Too much of a good thing, or the law of diminishing returns

Updated: Mar 2

When you continuously focus on the improvements you can make in your business and life in general, you can easily forget to celebrate your efforts.

Driving on and pushing ourselves is ingrained in us as a desirable leadership trait, so it doesn’t occur to us to consider that this way of thinking may not serve our greater good as leaders and may even hinder our progress.

Being hard on oneself has been a theme at a number of our recent forums. In common with the participants in these forums, I have rarely given myself enough credit for what I achieved in the past. As soon as I achieved a goal it was straight on to the next one. In fact, my self-talk was more likely to be telling me what I had not done, was too slow doing, or had not done correctly.

For most of my leadership journey I believed this was a normal way to live life and only became aware during my training in process work of how potentially destructive it is when taken to excess. It was then I heard of the term ‘the inner critic’ – a voice or role inside us that is either never happy with how we are performing or is always driving us to do more and continuously improve ourselves. In other words, the inner critic can be positive or negative in its effects, and therein lies the dilemma for leaders.

You never know what enough is until you know what is more than enough

After this revelation I felt an instant relief that I now had an explanation for why I often felt overwhelmed and demotivated by being continuously driven to achieve more, plus I now had someone to blame for my troubles! It was also a relief to know that I was not alone, I was not mad; this was something the other participants in my training group also identified in themselves.

It was around this time I came across a line from a song ‘The path of excess leads to the tower of wisdom’ by a group called Enigma. This resonated with me as I realised that I was taking my self-criticism to excess. When I looked it up, I found the line originally came from the poet William Blake (1757–1827) who said that ‘The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom...You never know what is enough until you know what is more than enough.’

Just like me, the participants in the peer groups began to realise that giving the inner critic free rein can depress one’s motivation and energy. Eventually we wear ourselves down. On top of that we realised it is very difficult to give others positive feedback if we do not acknowledge our own efforts and achievements.

Acknowledging what we have achieved

As the peer group members became aware of the effects of being too critical, there was a palpable shift in the energy within the group. This made room for a new realisation of how well each person had done. The members became more aware of the obstacles each of them had had to overcome to keep the business afloat throughout the property-crash recession and more recently during the disruption of the coronavirus restrictions. The energy became more positive.

These are some of the take-aways the participants had from the sessions:

”Let go the burden of responsibility”

”Value what I have to offer my customers and what I have achieved”

”Trust that I have the expertise and help to achieve what I need”

”Enjoy the moment/journey”

”Value my value proposition”

The wisdom of knowing when to turn down the volume

I later reflected that while my inner drive to achieve got me a long way towards achieving my goals, I equally believe that when I am in a positive and self-affirmative frame of mind I am more creative and productive. I realised that, in valuing my past, I must value every aspect of my journey, including my excessively self-critical moments, which, after all, helped me to climb the tower of leadership wisdom.

For me that wisdom means being able to balance stretching myself every day to achieve more of my potential with accepting myself when I fail to achieve my goals for that day.

My inner critic doesn’t know what hit him; he never expected to be praised!

So what excess in your past has led you to become the wise leader you are today?

Thank You

A big thank you to all my readers throughout this very challenging year. Have a very Happy, Relaxing and Covid free Christmas break. Thanks for the feedback comments, which are always appreciated. Finally thanks to my editor Eilish Rafferty who sprinkles her magic dust on my ideas and crafts the final product before publication

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