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.