• Cynthia Johnson

Heaven help me, I've just been holidaying with a Toxic Achiever.  Do these people never relax? 

Toxic Achievers are organised, and want everyone else to be organised too.  The upside: because of them the Holiday Will Happen, and as Camp Manager they're focused on confirming arrangements, making sure we get a great spot and that everyone will pay their share of the deposit on time.  The downside is that holidaying with a Toxic Achiever means that everyone has to be up bright and early to start the day as there's a lot to do and we can all have Fun!  We have to be first to the beach because we need the spot under the tree otherwise we won't have Fun!  While you and I would be happy with a slab of Yet More Xmas Ham and a bread roll, our Toxic Achiever cooks toasted sandwiches on an open fire on the beach because this too would be Fun, and after all we can't just relax! 

After lunch there's More Fun to be had – let's climb the hill in the midday heat to look at the view – and when we get back to camp someone has to rinse the togs and towels, someone has to peel the potatoes, someone has to sweep the tents.  No skiving off either – what do you think this is, a holiday?  Everyone co-operates of course, because we all need an organiser and a planner, and it's just too scary not to.  We silently agree to not question, just to keep our heads down and go along with it.  

An amusing holiday tale you probably recognise, but it isn't just about holidays.  Toxic achievers are the impatient drivers behind you, hooting the instant the lights change to green.  And at work, if you challenge their impatience and anger they'll always justify it:  "I'm not angry,  I'm just fed up with their incompetence: I've asked them twice now to sort it out."  Who wants to live like this?  Actually, there is a relationship between Toxic Achieving and cardiovascular strain, so they may well be shortening their lives by behaving in this poisonous way! Our Challenge of Change Profile include a measure of Toxic Achieving and we've found it to be the third most important scale after Ruminating (#1) and Detachment (#2) because of the unnecessary demand it puts on the cardiovascular system.

Do you recognise any of these behaviours in yourself?  The tendency to get frustrated, impatient and/or grumpy, to want everything done immediately, to be so driven that everything is turned into work? Here's what you can start doing to make life easier for you (and others), and still have Fun!:

  1. Become an observer of your mood and behaviour.  Notice when you are getting impatient, angry or annoyed.  Initially you might not be able to do it at the time when you are caught up in it, but perhaps at the end of the day, make a habit of reflecting back on your day.  With practice in noticing how you are feeling you will be able to catch yourself earlier.
  2. When you do spot it, don't immediately justify your behaviour.  Just acknowledge that you lost it, and be more aware of the negative consequences for everyone around you.  This is the really hard bit – habitual toxic achievers find it difficult to not justify how they are! 
  3. When you catch yourself like that, bring your attention back to the here and now. Stop thinking about all the things that are on your list, everything that has to be done next.  Just be in this moment in time and enjoy that.  Be under the tree on the beach for as long as you can!
  4. Remember that your breath can be your best friend. When you are het-up, shut your eyes and concentrate on breathing in and out.  Think of nothing else, even for a few minutes.  It will calm you down.
  5. Stop imagining all the what ifs and if onlys. As Mark Twain taught us, most of them don't happen anyway.  By all means have a back-up plan, but once you have that in place, let the rest of the negative imagining go.
  6. Question your time lines. What would really happen if it was a day late? Why does it have to be done by Friday at 5? Who is going to work on it over the weekend anyway?
  7. Be kinder to yourself. It's OK to waste some time, it's not the end of the world to miss a deadline (probably no one will notice), people can like you not only for what you have achieved, but also for just being around for them.

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