Slowing Down the Over Achiever: Speed and Efficiency Aren’t Always Correlated

The drive to achieve in us is great. And it’s not such a bad trait to have. But sometimes the over achiever likes to take control while we’re not paying attention. This can be an area of great distress, especially if you have a long todo list and not enough time in the day to get it all done. Or you get wrapped up in trying to help somebody else that you neglect your own needs in the fray.

It’s good to be selfless and to help those who can’t help themselves. But I feel that we often overlook that to effect real change, we first need to change ourselves. However, there may be some pitfalls along the way while we attempt this. Such as, if we’re not careful the over achiever can pop up, pushing ourselves to focus too intently on just one area. And I know from my experience, that I sometimes feel that the quicker I go, the more efficient I’m being. But this most definitely is not the case.

Speediness Isn’t Always the Answer

One trap I often fall into is, wanting to obtain my own desired outcome with a clear map in mind and black and white thinking to get me there. This often leads to dead ends and being unwilling to vary my course to get to the final destination. When I eventually need to vary my plan because my map didn’t accounted for unknown circumstances, I find I feel lost and without direction. One of the ways I get caught in black and white thinking is, by trying to over achieve and confuse speed with efficiency. I feel as though this alone will lead me to success.

But this sort of speed equals efficiency and I need to be as efficient as possible, doesn’t usually give me the expected results that I think it will. That being said, there is something about working with a quick, controlled focus. Like when you watch a master at his or her craft, moving with agility and dexterity to create something. This can be unbelievably satisfying. But this type of speed and accuracy aren’t necessarily correlated with efficiency. I believe it has more to do with the time that the master of their craft committed to their task. And yes they move fast but they are also agile enough to change course if they need to. And they are more than likely experts at that as well. Staying fluid.

Staying Fluid Means Making Mistakes

So if it’s the fluidity of the work that is so impressive to watch, while speed is a product of repetition and practice, where does that leave efficiency? From my understanding efficiency is achieved after trying a varying degree of deviations from the main method and being able to adjust for the current circumstance in real time. How do we get there? By trying a bunch of different techniques and seeing what works and what doesn’t. A.k.a, lots of mistakes. The Swedish Chef from the Muppet Show comes to mind, singing along while blindly bandying things about until something is created.

I’m joking, but doesn’t it feel that way sometimes? Like we’re just throwing it together and praying that it works? It does for me for sure. Until I get a few successful attempts under my belt and then the confidence starts to build. And this is true for me for most of my endeavors. From trying a new recipe, to taking a new yoga class, taking on new responsibilities at work, or life responsibilities… there is always something new to try and get better at.

But also, something for us to make mistakes at. And this isn’t news to anybody hopefully. We know that to “make an omelet, you must break a few eggs”. But sometimes our idea of what we feel is the acceptable amount of mistakes to make is. And usually we feel our mistakes are something to be ashamed of. Which is a shame because then we miss an opportunity to stay fluid in our search for mastering a task and finding new, efficient ways in doing just that.

Finding New Paths

One of the ways we learn new paths while staying fluid and where we’ll find another pitfall is, working with others. Often times when we view mistakes as an embarrassment and we’re locked into a, speed is priority mindset, wasting time can be a shameful experience. Especially for those of us that feel that we have to be good at everything we do and on our terms.

So in the search for being efficient, and viewing speed as being priority while mistakes are seen as a weakness, we will often times reject help from others out of feeling judged or embarrassed. We insist that we have to do everything on our own in our own way. Feeling too proud to ask for help and ashamed of being seen as someone who can’t handle their task. But a situation such as this can benefit from two minds understanding and approach a problem from different perspectives, allowing for the type of growth that makes a change for the better. In other words, be more efficient by collaborating.

Working With Unreasonably High Standards, When the Over Achiever Takes Over

I work with someone who exemplifies this sort of speed is priority mindset and is an over achiever as well. And what was so eye opening about watching them work and actually hearing them say, “we have to be as efficient as possible” is, how much they reminded me of myself not to long ago and the over achiever in me. My co-worker is usually a reasonable person. But when they have something set in their mind on how things should be done, they are blind to all other ways of doing the task. An example of this type of mindset in action I feel, was present in one of our more recent interactions.

We were making baguette, shaping the familiar cylindrical loaves we know and love. While I was flipping the pre-shape (a round piece of dough before it’s formed into its final shape) from the bin to the middle of the table, crusty side down so that the soft side didn’t stick to the table, my co-worker asked, “could you please not flip the bread when you move the pre-shapes”. When I asked why she responded with, “the crusty side is down, so when someone shapes it, the crusty side will be on the outside of the loaf.”

Her over achiever was already anticipating that someone was going to make a mistake and wanted me to adjust for the person who may shape the loaf incorrectly. This didn’t make much sense to me since everyone on the team was experienced and knew how to shape a baguette. But she was taking responsibility for someone else’s actions, before they happened.

