Feel Like You’re Capable of More? Here’s How to Stop Underachieving

    how to stop underachieving

    Have you ever had an idea for something you would like to create, only to find the momentum die after the initial excitement and enthusiasm?

    Frustrating isn’t it?

    It’s a pattern I know only too well.

    I’ve had so many ideas that I have failed to follow through with to completion.

    While some of those have been conscious choices, many have been the result of lack of trust in myself and my ability to translate the vision I have in my head into physical form.

    For me this has been one of the biggest challenges that held me back – the gap between what I can imagine and my skill level to make it happen.

    I’ve dealt with this contradiction of massive self-doubt while at the same time feeling like I’ve massively underachieving from most of my life!

    Know the feeling?

    So here’re the problem.

    We know that self-doubt interferes with performance and here’s how: When that voice in your head starts planting seeds of doubt you feel inadequate and insecure and you start to lose hope in the possibility of a successful outcome.

    When you lose hope, it’s hard to summon the energy and motivation to put in the time and effort you need to make things happen.

    You don’t practice and get extra training. You stay in your comfort zone and don’t make the most of opportunities.

    You resort to procrastinating which then reinforces your image of yourself as not capable enough.

    Breaking the Self-Doubt/Underachievement Cycle.

    Here’s where things get interesting.

    People with self-doubt are often highly successful and accomplished. They’ve used their feelings of doubt and inadequacy to focus and develop their skills and abilities to keep getting better and better.

    They’ve been able to mobilise and keep taking action, despite the fear of not being good enough.

    In fact, as Angela Duckworth, Ph.D says in her excellent book Grit:


    “Why were the highly accomplished so dogged in their pursuits? For most, there was no realistic expectation of ever catching up to their ambitions. In their own eyes, they were never good enough. They were the opposite of complacent. And yet, in a very real sense, they were satisfied with being unsatisfied.”

    As a result, they have hope.

    But a different kind of hope from just hoping that tomorrow will be better than today as a result of good luck.

    They have the kind of hope that comes from the deep belief that your efforts can improve your future.

    A common way this plays out with writing is the hope that you’ll feel more like writing later/tomorrow.

    You believe that it will be easier when you feel more confident, so you wait for this fantasized time to arrive.

    This, according to Russ Harris, Ph.D, author of The Confidence Gap is the wrong rule of confidence.

    The right rule is: “That the actions of confidence come first; the feelings of confidence come later”.

    Your job is to learn how to manage your self-doubt in such a way that it doesn’t stop you showing up to write over and over again, through the boredom, the frustration and fear of never being good enough, so that your skills and abilities can incrementally improve through effort and practice.

    Here are two ways to do that:

    1. Make When/Where Plans

    When you don’t make plans about when and where you are going to take the next step, you open the door for self-doubt to sabotage your efforts.

    Making decisions requires willpower, which is a finite resource.

    If, for example, you didn’t sleep well, it will be harder for you to make the decision to write.

    However, if you have predetermined a course of action, being really specific about your plan, you have a much highly chance of being successful.

    Shane Lopez Ph. D, in his book Making Hope Happen, describes research showing that 75% of the people who made when/where plans were successful in accomplishing their goal, compared to only 33% of the people who did not make the plans.

    1. Make If/Then Plans.

    People who just fantasize about achieving their goals are ironically less likely to be motivated enough to make them happen, according to the research conducted by Gabrielle Oetingen, Ph.D, described in her book Rethinking Positive Thinking.

    However, when people think about their big exciting dream, while at the same time thing about the barriers to making this dream happen (a process she calls mental contrasting), their energy and motivation goes up.

    This is the process: You identify potential obstacles in advance, and plan for them in the form of an if/then intention (called an implementation intention).

    If situation x arises, then I will perform response y.

    For example, If I say to myself “I’ll feel more like doing this later”, THEN I will sit down and start writing while reminding myself how much this matters to me!”


    IF I notice thoughts like “Am I good enough?”, THEN I will remind myself that effort and practice will make me get better and reframe the worry question into a problem solving question like “What one thing can I do today to improve my skills?”

    Close the Gap

    So there you have it. Two key ideas that are easy to integrate into your daily life so that you can overcome the self-doubt that holds you back from developing your skills and actualizing your ideas.

    Cultivate the hope that comes from trusting yourself to do the things you need to do.

    And close the gap between what you can imagine and what your skills allow you to create (well at least make the gap smaller – it seems that what you can imagine is a moving goalpost!).

    The research is clear. The ability to persevere with something that you’re passionate with over time is a far greater predictor of success than talent alone.

    Over to you.

    How does your self-doubt make you underachieve and sabotage your dreams?

    About the Author

    Alison Breen is a Psychologist and Coach who helps people build the confidence to make their business dreams a reality. Sign up for her FREE confidence-building action plan.

    About the author

      Alison Breen

      Alison Breen is a Psychologist and Coach who helps people actualize their ideas and potential in order to thrive. Sign up for her FREE confidence-building action plan to make your ideas happen.

    • Edna says:

      This post are so very nice

    • ojas says:

      Nice website andd all artical are so cute i like this

    • Siha says:

      underachieving is a pain in life because it is not satisfying the expectation. Whatever, that happens in everyone life. We have go keep going.

    • I really like your blog write-up which is obviously informative & fantastic…. Keep sharing more… Thanks a lot!!!

