Trying your best is meant to be the key to success. But can we ever ‘try too hard’? Yes, if we become too focused on the end result and forget to enjoy ourselves along the way.
That’s as true in our careers as it is when we’re attempting to do other things in life such as losing weight, making new friends, meeting a life partner and being a good parent.
“There are broadly two sources of motivation for goal pursuit,” says psychologist Dr. Helen Street who’s researched the area extensively. “The motivation that comes from the pursuit of the goal, and the motivation that comes from a desire to achieve a goal and reap the benefits of success.”
“If you are motivated by the journey and the ongoing benefits of goal pursuit, then this is great for your well-being and your overall commitment to the goal.”
That means you’re more likely to fail if you’re less committed by essentially being, “motivated by the completion of the goal and hoped for benefits of success.”
In 2001, Dr. Street published a study in The Clinical Psychologist journal using a term she coined, ‘Conditional Goal Setting’ – when people feel their happiness is dependent on achieving one or two specific goals. Based on questionnaires completed by 37 students from the University of Sheffield, England, she found they were more prone to depression if they based their happiness on the achievement of one or two specific goals.
So, according to these findings, believing, “I will be happy when I get that work promotion” could actually be making you feel miserable as you attempt to get there.
Shannah Kennedy, life coach and author of Simplify Structure Succeed, agrees that ‘trying too hard’ can be detrimental.
“People often feel the harder they work, the more important and committed they are,” she says. “But trying too hard can cause tensions with other peers at work. You can sabotage relationships with others who may not be on your page.”
Life coach Domonique Bertolucci adds that ‘trying too hard’ can see us fall into unhealthy over-achiever behaviour patterns. That often involves, “Saying yes to everything, regardless of whether or not we have the capacity to take it in,” she says. Then our mental health suffers: “Working long hours and sacrificing your personal life often also means that you don’t relax enough, exercise enough or eat healthily. It places you at risk of burnout.”
Bertolucci suggests re-evaluating what work means to you. “Don’t base your identity and sense of self-worth on your work,” she says. “Remind yourself, work is what you do, not who you are. You don’t need to put in 150% effort to do a good job. Even at the best universities, anything over 80% gets you an ‘A’. Aim for an ‘A’ grade effort in the workplace.”
Becoming too goal-focused can also be counter-productive in other areas of our life.
For example, when attempting to lose weight.
“Some people put all their focus on a scale weight, they can blind side themselves to all the other great things they’re achieving. It can be to the detriment of their own success and mental health,” says Andrew Meade, co-founder of Melbourne’s Urban Workout gym.
Indeed, sometimes the desire to fast track our results sees us doing things like skipping meals, cutting back on sleep, and depriving ourselves of rest days. “It becomes an obsession when you’re closing yourself off from other aspects of your life,” he says.
Meade suggests an end to setting specific weight goals and instead opt for viewing the process of losing weight as a lifestyle change that involves eating healthy and finding an exercise schedule that suits you. “It’s not about making radical changes to a person’s lifestyle, because radical changes have a limited amount of time that they’ll work for.“
Meanwhile, trying too hard can also affect friendships, according to Shasta Nelson, CEO of www.GirlFriendCircles.com and author of Friendships Don’t Just Happen!
“When we try too hard when making friends, we are susceptible to trying to rush the process, wanting to feel closer to each other than we really are,” she says.
“This puts us at risk of over-sharing, expecting too much from the other person, and getting our feelings hurt when they don’t reciprocate at the same intensity.
“Every relationship requires consistent time together where we practice the actions of friendship and slowly develop a rhythm of sharing and revealing. It’s best to be as friendly as you can with a wide-array of people and try to spend time with those people as regularly as you can.”
Samantha Jayne, director of private matchmaking agency, Blue Label Life, says re-evaluating goals is also important when attempting to find a life partner.
“When people try too hard to find love, there is an urgency and a pressure to see if anyone is single, instead of being out and about and simply enjoying being in the present,” she says.
“Trying too hard acts as a repellent. When a person tries too hard they often miss many opportunities, they make up their minds too quickly and move on to the next person.”
Jayne recommends being confident, and being gently proactive — such as by being open to meeting new people, and increasing eye contact with strangers. And don’t forget to look after you. “If you give back to you, others will find you more attractive. That could be yoga class, spending time with friends, family, taking a walk on the beach or even getting a manicure,” she adds.
And sometimes for parents, the best intentions for our children don’t always translate to the best actions.
“Overparenting is parenting that is well-intentioned but goes too far,” says Dr. Judith Locke, clinical psychologist and founder of training company, Confident and Capable
In a 2012 study published in the Australian Journal of Guidance and Counselling, Dr. Locke discussed examples of ‘overparenting’ – cutting up a 10 year old’s food, rushing back home to pick up your child’s forgotten lunch or assignment, not letting a 16 year old catch the train.
“For a child to develop resilience and be able to cope with the demands of the world, then they need to gradually become more independent as time goes on,” says Dr. Locke.
She suggests parents ask themselves, “Am I truly preparing my child for the reality of life? Am I teaching them how to cope with negative emotion?”
Dr. Locke says if 18 years is the beginning of adulthood, then we should give our children more opportunities to learn independence – for example, deciding at what age they should walk to the shops alone.
And remember, it’s okay to be a ‘good enough parent’, says Dr. Locke. “Be satisfied with the effort you’ve done at being the best you can do. It encourages your child that all they have to be is ‘good enough’ not perfect.”