Over Achiever in the Form of Taking On Too Much Responsibility

What it seemed to be their issue was whether or not their over achiever could trust their co-workers. Or rely on someone else to do the right thing when they needed to. On the other end of the spectrum, I was thinking from a collaborative perspective. Trying to anticipating what would be most convenient for the team. When you have the mindset that everyone around you isn’t trustworthy or able to do their job well, then you take on the role of responsibility for the outcome of the entire team when you make judgement calls like the one she made. This is not only unreasonable to a certain degree, but also unhealthy. What was so unsettling for me was, how much of my former self I saw in my co-worker.

I remember having a tough night at a bakery I used to work at, when I got into an argument with the owner about something. What, I’m not to sure of now, but knowing me it probably wasn’t a big deal. Though I’m sure I made it out to be. In the middle of our argument I told the owner that my bake looked like garbage when actually it was a very respectable bake. And to the owners credit, he told me that my bake looked great. I think a few loaves may have been misshapen, but I blew up those two to three loaves into a complete failure for the entire night.

It was this type of black and white thinking, mixed with the impossible standard I set for myself and others, that isolated me from those I worked with. And something I see now in my current co-worker’s actions.

And The Outcome Ain’t Good

The over achiever mindset is very isolating from my experience. And the way out of this mindset is through kindness. To ourselves and others. My former self and my current co-worker had and have the best of intentions. We’re good people and it’s important not to lose site of that. But that’s just it, they always have to be the best. This is where the over achiever takes shape. There is no room for error and anything less than perfect will be dealt with swiftly and with extreme prejudice. This is the very definition of an over achiever and turned inward, can result in self-harm and negative self talk.

It’s like being in an abusive relationship, only there is nowhere to run where you won’t find yourself. The over achiever is always there, ready to pick apart whatever perceived failure or mistake you see or make. And there is always an underlying feeling of something being wrong. Like you’re not quite safe but can’t figure out why. From my experience this was the attitude that is cultivated by being in this over achieving state. Hyper vigilant and distrustful of yourself and others.

But Being Kind Helps

And again, the way out is kindness. It’s amazing how much a little self care goes toward reversing this critical state. Self-care and kindness, towards yourself and others, when practiced will cultivate a loving attentiveness to the spots that are raw when we pick ourselves apart. Staying with those raw feelings and being kind to them is the key to cultivating a loving and accepting mindset.

On the other side, when we see these raw places in others, like the over achiever, we judge them as mean or bad in some way. Our instinct is to distance ourselves from them and become guarded against them. Or we can be actively hostile towards them. Neither is ideal and fosters hostility and resentment in the relationship.

What I wasn’t taught about being kind to others was and what I imagine most people haven’t been, is that these are not emotions specific to the individual. The ones that we are judging as other or less than for having. They are human emotions. You can’t kill or completely rid yourself of select emotions. Being human means that you sign up for the entire package. Pleasant and difficult emotions alike and all the shades between. So when you judge another for having a certain emotion and when you eventually feel that emotion, you will most likely judge yourself with the same harshness you did another. And this is why being kind to yourself matters, because it helps you treat others with kindness.

Healing Old Wounds Through Kindness

But sadly, the more we practice judging ourselves and others, what immerges is a low self esteem and self doubt. The Buddha said “what we think, we become”. So it stands to reason that if we are filled with judgmental thoughts towards others, we become outwardly hostile and unpleasant to be around. The Buddha also said, “hatred never ceases by hatred but by love alone is healed”. So the more kindness we show to ourselves and others, the more we cultivate a loving state that is capable of healing ourselves wounded by judgments.

So the more we slow down in those moments of harsh judgement and over achieving and see ourselves honestly as we are. Either as struggling or lost with a lack of direction and the more kindness we are able to bring to that lost, struggling self, the easier it will be to pull ourselves out of that judgmental, over achieving state and into a place that is more flexible, kind and understanding. More loving.

Slowing Down to Get More Done

In the end, we will accomplish more by slowing down and bringing a kind, loving attention to the places that feel raw and judged. A good way to loosen the grip of the harsh judge and over achiever is to come up with a resource list. This is a list of things, places, people or events and activities that you enjoy doing or being around or participating in. This is a good place to go when you need to bring some warmth and kindness to yourself. Because it’s not always easy to think of taking care of yourself when you’re in the midst of tearing yourself down. I have one in my Bullet Journal¬†and it’s nice to look at once and a while, especially when I’m in need of a quick pick-me-up.

So now that we have the resources we need to show ourselves some kindness when we don’t feel we, or someone we know, is adding up to our standards, those that are more than a little unreasonable, who knows what we’ll be able to achieve. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

An update on my relationship with my co-worker: Our relationship has changed for the better due to me actively listening with kindness to what was bothering them. The more kindness we bring to our interactions, with self and others, the better off we all will be for it : )

Image Credits: “Stress” by topgold is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Edited: 6/1/22

%d bloggers like this: