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How to Set Goals if You’re an Overachiever

Finding a balance between dream big and realistic

Itxy Lopez
Aug 18, 2019 · 7 min read

A couple of months ago, my sister and I told my brother he had to start reading one book every month. He reached this goal in one week the first month.

So, we adjusted the aim. Now, he had to read two books a month. The next month came around, and my brother surprised us by finishing his books in only a couple of weeks.

Still, we knew it’d be best to stick to the same objective because three seemed like too much.

He disagreed.

He said he’d read three books next month. Then, four the month after that. And then he’d read five books.

And, whoa. Slow down there, kid.

I told him not even I read five books a month yet. I read four, and he wasn’t going to be able to consume that many yet.

(Sure enough, the next month, he only read one book.)

He didn’t understand he had to practice reading two books a month first before he could read four or five.

But there was something familiar about the situation. My brother did what he set out to do once, and suddenly, he wanted bigger tasks to achieve — tasks that wouldn’t be possible to attain just yet.

I realized moments later why it was so familiar.

I’m the same way.

Are you an overachiever?

Very Well Mind states, “Overachievers are people who do great things, but still need to accomplish more.”

While not all overachievers are the same, there’s one thing we all have in common — and it’s in the name. We all want to achieve more than we have too.

We make things difficult for ourselves by taking on the biggest tasks and adding more items on our to-do list than we have to.

If there were ever a time we could partner up with someone for a project in school, we wouldn’t take that opportunity. We’d do it better ourselves, even if it meant double the work.

According to the HuffPost, overachievers hate failing because they take it personally since we’re too focused on the outcome. Failing means we didn’t do a good enough job, which makes us feel like we’re not enough.

On the flip side, we always manage to get our work done because we don’t want to miss a deadline or fail. Our fear pushes us to fight harder.

How an overachiever sets goals

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Photo by Robert Baker on Unsplash

As I said, since we want to go above and beyond, we assign ourselves the largest tasks and objectives.

I now add about five items to my to-do list every day, but before I’d add around ten. They weren’t even busy work — I had to do them. But what I didn’t realize was I could do them throughout the week.

I didn’t have to finish all of those tasks in one day, but I wanted to challenge myself. The only thing I ended up accomplishing was overwhelming myself and feeling useless by the end of the day when I didn’t get through everything.

Overachievers set intentions that are too big, and they assign themselves the shortest amount of time possible to finish it. We do it to challenge ourselves, but we never learn how much like crap we usually end up feeling.

Most people underestimate what they can get done in a day, but we
overestimate what we can do.

What happens when an overachiever sets a small goal?

My dad is also an overachiever, and I asked him how he knows that.

He sells shirts on Amazon Merch, and he gave me this example. “I intend to sell ten shirts a day. But when I reach that target, I immediately make a new aim to sell twenty-shirts by the end of the day.”

Instead of feeling proud of himself for reaching his original accomplishment, he adjusts it to achieve something more significant. What should’ve been pride is replaced with disappointment because he doesn’t reach his new target.

In their article, “The Surprising Downside of Being an Overachiever,” Life Hacker said, “If you’re a chronic overachiever… being adequate isn’t ever enough. Occasionally, giving your work that extra something is the right thing to do, but making a habit of it turns your overachievement into your new work baseline.”

A new baseline means new, bigger achievements. Once we achieve those targets, then we have a new baseline again — and so the cycle begins and never ends.

It doesn’t matter if an overachiever succeeds because we’ll always want more. We’re never satisfied.

Why setting too-big goals can be detrimental

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Photo by Jukan Tateisi on Unsplash

Most of the time, overachievers reach their aims, but it comes with a cost.

Since we take on the hardest possible tasks, there’s always too much frustration, stress, and overwhelm involved.

Very Well Mind shares, “While overachievers may be successful in some ways, their tendency to take on too much work can lead to burnout over the long-term. Trying to maintain such a high level of output and performance can be exhausting or even impossible to keep up for a long period of time.”

Life Hacker said, doing this can even, “cause you to hate what you do and who you work with. Worst of all, it can actually keep you from achieving things; and that defeats the purpose of overachieving in the first place.”

Setting big goals isn’t generally a bad thing, but when you’re an overachiever who defines their worth by the productivity they get done (or don’t get done), this practice can be harmful to your mental and physical health.

Too much stress has been proven to lead to headaches, muscle pain, depression, anxiety, and more.

How to stick to the goals you set when you’re an overachiever

I hate the word realistic, and I don’t think desired results should ever be practical when it comes to our dreams.

However, when it comes to the work we want to get done to achieve those big dreams, even I have to admit we need to be sensible.

We have to find the perfect balance between achieving what we think is possible for ourselves at any given time and pushing our limits.

In July, I intended to write and publish one Medium article every day.

This was the perfect objective for me because it not only pushed me to grow, but it was also what was best for me at that time. (I still have my blog to run.)

It’s enough of a “dream big” and a “realistic” goal. If I’d aimed to write two articles a day, it would’ve been too complicated and stressful.

While two pieces a day is possible, it’s not possible for me right now. And that’s what we need to realize.

I’m sure you can write a book in three months but is that what’s best for you right now? What if you pushed it a bit? Maybe five months.

That might be the ideal balance for you. It’s hard enough to push you, but not hard enough where it’ll frustrate you.

Look at your own purpose and be realistic about the jobs you’ve set to achieve them. Remember, I’m not telling you to change your goal; I’m telling you to change the work you’re giving yourself to arrive there.

Push your limits so you can still grow, but don’t give yourself more than you can handle.

How to stick to your goal (and not make it harder)

We have to practice separating our worth from our work.

We have to understand that when we’ve accomplished what we set out to do, that’s a win — not a sign that we need to give ourselves harder tasks.

When you succeed, celebrate it. Allow yourself to feel joy.

To do this, think about your labor, the hours you spent on it, and the sacrifices you made.

Visualize all of it, and then acknowledge yourself. Let yourself feel proud for once, instead of thinking about what you can do next and how you can do it better.

I have a daily habit of writing fiction for ten minutes. If I can write for longer, then great. However, I’m not going to force myself to write for longer because I feel like ten minutes isn’t enough.

I have to train myself to be okay with what I’ve done. If I continue to keep pushing when I’ve already done what I’d aimed to do, the habit is never going to stop.

So, stop when you said you would — unless you genuinely want to do more.

In summary

Set big goals but be realistic about what you need to do to reach them.

The steps you need to take to make your vision a reality need to be hard enough to force you out of your comfort zone but realistic enough so that you don’t give yourself more than you can handle.

And always, always, remember that what you do is sufficient.

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Itxy Lopez

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Live Your Life On Purpose

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Itxy Lopez

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