Have you ever felt like you could be doing more?
Do you feel you’re not living up to your potential?
Are you constantly feeling like you’re falling behind your peers in your achievements?
If you’re nodding right now, you may be an underachiever or at least know someone who is. And that’s not surprising.
According to research, around 50% of academically gifted students end up performing below expectations in school. And if that’s true for gifted students, there’s probably a huge proportion of regular people who are in the same boat.
Underachieving simply means that you’re not doing as well as you could. This could be in work performance, income, or any other aspect of life.
So why are you underachieving in life? Any or several of these habits could be the reason why.
1) You’re afraid of failure
I know that this has always been a major challenge in my life.
I’m a bit of a perfectionist, I suppose. Or at least when I work, I want to do it well.
So when opportunities arise, I tend to shy away from things that look like they’d be really difficult.
It’s just an attitude of choosing to be safe rather than sorry, I suppose.
But what this actually works out to is avoiding opportunities to challenge myself and really test the limits of my potential.
I’d rather succeed at something easy than try something hard and risk failing.
I think fear of failure is one of the main reasons why so many people underachieve.
Are you the same way?
2) You’re afraid of success
Leaving behind the question of what happens if everything goes wrong, what happens if everything goes right?
You might think it’s weird. Why would anyone be afraid to succeed and make more money, get a promotion, or just look smart?
Well, there are actually a lot of reasons, and they mostly stem from a fear of standing out.
I went to school with a girl named Jennifer, who was really, really quiet.
She got teased a bit for being so shy, but all that did was make her shy away from people even more.
So it was a huge surprise when, one day, it was announced that she had won a state-wide math competition.
No one knew that she was so bright because she was shy and afraid to stand out, so she hid her talents and was scared to make her star shine.
3) You have FOMO
I don’t know about you, but I very often suffer from a big Fear of Missing Out. For me, it usually manifests itself when I go out to eat, and I can’t decide what to choose from the menu for fear of missing out on something more delicious.
FOMO can also interfere with other parts of your life, of course, and can make it hard to make decisions and commitments.
Have you ever worked with one of those people who always seems to have one foot out the door?
You know the type – no family photos on the wall, no real interest in getting to know their colleagues, and always looking for a new job?
If that’s the way you feel, then it’s going to be next to impossible to get your performance up to even just average, let alone meet your potential.
4) You second-guess yourself
If you’re always questioning yourself, it can also be impossible to be committed and all-in with anything.
It’s healthy to reflect and think about ways to improve, of course.
But if you’re constantly second-guessing yourself, it means that you have low self-confidence.
And the thing that’s holding you back from achieving your full potential is you telling yourself you can’t do it.
As a freelancer, I constantly have to negotiate pay for my work. It took me a long time to realize that I would always have a number in mind and then settle for less in negotiations.
Rather than being confident in myself and knowing what I was worth, I was always willing to settle for less. So, I simply wasn’t able to make as much money as I wanted to and could.
This second-guessing is a tough habit to get over, but I think those days are behind me!
5) You don’t get enough sleep
People always underestimate the importance of sleep in their lives. But in reality, getting enough is one of the most effective things we can do for our mental and physical health as well as performance.
Sleep helps you rest, repair muscles, detox your brain, and reset your internal clock. It helps your memory, reaction time, reasoning skills, and just about everything else.
And when you’re chronically sleep-deprived, which for most people means getting less than seven hours of good sleep every night, you can start to slip.
Memory tasks get harder. Making decisions takes more time. You’re even a lot more uncoordinated.
So, how are you supposed to live up to your full potential in that condition?
6) You’re depressed
What if you’re sleeping a lot, maybe even a lot more than average, but you still feel like you have no energy?
If you also feel like you’re emotionally deflated all the time and have a lack of any and all positive feelings in your life, you could be depressed.
Depression is definitely not just a habit; but it can be a very important reason why many people underachieve.
It can affect not only your mood but also your physical well-being, making you feel discomfort and even pain. It definitely creates a lack of energy, and for many people, it can sap their creative juices and quell motivation.
So, while a person might be highly intelligent or skillful, depression can block them from achieving what they otherwise could.
7) You keep the wrong company
It’s not so much that other people are leading you astray; it’s that you’re letting them.
If you sit and think for a moment, isn’t there someone in your life who you spend time with, even though you know this holds you back?
This could be anyone from a partner to a family member, but it’s usually a friend or a whole social group that you’re holding on to.
I’m talking about someone who drags you out clubbing when you have a big day at work tomorrow or a friend who makes you do favors for them when you really need the time to do other things.
It’s a very hard thing to accept and an even harder thing to put an end to. After all, we all need friends to help us through this crazy thing called life.
But if you have friends who sabotage your success by doing things that interfere with your achievement, it’s up to you to make changes to those relationships.
8) You can’t control your impulses
This is a huge one for so many people, especially when they’re younger.
Sure, you could study more for that exam and probably get an A, but you could also go out partying with your friends and still manage a B, right?
Or maybe it’s not such a big deal to binge-watch that whole series on Netflix rather than getting your important work done.
Discipline is being able to control your impulses and do things that are less enjoyable because they’re better for you in the long run.
So, if you lack impulse control, it doesn’t matter how bright you are. You simply won’t be able to keep yourself on track to meet your goals.
Drinking and smoking, partying, staying up late – these are all things that are fun but need to be limited if you are going to live up to your potential.
9) You’re not doing what you’re passionate about
No one can pour 110% into something they’re not interested in.
There’s just no motivation to keep focused and direct your energy into something you’re not passionate about, and that can make you underperform.
One of my elementary school teachers had a great story about this.
He had a friend who was profoundly gifted – a real brainiac. This guy finished high school early, flew through university, and started working for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab down in California.
Yeah, that’s right – rocket science!
But it just didn’t last. He started underachieving, missing deadlines, skipping work days… and eventually quit to become a furniture mover. And that made him really satisfied.
While he was gifted at math and engineering, he simply had no passion for it, and that made him underachieve.
Could that be the same reason you’re not living up to your potential – because you’re applying it to something that doesn’t inspire you?
If you’re underachieving in life, it’s time to look at some of these possible reasons why and figure out which ones apply to you. And with some simple changes, your star can burn as bright as it truly should.