Categories of Underachievement

Reader DWeird made an important comment about the weirdness of the expression “going to the gym” that seems to imply that the main difficulty is to set out in the direction of the gym. The comment points towards an important distinction among different groups of underachievers.

1. The first group is called “Failure to Launch” and it consists of people who have difficulty beginning to work on a task. They delay and find a million explanations why they can’t start already and need more time to prepare. Once they actually start, they are extremely effective and do everything faster than anybody else. But dawdling before the start eats up a lot of their energy. These are the anxious people, the OCD people.

2. The second group is “Failure to Execute.” These folks start easily and often. But then they run out of steam. They can never follow through and get bogged down in details. They lose interest fast even if they were very enthusiastic at first. They run into a mountain of unsurmountable obstacles and finally just give up. And start from the beginning. These are folks with low self-esteem and feelings of guilt that eat up their psychological energy. They are also fearful of being as successful as they know they can be. The loss of interest is an act of self-sabotage aimed at avoiding success. The reason they avoid success is because there are people in their lives who will be threatened by their success.

3. The third group is “Failure to Disengage.” These are the people who don’t know when to stop. They’ll fuss over an article for years and never submit. They’ll miss the deadline for a report because they are still putting on the finishing touches. They’ll kill their own pitch because they’ll keep selling long past the time they should have shut up. These are the folks who can’t end a hopeless relationship and keep going to the same extremely problematic partner they’ve broken up with a hundred times already. These are people with control issues. They can’t relinquish control over what they perceive as their. As the previous two groups, this is also away of dealing with anxiety.

Of course,you don’t have to be strictly one group or the other. Some people are two and even all three. This depends on the degree of anxiety one has.

I’m notoriously group one. Once I start, I’m an animal. I execute, carry through, and complete extremely well. But I spend a lot more time delaying the start than actually doing it. So as the always insightful DWeird pointed out, going to the gym is a challenge for me precisely because getting myself physically into the building that houses the gym is an adventure.

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16 thoughts on “Categories of Underachievement”

  1. I suppose I fall into group 1. But, over the years, I have realized that I postpone starting because there is something I do not understand about how to do something. If I go ahead and begin, I will come against a roadblock and not be able to finish because I simply don’t know how. When my mind/brain, working in the background, solves the problem, I can typically finish the task. Starting when I am not ready seems not t accomplish anything. Of course, it may well be that mathematics is different from other disciplines in this regard.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My friend, I needed to mail my voter registration form. I had it all ready in an envelope. And do you know how long it took me? 8 days. And it’s not because I don’t understand the process of putting a letter into a mailbox.

      I now need to change the tablecloth. It’s been over two weeks since I decided to change it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m all three to some degree. It’s kind of depressing. I’m working on dealing with number three by writing online serial fiction. I limit myself to a certain number of edits and drafts. If I ever collect it and turn it into a book there will be more drafts and edits. But I think this will help.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. These are folks with low self-esteem and feelings of guilt that eat up their psychological energy. They are also fearful of being as successful as they know they can be. The loss of interest is an act of self-sabotage aimed at avoiding success. The reason they avoid success is because there are people in their lives who will be threatened by their success.

    Wow, I feel like a light bulb went off in my head when I read this. I fall mostly into group 2 and have long been aware of my tendency to self-sabotage and to have lots of good ideas and false starts that I never manage to turn into anything. I had never considered that this was anything other than something wrong with the way my brain worked and I have spent a lot of energy beating myself up about it over the years.

