If you’ve ever felt like you aren’t living up to your full potential, or you aren’t accomplishing as much as you expect, there’s a chance you could be an underachiever.
According to Harold Cohen, Ph.D., “Underachievement is related to disappointment with ourselves.”
You might feel like you are smart and capable of accomplishing a lot of things, but somewhere along the way, self-doubt gets in the way and you don’t quite get to where you know you can be. This can lead to depression and anxiety, a lack of confidence and trust in yourself, and more.
Not only do these things just not feel good, but they also perpetuate the original issue of underachieving. However, this label doesn’t have to be defining and there are some techniques you can use to overcome it.
Here are five signs you may be an underachiever and how to start breaking out of the cycle to accomplish more in life.
1. You do just enough to get by
If you were that kid in school that never studied or cared about homework, but still got decent grades, you may be an underachiever. Part of what is holding you back is the knowledge that you can put in a minimal amount of effort to survive. The problem with this is, by only doing the bare minimum to get by, you may find yourself getting stuck in the same place, never moving forward. By putting in a little more effort and utilizing all of your skills, you could accomplish so much more and really be successful.
2. You make lots of excuses
According to psychologist Linnus S. Pecaut, founder of the Institute for Motivational Development, many underachievers (especially as children) will make up excuses for why they aren’t performing well and struggle to accept responsibility for their failures.
3. You lack organizational skills and proper time management
If the thought of keeping up with a planner or sticking to a schedule makes you cringe, you might be underachieving. Making a to-do list for each day and setting aside time to accomplish tasks is a good way to start getting better results with your work.
4. You find yourself procrastinating on assignments or projects
This is the oldest trick in the book. You might know that you need to do something, but you continue to push it off later and later until the last possible minute. This results in a frenzy trying to accomplish a project or assignment before your deadline and often means you won’t be turning in your best work.
5. You use charm to get out of doing work
After a while, you may have figured out how to get out of doing work just by sweet-talking others. This could look like more excuses or passing off work you don’t want to do onto someone else. Or you could be asking for an extension or extra help, so you can focus on doing the bare minimum required. Whatever it is, it’s definitely not helping you accomplish anything.
So, now you know the signs of underachieving, but how do you break out of this bad habit and start setting yourself up for success? There are several things you can try, according to psychologists.
As Cohen said, underachieving is mostly a mental block that stems from an underachiever’s own disappointment in themselves.
“Underachievers do not believe they are accomplishing what they have set out to do and consequently feel frustrated that they are not achieving at their ‘ideal’ level,” Cohen said. “If you perceive yourself as frequently falling short of your goals, then you are likely to tell yourself to do more and more. Underachievers may actually accomplish much in their lives, but not realize it because of unrealistic standards.”
That being said, if you are struggling with underachieving, you may just need the right tools to live up to your full potential.
According to Michael Ashworth, Ph.D., you may have to change your way of thinking to get on a more productive path.
“Like all stress indicators, underachievement may be the result of faulty thinking … Learning to have a rational view of your life is an important step in conquering underachievement,” he said.
Start with small, easily achievable goals and focus on one thing at a time. When you take on too many things at once, it just leads you back to that self-doubt and disappointment. However, when you accomplish one task, you’ll feel good and ready to take on the next thing.
It’s important to make a game plan to get things done, but again, don’t overwhelm yourself. If you need help, ask a friend or a mentor.
“Seek assistance from those who know how to plan and be organized, attend workshops and seminars on being more productive, or read books or listen to tapes on organization, Ashworth said. “Learn better time-management skills and develop a better organization for yourself, your office, and home.”
Make your plans specific, even if you don’t feel confident in your ability to accomplish them yet.
Russ Harris, Ph.D., author of The Confidence Gap said, “The actions of confidence come first; the feelings of confidence come later”.
Taking action and accomplishing something will help build confidence that leads you to accomplish more and more.
Psychologist Alison Breen says there are a couple of ways to try this.
The first is to specify when and where you are going to take the next step in accomplishing a goal or completing a project. By doing this, you make it less likely that you will push it off or let self-doubt creep in.
The second way to move in confidence is to make if/then plans. This means, you anticipate what roadblocks may come up to keep you from accomplishing your goal and set an intention for what to do if and when they do.
“If situation x arises, then I will perform response y,” Breen explained.
These simple practices could help you start breaking your underachievement patterns and start succeeding to the best of your ability.