If you’re reading this, chances are you’re an overachiever.
No doubt you’re focused on your goals. And you’re investing lots of blood, sweat, tears, heart and soul into your career. The problem is, this can become a never-ending cycle.
That slippery slope
Ambition and drive are positive attributes. It’s only when these traits take on a life of their own that it becomes a slippery slope.
The tricky thing is this sneaks up on you. You keep getting back on that work treadmill every day (and every night and weekend) just to keep up.
You keep declining invitations because you’re too tired or too stressed. It just seems so frivolous to take a couple of hours to go to dinner, a movie or a ball game.
Who has time for that? It will only put you further behind. Then you start to have problems sleeping. Relationships fall by the wayside. And what’s up with that heartburn?
Are you addicted to work?
You may be telling yourself you’ll get a better work/life balance as soon as you get caught up. Realistically, though, when is that going to happen?
Being a workaholic is an addiction — just like drinking too much, overeating, gambling and other compulsions.
It’s such a noble cause, though. Right? It doesn’t carry those negative stigmas of other addictions.
Make no mistake. Addiction is when a behavior has power over you that you can’t control. And it takes over other aspects of your life.
As a recovering workaholic myself, I realize I let my career take first place in my life a lot. It was necessary at the beginning, of course, when I was building my business. And it was necessary as we continued to grow.
Fortunately, I was able to get a grip along the way. I certainly understand the pull. And with 24/7 accessibility these days, it’s even harder to set boundaries.
Your busyness also gives you a noble excuse to be unavailable. After years of repeating this pattern, you’ve programmed yourself so that it’s hard to react any other way.
This became very evident to me when I was leading a corporate retreat recently. I conducted a simple exercise, asking executives to list five things that gave them pleasure.
There were a lot of blank faces in the room. And not much writing was going on. They had forgotten what gave them pleasure. What an eye-opener!
Juggling all the balls
In all our lives there are rubber balls and glass balls. Rubber balls bounce back. However, glass balls — those one-time events that can’t be replaced — don’t. You may not see those glass balls. Until it’s too late.
Here’s a red flag: You find yourself bailing out on your friends all the time. Therapist and life coach Melody Wilding relays such a story.
“I just bailed at the last minute on a bachelorette weekend with some of my closest friends. My hotel was paid for. Travel arrangements were made, and I was excited,” she said.
These hopes were always accompanied by guilt, though, and those internal voices: You have work to do. Who do you think you are, taking off an entire weekend? You’re going to fall behind.
“Every day I would wake up at dawn, start working and not stop until I fell asleep with my computer on the bed. Then I’d do it all again the next day. From the outside, I was killing it. But on the inside, I was killing myself,” she said. “Leading up to the getaway weekend, two distinct voices inside me waged a war. One voice craved time away from work. But the other voice reminded me how overwhelmed I’d be if I left and how much I could get done if I stayed behind. All week I agonized — go or bail? And then one voice won out.”
There’s a payoff to all of our behaviors. I learned this years ago, and it was very puzzling at the time.
Why would we engage in behaviors that are stressful and destructive? Somewhere — deep inside — there’s a payoff. And it’s not always obvious.
Wilding says her decision to bail on her friends shined a light on how her choices were making her feel: sad, lonely and stressed. Overachieving was giving her the illusion of control and maintaining her image as a go-getter. At what cost, though?
Why we stay stuck
In psychology, the benefit we get from not solving a problem is known as a secondary gain. Procrastination may help you avoid the fear of failure. A shopping spree may hurt your bank account, although you gain an exhilarating feeling of affluence.
Bottom line: people generally don’t keep repeating a behavior unless they get some result from it. If you’re gaining a benefit from your behavior (conscious or not), you’re not motivated to change. That’s how you get sucked in — and trapped.
Take a hard look at the hidden payoffs you may be getting:
- Do they prop up your identity?
- Do they shield you from failure?
- Do they help you feel needed by other people?
Secondary gain is often a legitimate psychological need like love or belonging. To help clients move past self-sabotage, Wilding has them run a few thought experiments:
- If you change nothing, what will your life look like three months from now? How about three years? How does this image make you feel?
- If you were suddenly fulfilled in all areas of your life, what would you be doing differently than you are now? What would change?
- Are you doing all of this just to maintain a certain image?
Be patient with yourself. This inner work takes time, and confronting your fears is a scary thing. After years of ingrained behaviors, it can even be hard to identify your patterns.
In time, here’s hoping you’ll be able to list five things that give you pleasure — and actually do them!