writing. I had the outline. Actually, I have a huge percentage of the material. I envisioned sipping cups of hot cocoa and happily letting the words flow out of me. The vision of a finished manuscript seemed perfectly attainable.
But I didn’t write the book. I didn’t even spend 30 seconds on writing.
As a result, for the first few days of the New Year, I heard a nasty, nagging, familiar voice in my head. Little Miss Perfect is the name I’ve given her, to recognize that she’s separate from my true Self.
Little Miss Perfect wagged her finger and scolded me: “Look at you. You did nothing on the book. Nada. Zippo. What are you worth?”
It’s not pretty when your mind tells you: “You should be further ahead.”
What about YOU? If your feet haven’t yet carried you to the future you’ve imagined, how do you treat yourself?
When activities and projects take longer than you expect, you have a choice. You can either be mean, perfectionistic, and judgmental — or you can be kind, realistic and curious.
I thought I’d share some wisdom that came from my “unwritten book”…
First, I listened to my Inner Compass. I kept noticing sensations that whenever I thought about the unfinished book, I began feeling antsy, anxious, and angry with myself.
Awareness is always the first step to change. So, I noticed that thoughts like “You’ll never get this done” and “You’re just going to keep procrastinating,” didn’t make me feel good.
Good thoughts feel good in your body. Bad thoughts feel bad in your body. It’s as simple as that.
(click to tweet that wisdom!)
Once I realized I was thinking “bad” thoughts, I imagined those thoughts transmuting. Like dropping food coloring into a clear glass of water, I visualized a tincture of kindness soothing the nasty thoughts: “You got a huge amount done during the break. You reorganized your whole office. You got your financials in order. You visited with your family and were truly present and connected with them. You still have time to get the book done. Be patient with yourself.”
Heal Your Own Need to Achieve, Part 1:
- Write down the mean, perfectionistic, and judgmental you say to yourself about needing to get things done quickly.
- Re-write each statement into something more kind, realistic, or curious.
- Notice how you feel, before and after the re-write. Touch your heart and tell yourself: “I enjoy this positive energy. More, please!”
I also realized I needed to get practical. I obviously grossly underestimated how long it would take me to write the book.
I love this quote from my friend and fellow dancer, Phoenix Soleil, about how long things take…
So I understand now why everything I do takes longer than I think it should… I grew up watching TV and movies where everything, love affairs, college, climbing mount Everest, Rocky Balboa’s rise to Championship, Gandhi’s life, the Depression, World War II , the 60s, the Dinosaur Age took 90 minutes , two hours tops… so how is it that grocery shopping took me 90 minutes? Does not compute.
My new addition to my daily to-do lists is a time estimate of how long each activity will take. This simple addition to my daily planning has helped me be realistic. In my imagination, I write faster than the speed of light. In my mind, I never encounter delays and everything always works smoothly.
And then, there’s reality.
By adding time estimates, I’m able to see if I have assigned myself too big a chunk of work. And I check my time estimates. I’m still practicing getting realistic about them. I’m also finding that I’m putting fewer items on my to-do list.
Heal Your Own Need to Achieve, Part 2:
- Write out your daily to-do list
- With each task, assign a time estimate
- If any task is longer than 25 minutes, break that task into smaller chunks
- Check your actual time versus your estimated time, so you can make adjustments, as needed
- Plan fewer activities each day, so you can feel better about getting the most important things done
These two practices – (1) catching myself being “mean” and easing up on myself and (2) adding realistic time estimates to my daily to-do’s, has reduced my stress and made me better friends with myself.
That’s how I’m healing my need to achieve.
What other tools and techniques do you use to heal your need to achieve?
We’d love to hear…please share them here!
Susan Bernstein, MBA PhD
Executive Coach & Work Futurist
Work from Within