    • Hi Alison,

      Great post. I wonder if there’s a person on earth who doesn’t experience some self doubt.
      One thing I’ve been learning with every deliberate choice I make, is how important it is to make choices, and act on them. It really helps to create momentum. Of course once you catch onto the idea that confidence begets confidence, this really fuels that momentum and creates a buffer for those times when that self doubt begins to surface.

      Before I go I thought I might just point out a couple of typo’s I noticed (incase no one else had noticed yet),

      “you have a much highly chance of being successful.”

      I expect you meant to say here ‘you have a much higher chance of being successful.’?

      And the next subheading is numbered 1., when I believe it is intended to be 2. ??

    • David K says:

      Thank you so much for sharing this Alison. I have just stumbled upon it and just realized how wrong I have been making my plans. My plan from now on is overachieving on all aspects of my life.

    • Amar kumar says:

      Hey Alison,

      Underachievement is another stress indicator associated with physical problems and emotional discomfort. People who have issues with underachievement have the perception that they are not being very productive with their lives and, as a result, become very dissatisfied with themselves.

      If we are an underachiever, we’ll need to learn how to steer ourself in more productive directions. Like all stress indicators, underachievement may be the result of faulty thinking. Even a highly productive person can perceive him or herself as being an underachiever. Learning to have a rational view of your life is an important step in conquering underachievement.

      Underachievement is directly related to disappointment with ourselves, in contrast to excessive disappointment as measured on the disappointment scale, which is largely related to disappointment with others. Underachievers do not believe they are accomplishing what they have set out to do and consequently feel frustrated that they are not achieving at their ideal level. Some underachievement may be due to mild or severe depression. If we are very depressed, seek professional help. We need to review the section on negative mood. Ultimately, we will need to change our thinking about some aspects of our life in order to feel better. Eventually, thanks for your interesting and informative thoughts.

      With best wishes,

      Amar kumar

    • So glad you found it helpful!

    • Hello Alison,

      I really loved your article. This is really interesting. Thanks for sharing.


    • Joe Moore says:

      Motivating article, since I am just emerging from a 5-month exile from freelancing due to bitter doubts, but somehow I am drawn back and spent two 10-hour days writing a 1100-
      post to update my website samples.

      Effort and practice will make me better.

      What one thing can I do today to improve my skills?

      Manage my doubt so it doesn’t stop from showing up to write.

      Very good post.

      • Joe, thanks for sharing. working for yourself is really hard. When you’re prone to self-doubt it makes it excruciating. I am realizing more and more just how important a good support network of like-minded people is in making these dreams a reality.

        So glad you found this helpful.

    • Micheal A says:

      Alison, thanks for sharing this wonderful tips. Closing the gap really makes me remember the mistakes have made in the past.

      • It is hard to look back and see the mistakes we have made, absolutely. But hopefully not to get stuck in self-blame but to learn and do things differently the next time. Thanks for your comment!

    • Sajid Hossain says:

      Finding Source – join the movement http://www.findingsource.org

    • Anh Nguyen says:


      Great post! You helped me rethink quite a few things about self-doubt. I am at a later stage where I’m actively working towards my goals, but that doesn’t mean that self-doubts doesn’t kick in.

      And to be honest, it has been causing me a lot of stress. Sometimes I wonder if “I am good enough to ever achieve anything in life at all”. During those times, I used to fight back, afraid that those negative ideas will start affecting my productivity. But maybe they are not that harmful and I can also be “satisfied with being unsatisfied”.

      Thanks for sharing and making me think!


      • Such a pleasure Anh, so glad you found it helpful. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    • Kyle L says:

      Wow, great way to end the article! “The ability to persevere with something that you’re passionate with over time is a far greater predictor of success than talent alone.” That really resonates with me. I also love your rule of actions preceding feelings of confidence. I’ve found in my life that just by taking action, no matter how little progress comes from it, is still progress in the right direction and helps build my confidence immensely. Keep up the good work, I really enjoyed this one. I noticed you’re giving away a free book! Since I ordered mine, I’d like to return the positivity and share one with you. My mentor Jaret is coming out with a book called Cracking the Code I think you’ll like. I’ll link it at the end. Let me know what you think if you get it! https://jaretgrossman.clickfunnels.com/order-form-9242124

    • Mic says:

      Good information with good timing for me… I have a project I have been working on for over a year. I now feel like I can get some work accomplished on it… Thanks!

    • Laura says:

      This is such a great post Alison – you’ve totally nailed that feeling of dreaming big but acting small through self-doubt … and then being consumed by feelings of under achievement for the longest time! I’d swear we’d met you described it so precisely. I love your strategies and absolutely agree that making a decision before you don’t feel like making one is essential – I decide to get up at 5am and start writing before I have to head off to other morning commitments – but I make that decision the night before every time… because it doesn’t look in any way as attractive as staying under the duvet when that alarm dings in my ear. Thanks for sharing this.

      • Oh awesome Laura, so glad it resonated and you found it helpful! Any other strategies you use that help you get up at 5am to write? Good for you!

    • Monica says:

      Thank you for posting this. Perfect information, and thanks for the connection with resources for reading further.

    • I have used this IF/THEN system before, using rewards for my actions.

      It works wonderfully!

      • Yes, absolutely rewards are great. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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