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Are You an Underachiever?

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 you are an underachiever, you’ll need to learn how to steer yourself 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 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 of these people may actually take a little more time to do things. Others may mistakenly feel that they take more time.

If you perceive yourself as frequently falling short of your goals, then you are likely to tell yourself to do more and more. Underachievers may actually accomplish much in their lives, but not realize it because of unrealistic standards.

Things You Can Do To Help with Underachievement

Fact or fantasy?
Underachievement means that you are accomplishing less than you expect. First, determine if there is a sound and rational basis for your underachievement. (Maybe you don’t have the skill required to reach your goals.) If you occasionally fail to meet your expectations, then look more closely at what is really preventing you from doing what you want.

First, ask yourself, “Did I truly fail at what I set out to do?” Then take a different perspective. Perhaps there are different levels of success. Consider that life may be just a quest for constant improvement. Or ask yourself, if you come very close to succeeding but miss the mark by only a little, is that really failure?

Readjust your self-expectations
If you feel like an underachiever but you really are accomplishing much, then you are setting yourself up for failure and disappointment. The solution is to scale down or modify what you expect.

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Setting realistic and achievable expectations and goals produces a feeling of well-being and success. Yet too many of us set goals that cannot be achieved. Readjusting expectations is a healthy and productive way to reduce your stress. As the adage goes, “Learn to walk before you run.”

Become a better planner
Because underachievement often results from poor planning and inadequate organization, learn to improve yourself in these critical areas.

Seek assistance from those who know how to plan and be organized, attend workshops and seminars on being more productive, or read books or listen to tapes on organization. Learn better time-management skills and develop a better organization for yourself, your office, and home.

Become more positive
Some underachievement may be due to mild or severe depression. If you are very depressed, seek professional help. Review the section on negative mood. Ultimately, you will need to change your thinking about some aspects of your life in order to feel better.

Are You an Underachiever?

Michael Ashworth, Ph.D.

APA Reference
Ashworth, M. (2020). Are You an Underachiever?. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 15, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 29 Jul 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 29 Jul 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.