    But yes, I grew up in an environment where big doses of guilt were par for the course and where I was constantly encouraged to eat too much and then made to feel bad about my weight and appearance, which is not a good recipe for self esteem. And yes, there have been people close to me in my life (it’s pretty clear in hindsight) who were threatened by my potential success or what that success would mean for their ability to control me. Some of those people are no longer part of my life and I’ve been getting better at setting boundaries with and/or ignoring one of the others who is.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was constantly encouraged to eat too much and then made to feel bad about my weight and appearance, which is not a good recipe for self esteem. …there have been people close to me in my life (it’s pretty clear in hindsight) who were threatened by my potential success or what that success would mean for their ability to control me.
      This is me, too.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Me, too, absolutely. It’s a very common manipulation and control strategy. Provoke certain behaviors and then keep people under control by pointing out to them how deficient they are because they engage in these behaviors. People feel guilty and that facilitates the control.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Ooh, compliments. 😀

    I’m very much in group 2. My CV is pretty much a list of month-long engagements in two dozens of entirely different kinds of jobs. By now, I’ve done database work and operated HGVs, performed research and door-to-door sales, demolitions and translations, managed international events and done things you need security clearance for, and so on, and so on.

    When you see these sort of lists, it’s usually to give the romantic appearance of a full life well lived, but I spent most of that time feeling extremely anxious about how poorly I was doing at any given thing and either outright quitting or letting myself get sacked shortly after starting something.

    The times I’ve been genuinely successful are mostly little projects where the timespans from start to finish are so narrow that I somehow manage to complete them without really noticing. It’s hard to build a life around not noticing things, though.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I am totally group 1. I am guilty of the same envelope issue…took me a month to send it. I tend to be that way for things that I dislike or that stress me out.
    My sibling to whom I am very close to is none of the three. He just sits down and does it. I wish I could do that! I would save so much emotional energy!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Group 1 all the way. What I don’t understand is that I feel so much joy when I am fully immersed in a project, so why don’t I just do it? I absolutely love the process. Yet, I make all sorts of excuses to myself for not starting.

    ‘It’s 11:45, let’s start at a round number like 12:00.’ Or if it’s something big: ‘It’s the 29th of the month, let me start on the 1st of next month. Clean slate!’

    I also have another problem. I do things very fast. Like, really, really fast. And I’m pretty decent at estimating how long it’ll take me to do things, even tasks I haven’t performed before. So, sometimes it becomes some sort of thrill-seeking behavior to put things off until the last moment to challenge myself. Just to see if I still ‘have it’.

    Unrelated, this might be the greatest wildlife picture I have seen:

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Heh, I do the excuses too, and yes, I’ve noticed that it’s mostly for stuff I’d enjoy, or that leads to a result I’d like. Helps if you manage to trick your brain from noticing it’s starting something, though. For example, until today I kept trying to clean the house for a month without success, and what finally worked was waking up at 1pm and rather than going “ugggh this place is filthy, I must clean it, I suck” being all like “fuck it, I don’t want to clean up, I’ll just update some software packages on my computer over breakfast” (aka a task that wasn’t linked to any ongoing unpleasantness I could beat myself over the head with, since it didn’t really matter that much if I could monitor CPU temperature or not). Only, of course, once the CPU temperature monitor is running I want to play with my toys and see how well they handle heavy-duty usage, so 10 minutes later I have BOINC* set up and running after years of not doing so, only temperature is a tad higher than I’d like because of how dusty my PC is and no way I’m opening it up to de-dust it properly since that is a Proper Task, but at least I can vacuum up the external filters, and once I got the vacuum cleaner out all hell broke loose and a few hours later the house is gleaming and the computer is quietly modelling quantum physics without getting out of its proper thermal parameters, and none of that would have worked had my plans for the day included anything quantum physics-related.

      https://boinc.berkeley.edu/ – it lets you use your spare processing power to help scientists with computationally intensive projects

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Group 2. I am supposed to be a hobbyist, not a job holder, and wanted to be a job holder instead and am, but I feel terrible about how many people are in extreme pain every day, all day, because I have done this.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Definitely and profoundly group 2 for me, and it’s the cause of major problems in my life. I even have trouble finishing a TV series! What I find curious, however, is that there are a few activities totally exempt from this pattern. I never have a problem finishing a book and I’m very consistent in my yoga practice, though all my previous attempts at regular exercise fizzled out. I haven’t figured out why this should be, though I’m certainly glad of it. I would go crazy without these things. Thanks for this post, it’s given me a lot to think about.

    Like

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