Mending the Overachiever

Helping those who strive too hard for health

I have a precious figurine of a wooden angel holding a bundle of apples in her arms. It was given to me by a patient who did everything in her power to be healthy and young-looking. So when her husband called weeping to tell me she’d had a fatal heart attack, I was shocked.

After much deliberation, I recognized one thing I wished I’d been able to help her with. Something which engenders a way of being that would have helped her listen more closely to her inner guidance and react less to her fears.

Loosening the tight grip of ‘doing health’ perfectly

During acupuncture sessions, she’d tell me about her exercise, supplement, and beauty regimens that continued to grow in length and breadth. Her morning routine took a couple of hours and her evening regime was only a little shorter.

I’d suggest replacing or rotating items and activities rather than adding on to the growing list, but she couldn’t let anything go for fear of losing a benefit.

I know this mindset isn’t what directly took her life, yet I know a more balanced approach and a willingness to follow holistic advice rather than advertising hype would have changed the energy of her life dramatically.

The overachiever archetype

If some are good, more is better, as the saying goes. Well, not always.

The overachiever will often push past the middle ground to do more than needed. Sometimes to the point of harm.

I work with healing art practitioners in their businesses and advise on case management. You will see folks like this. These are patients who are so careful. They do everything you ask -but often MORE than you ask. What drives them?

This overachiever archetype looks like a person who:

  • Performs more exercises than prescribed and in doing so herniates a disk.
  • Sports orange hands from too much carrot juice and a possible vitamin A toxicity.
  • Feels like they should be getting further along since they’re trying so hard.

Although done in the spirit of self-responsibility, overachieving misses the sweet spot in mind-body integration where gentleness and a looser discipline lead the way which gives the body room to breathe and discover.

3 ways to guide your patients back to balance

There’s a place for drill-sergeant health coaching. I’ve also treated people injured with that kind of toughness. What the coach doesn’t realize, is the person with an overachiever archetype doesn’t know when to stop.

Q: How do you give health advice to someone whose reins are held in so tight they can’t change direction?

A: By not feeding the fire with a whole new list of things to take and do.

Here are three ideas to guide them to a balanced approach.

1. Accept them as they are

Telling someone they need to relax usually brings on the opposite effect. Be clear and repeat your message without scorn. Realize it may never change and celebrate small wins where you see them!

2. Challenge them with limits

If they come in with two full pages of supplements, do a half sheet challenge. Can we get the essentials into a half-page? Can we rotate an excessive schedule?

A neat way to engage limits is the concept of The Energy Pie from the book by Chin-Ning Chu, ‘Do Less, Achieve More: Discover the Hidden Power of Giving In’. If you want to add something to your already-full pie, a slice must be taken out. You can’t add an extra piece so how can we slice up what we’ve got?

3. Agree the goal is to reconnect their inner sensor

Bring breathwork into the picture. Nothing changes the mind more than breath. Help them transform their thoughts from, ‘I must or else’ to, ‘Does this makes me feel good?’

It’s about awareness. Awareness begins with getting centered. They may have some deep-seated fears about death, rigid self-dependence, and hypervigilance arising from trauma so gentleness is crucial.

Trust is key

Fatigue, stress, indigestion, headaches; all these conditions can be exacerbated by a perception of reality. Perception is not likely to change because of a finger-wagging lecture. It changes over time and being the beacon and example yourself.

These are big issues that can be released by exposure to new thoughts. Those thoughts blossom in an environment of trust. Build trust first then peel away the layers by giving specific assignments that touch the mindfulness center and use their willingness to achieve goals for good purpose.

Ultimately I did not feel responsible for being unable to change my former patient’s mind and free her from the tight grip of ‘doing health’ perfectly. Just sad my message didn’t sink in. Following my own advice, I do what I can in a balanced way then release, allow and trust the outcome.

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