Name to Tame: Spotting unhealthy relationships with achievement

“Enough”. It’s a small word. But it has huge connotations for our quality of life. In fact it’s what guides most of our waking hours. We’re constantly striving to do, be or achieve enough. But how do we measure enough?

Without the distractions of normal life we’ve achieved unprecedented levels of output (whether work, DIY, gardening or laundry!). But now we’re attempting to magically cram lockdown output into days choc full with commuting, social obligations, gym sessions, school runs, nights out and physical meetings. Small wonder that half of us say we never have enough time.

But where are these unrealistic standards coming from? Who is determining this mystery “enough” that we’re all measuring ourselves against? And why is our failure to meet this invisible success metric causing 61% of us to experience productivity anxiety?

Above and beyond – the new “enough”

Joshua Fletcher (aka @AnxietyJosh), a professional anxiety management psychotherapist and podcaster, believes the answer lies in our increasingly toxic relationship with achievement: “Fewer and fewer of us seem to be content with striving for excellence. Above and beyond has become our expected norm and the constant fear of failing to achieve beyond – the new ‘enough’ – is driving anxiety. But above and beyond is exactly that! It is going beyond what is sustainable in the long-term, and that is why there is such a clear relationship between productivity anxiety and burnout.”

So how can we escape this destructive cycle? “Being aware of it is the first step,” according to Joshua. “We need to tune into why we’re doing what we’re doing. If we come to recognise that our productivity drivers are negative we can dial them down, mute them or even banish them from our lives altogether.”

Do you have an unhealthy relationship with achievement?

New research from Microsoft Surface reveals that nearly three-quarters of us (72%) show signs of an unhealthy relationship with achievement, well above the expected norm.

“Perfectionism falls broadly into two camps. A typically positive, striving form of perfectionism – which revolves around aiming for excellence, and an unhealthier failure avoiding perfectionism – which sees people become preoccupied with failing, and its impact on their worth,” commented Dr Rajvinder Samra, a Chartered Psychologist and academic driving the study. “While individuals can exhibit both types, over indexing on the toxic type of failure avoidance can be detrimental to mental health and wellbeing.”

89% of Gen-Zers and 84% of Millennials identified with this “failure avoiding” brand of perfectionism. Levels of this type of perfectionism were so high they actually approached the norms seen in clinical samples. Samples of people with disorders including Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and hoarding.

So how do we know if we have an unhealthy relationship with achievement? The good news is that the red flags – once you’re tuned into them – are easy to spot:

  • Obsessive checking and re-checking of work
  • Procrastinating to avoid failure
  • An overly critical inner voice
  • A tendency to obsessively “unpick” work and social scenarios looking for “failures”

Those with an unhealthy relationship with perfectionism also equate missing the mark at work with personal failure. They don’t just “fail at work”, they “fail as a person”.

Why does this matter so much?

Because our preoccupation with failure is blinkering us to our own achievements – two-in-five of us (44%) struggle to acknowledge what we’ve achieved, with this figure rising to more than half of women (54%). Unhealthy perfectionism also showed a clear relationship with both short-term stress (stress overload) and long-term chronic stress (burnout), suggesting our relationship with achievement can play a role in how we turn down the tension.

So, should we ditch our love affair with perfectionism completely?

Well, surprisingly, the answer is probably not. Dr Samra urges us to recognise the positives perfectionism can bring: “Perfectionism itself isn’t necessarily negative. Being in the ‘perfectionist striving’ camp can benefit you and motivate you to achieve great things. You just have to know when to switch it off. You also need to watch out for when perfectionist concerns are getting you down and leading you to put off tasks, so you can stop going down that road before you experience high stress and burnout.”

And that’s the crux of it. Perfectionism itself doesn’t have to lead us into a productivity trap. It only becomes the enemy when we apply it to each and every aspect of our lives. The key – as is so often the case – is balance. Joshua Fletcher reflects: “Anxiety and perfectionism can both be powerful performance enhancers in the right circumstances and in carefully managed doses. But we have to develop a healthy respect for their positive and negative impacts on our lives. You can dabble in both. But dabble. Don’t live there.”

Recharge, reconfigure, reinforce for amore positive relationship with achievement

The bottom line is we can’t achieve more if we’re constantly unpicking “failures” and beating ourselves up. Technology like the Surface Duo 2 can help us find more balance in our day to day lives, multitask in ways that suit us and help us reclaim more time for the things we enjoy.

To learn more about how to release yourself from the productivity trap and develop a healthier relationship with achievement, read our next blog, which is full of tips and practical strategies from our anxiety and productivity management experts. You will also find out how technology can help us to create healthier routines – ones that can give us back some of that all-important time we’re craving.

To find out more about the benefits the Surface Duo 2 can bring to your productivity routine, visit the device website here.