I only know how to cook mac and cheese

I have an interesting thought experiment for you. Take a moment to imagine that as a child your family only ever cooked and ate mac and cheese. Not only that, but most of society only cooked and ate mac and cheese, because mac and cheese tastes awesome.

As you grow up, you also only cook and eat mac and cheese. In your life you are given opportunities to eat things other than mac and cheese, but you are never interested, because you like mac and cheese. The one or two times you did try eating something else like ice cream or a salad, you hated it. This is because your taste buds are so used to mac and cheese that ice cream tastes too sweet and salad too bitter and bland.

At some point in your life you noticed that you were frequently sick and often felt malnourished. You see a doctor about it, and they suggest something a bit absurd. They suggest you eat other things besides mac and cheese. You find this idea appalling,. Everybody says that eating mac and cheese is the best thing ever and eating other stuff would not only be unpleasant, but also terrifying. Who knows what would happen if you didn’t eat mac and cheese constantly.

Alright, now for thought experiment two. This one should be easier to imagine.

Take a moment to imagine that as a child your family only ever encouraged you to achieve in life. Not only that, but most of society only focused on achieving and winning, because winning is awesome.

As you grow up, you also only focus on achieving. In your life you are given opportunities to explore and try others things that are less achievement oriented, but you are never interested, because you like achieving. The one or two times you did try something less achievement oriented, you hated it. This is because you are so used to doing things that make you feel accomplished that anything else feels unfulfilling.

At some point in your life you noticed that you were frequently busy and stressed. You see a life coach about it, and they suggest something a bit absurd. They suggest you try filling your life with other things besides achieving, such as time to relax, time to enjoy the moment, or time to try something new. You find this idea appalling,. Everybody says that overachieving is the best thing ever and doing anything else would not only be unpleasant, but also terrifying. Who knows what would happen if you didn’t accomplish new things constantly.

Ok, so now for explanation time

Lately, I’ve been working with overachievers who struggle with busy schedules and stress. The wall I constantly hit is that if you suggest something less busy or less achievement oriented, the idea is pretty quickly dismissed.

I wanted to write something that captured the exact dilemma of being an overachiever, because most overachievers (like in the example of mac and cheese) struggle to understand how constantly achieving can sometimes be a problem.

The bottom line is that overachievers get a sort of tunnel vision. They become so used to achieving and accomplishment that it becomes the only metric they have to see if they are happy. Eventually, they can value achievement so much that it actually starts detrimenting their life. Usually you see this in the form of poor eating habits, lack of sleep, high stress and possibly even a struggling social life due to the sheer amount of time being focused into achieving and not other needs.

The unpleasant solution is that overachievers need to expand their idea of what can be emotionally fulfilling and makes a successful lifestyle. In other words, they have to try eating other things besides mac and cheese. This can be scary for obvious reasons, but there is a silver lining. Think of it like this, if what you are doing right now is like eating mac and cheese every day, imagine what it will be like when you get to enjoy everything from shish kebabs to ice cream. Probably my favorite part of coaching overachievers is that I get to see that face of wonderment when they try something new for the first time.

In future articles, I’ll elaborate more on how overachievers can expand their proverbial eating repertoire. A lot of this will be explained by discussing how we can live more mindfully and effortlessly in our daily lives.

Image provided by Aidan Morgan

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