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10 Ways Being Overly Motivated Can Impede Success

Anything can be done to excess, including pursuing what you most desire.

Key points

  • Motivation is necessary for achieving goals but over-motivation can actually get in the way of eventual success.
  • Some ways over-motivation can lead self-sabotage include making rash decisions and taking on something beyond one's capabilities.
  • Over-motivation can also make people neglectful of others whose help may be needed, increase anxiety and perfectionism, and lead to burnout.
 Rachata Teyparsit/Shutterstock
Source: Rachata Teyparsit/Shutterstock

No one would question that enough motivation is necessary if you’re to reach your goals, particularly if they’re lofty. But few people recognize that it’s also possible to be so driven to succeed that this hyper-motivation can itself get in the way of eventual success.

Below are 10 ways we can end up defeating ourselves through our over-motivated pursuit of what we believe would grant us fulfillment. And like so many other things, it’s a matter of balance and proportion, which gets cast aside when we’re so committed to achieve something that, ironically, we decrease its likelihood.

1. Desire vs. Decision-Making

It’s possible to be so motivated to accomplish your goal(s) that your eagerness undermines your better judgment. Eagerness can lead to rashness, to making decisions that haven’t yet been sufficiently thought through. And the consequences of such impulsivity can actually make things worse for you than they were before.

2. Overconfidence as Arrogance

If you’re overconfident about what you can achieve, you can take on something you’re not adequately qualified to handle. You may delude yourself into thinking you can do something just because you’re so motivated to do it, which nonetheless could be beyond your know-how or capability—or just not possible to implement within the time period you (too optimistically) set for yourself. It’s interesting that being “cocksure” about what you can get done is defined by dictionaries as synonymous with “arrogance.”

3. Single-Mindedness vs. Other-Mindedness

If you’re resolutely focused on a pursuit, so intensely committed to achieving it that you totally neglect how your endeavor might affect other people’s welfare, don’t expect any help from them. Unconsciously or not, you may be perceiving them as adversaries—as getting in your way or threatening to do so. And the result of your self-centered, competitive, or harsh attitude toward them is that you’re likely to make them feel preempted or demeaned.

Such deprecation could easily make your associates turn against you, not only through withholding their support but acting out their annoyance, directly or surreptitiously, by undermining your efforts. Your interpersonal disregard or insensitivity can mobilize their defenses so that they’ll sabotage what, on your own, you’re so single-mindedly aiming to achieve. Moreover, the responsibility you’ve taken on solo may be something that ought to have been shared to obtain the best result.

4. Achievement vs. Anxiety

The more pressure you put on yourself to achieve something, the more anxiety you’re likely to experience. This added nervousness or worry, by distracting you from the job at hand, will debase both your creative energy and better judgment. For whenever you ruminate about the possibility that your endeavor could fail and the consequences of such failure, your rightful attention on planning and execution will be diminished.

5. Aspiration and Perfectionism

In your enthusiasm for a task or project, your excitement could drive you toward perfectionism. And the internal push to accomplish something superlative can lead you to take far more time to complete the project than you can afford. Or, because your perfectionism isn’t intrinsically connected to what you’re attempting, you could end up falling short of what you’ve aspired to. You may also pay too much attention to details peripheral to your pursuit, such that you lose focus on what you need to be concentrating on.

6. Speed Can Kill Your Chances of Success

When you’re dead-set on something, you typically want it to happen ASAP. And as the rabbit and the tortoise, slow and steady wins the race. Doing something quickly is not going to improve the odds of your achieving the object of your desire. Quite the opposite. By actually rushing yourself, you’ll be lessening your chances of success.

There are many examples that could illustrate this point. But I’ll confine myself to just a couple of the most common. It’s well known that those who succeed in losing weight almost never succeed through some crash dieting course but through a program that’s much more gradual and based on what, scientifically, is known about how the human body operates.

Also with exercise also, trying too quickly to tone up or bulk up—whether because the weight you’ve put on embarrasses you, or you want to look more physically attractive for a romantic interest, upcoming wedding, or reunion—is much more likely to eventuate in aches, pains, or injury than would following a less grandiose regimen.

7. Prudent vs. Impaired Judgment

Closely complementary to the above, when you’re so emotionally driven to undertake a pursuit that you can’t think that clearly, you may end up your worst enemy. And here’s one, also closely complementary, example:

Say you feel so compelled to go to the gym to work out and “buff up” that you exert yourself to exhaustion. You might well pay a steep price for such over-motivation. Once at work the next day, you could fall asleep and get reprimanded (or possibly even fired) by your irate boss. Or in instances where you’re so addicted to exercising that you can’t resist showing up at the gym despite coming down with something, or even having a fever, your zeal could trump your need not to make yourself any sicker—not to mention it inducing you to ignore your ethical responsibility not to infect others.

8. Are You Pursuing Popularity vs. Project Completion?

If your greatest need is to ingratiate yourself with others, to be more popular, secure, or revered by them, then this principal motivation can seriously interfere with your staying centered on your targeted pursuit. Actualizing your hopes about something requires maintaining focus on it, so if your efforts include such aims as those just described, they can reduce your chances of project success. Inadvertently, you may be giving these egoistic goals precedent or priority over what should be your key goal.

9. Multitasking as Compromising Achievement

If you’re over-motivated to accomplish something that feels crucial, you may not be able to resist multitasking to get that much more done in whatever time you have to devote to it. But don’t expect your divided efforts to pay dividends. Much research confirms the hypothesis that each thing you’re working on will be executed less satisfactorily than would be the case if you applied yourself to it exclusively—even though it may not feel that way to you.

Any relatively minor task, however related to the central one, will still lead you to give less thought to, or reflection on, what’s key. So the end result likely won’t be as good as otherwise it might have been, which will lead to disappointment.

10. Over-Exertion, Fatigue, and Depression

When you’re over-motivated, you’re probably also demanding too much of yourself. Ambitiously stretching yourself to transcend your usual limits could be advantageous, but not when it goes beyond your capacity. Your fervent vigor can be sustained for only so long—until you virtually drop from fatigue. And that burnout can make you more susceptible to depression. When you’ve exhausted your energy, and so obliged to abandon your so-highly-motivated pursuit, you can experience a terrific let-down. And that’s a forceful reason to permit yourself a break before you’ve thoroughly depleted yourself.

To sum up, being over-motivated to do something prevents you from carefully focusing on all the factors germane to optimizing your chances of success.

© 2021 Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.

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