I love Saturday mornings! It is the one day in the week that is not filled with chores or activities and events to attend. And yet, as I reflect on many of the Saturday mornings in the past they were filled with “planning” conversations. No matter what household project we had completed we were only seeing what was not finished, not up to the standard of the recent renovation. My partner and I would glance around the yard and house and immediately start identifying what improvement we thought would make it better. This went on for years. One morning, probably after completing a big project, I sighed in futility and said, “when is this constant striving for better going to stop?” “Will we ever get to the stage where we have enough?” We had been doing it for so many years, it had become a habit to talk about what we didn’t have yet, had not accomplished, what we didn’t like about our current circumstances, on every aspect of our lives…, in our home, our work, our family, our finances, our vacations…on and on and on.

I have come to understand that this constant striving is a hallmark of a negative pattern of thought called “hyper-achievement”. The feeling that it spawns is ceaseless craving like any chemical addiction. A colleague of mine compared it to “retail therapy”, a way to pick up their emotions by buying something only to feel low again shortly after the purchase. A client of mine described it as her “insatiable monster”, no matter what she accomplished, she still felt unfulfilled and needed to do more. With these kinds of feelings there is no peace, no contentment, only an anxiousness and gnawing feeling that you are not good enough, don’t have enough or are not successful enough.

For as long as I can remember, I have heard my inner critic pushing me to get more done in a day. Completing the task list, I create for myself daily is the only way I allow myself to leave work. Sadly, completing the task list doesn’t guarantee success either. If I complete the list before the end of the day, then I scold myself for not setting a worthwhile set of tasks or that I had put too little expectations on my abilities and time available.

When my partner asks me about my day, my answer is based on what and how much on my list I accomplished. Only recently have I come to realize that my ‘happiness” is tied to a list of tasks. How futile it is to base my self-worth and satisfaction on a list of “to-dos”! I realize that I belong to the category of people, described by Shirzad Chamine in his book “Positive Intelligence”, who go to their graves trying to complete the next task on their list, the next goal. Yikkes! I want to be clear that I am not against setting and achieving goals! In my work with leaders, we spend a lot of time and energy clarifying SMART goals and planning the steps to complete them. Setting and accomplishing goals keep us learning, growing, and thriving. But they do not define our self-worth.

“Nothing outside of yourself should have power or friction over your peace” Marcus Aurelius, Mediations

I am rewiring my brain to connect contentment with gratefulness and happiness with love and at the same time weaken the linkages of task and goal accomplishment to self-worth and satisfaction.

Foot Note: This is one in a series of stories about nasty self-talk. The things we say to ourselves as we go about our daily activities and that grows louder when we need to sleep. These saboteur messages are based on a body of research that includes Positive Psychology, Neuroscience, Performance science & Cognitive Psychology and adapted for the Mental Fitness Program designed by Shirzad Chamine author of “Positive Intelligence”. The stories are based on how I personally experience the saboteurs.