7 daily habits to improve your life as a high achiever

diverse group of high achievers smiling and celebrating
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Want to know what daily habits can improve your life as a high achiever? Of course, that’s why you’re here! But what did you expect to find when you clicked the link to this article? A fellow high achiever, I’ve struggled with perfectionism, imposter syndrome, self-doubt, and anxiety.

If you’re like me, I’d guess you came here seeking stringent routines that you can plug into your day planner. You think this will keep you focused and disciplined. You believe this is the key to reaching your goals.

I used to think so too. For decades, I sought out advice on habits to help me get my shit together.

I fumbled and failed in my attempts to follow rigid ‘expert’ guidance for high achievers. There was just one problem. Their ‘one way’ to master routines and achieve goals didn’t jive with MY way of actually succeeding. 

Trying to force myself to comply only made things worse. In fact, this approach led me to burnout.

As a result, I no longer believe in rigid, one-size-fits-all habit rules. So if you’re looking for a drill sergeant to whip your daily habits into shape, brace yourself for disappointment.  I do not condone hustle-culture-driven high-performance habits. I won’t engage in demoralizing methods that only trigger more overwhelm. There’s plenty of this typical, overplayed information. I refuse to contribute to it.

ready to improve your life with daily habits that actually support high achievers?

Keep reading for my 7 tips that will blow your mind.

1. do nothing

I bet I know what you’re thinking: Is she for real? The short answer is: YES! 

There’s a strong case in favor of creating open space in our daily routines. It sounds counterintuitive. I mean, most often when we’re trying to improve our lives, we tend to pile up our plates. We build a schedule that tries to cram in more new actions. But this actually sabotages our efforts.

To reach our goals, we need time blocks that contain no appointments or to-dos. We need consistent, short periods of unstructured time to free up our mental space. This provides better clarity, deeper focus, enhanced vision and creative energy. Cal Newport sums it up nicely in his book, Deep Work:

“Less mental clutter means more mental resources for deep thinking.” 

Cal Newport, Deep Work

Deep thinking supports us as high achievers. It propels us to dream big and strategize solutions to make those dreams our reality. Making space in our schedules is a daily habit that cleans up mental clutter, which supports deep thinking.

2. minimize your morning routine

Google ‘daily habits of highly successful people,’ and what do the top results mention? If you said morning routines, you get a gold star! The problem is, many morning routine guidelines recommend a ‘power hour’ to start the day. I don’t know about you, but for me, this has always been a sticking point. 

Early morning is the time I do my best mental work. (I know this now, but for a long time I didn’t.) So every time I tried to push that aside and ‘do my morning routine’ it bogged me down. This was especially true when my kids were younger. I’d get up 2 hours before them, but spent the majority of that time on a loaded morning routine. Usually, this included reading, affirmations, a workout, and prioritizing my tasks for the day. By the time I finished, my kids would be awake and my brain’s optimal productivity window had already passed. 
If this sounds familiar, you might find success in what’s worked for me and many of my clients. I discovered that in order to create a morning routine that supercharges us and that we can stick with, we can’t make it complicated.

Now, I enjoy a quick 10-15 minute meditation before getting out of bed, then kickstart my day with this simple 3-minute morning sequence. Then I work for 2-3 hours during my peak time. I sprinkle in a couple of 5-10 minute movement breaks. After that, I take a longer break (about an hour) for my other morning routine activities. This is when I get my workout / outside time, breakfast, and journaling.

The key to making your morning routine work: Craft this daily habit to align with your individual strengths, needs, and goals. 

3. soothe your nervous system

What are the most common traits of high achievers? We’re output focused and goal-oriented, for sure. This is the fire that fuels our motivation. Often, though, it fans the flames that lead us to burnout. There are a few reasons for this. A huge one is over-committing. Perfectionism, lack of boundaries, and impostor syndrome are key causes.

As high achievers, we tend to think we must: 

  • always be ON – reachable, responsive, connected, engaging
  • always be DOING – checking off to-dos, reaching the next milestone, surpassing the competition
  • always POWER THROUGH – deny our emotions, neglect our physical and mental needs, force ourselves to perform no matter what

We prioritize productivity over inner peace. Popular beliefs, unrealistic self-expectations, and societal pressure are all contributors. 

As a result, we keep our nervous systems on high alert. Usually, we don’t even realize it until it’s too late. This unsustainable level of activity stops us dead in our tracks sooner or later.  To prevent this, here are some simple daily habits to soothe your nervous system: 

  • Unplug from technology.

    This includes phones, email, social media apps, and TV. Taking a ‘digital detox’ for a whole day, a full week, or more is revitalizing. It may seem excessive, especially if you’ve never tried deliberate unplugging before. If the idea freaks you out, there’s good news. Take just 5 minutes to shut everything down and close your eyes, and you’ll notice improvements in energy, motivation, creativity, calm, and focus.
  • Spend time in nature.

    As little as 10 minutes outdoors is all you need to reset. You don’t need to book a retreat in a far-off destination, trek deep into the woods, or climb a mountain to benefit, either. Choose to sit or walk in any accessible natural space. It’s really that simple!
  • Move your body.

    Our nervous systems include our brains and a vast network of sensory nerves. Sensory overload affects our minds and also our bodies. We can feel this as tension in our shoulder muscles or pain in our necks and backs. Just 2 minutes of intentional calming activities boost how we feel physically, mentally, and emotionally. Moving our bodies is proven to improve decision-making, creativity, focus, and communication as well as our feelings of well-being.

    Get the quick-glance guide of nervous system soothers I’ve curated especially for high achievers here.
book cover titled 'Calm the Chaos: 5-Minute Stress Relief for High Achievers' with image of dark haired professional woman relaxing

4. Be curious

Is the way you feel at the end of the day how you want to feel every day? Maybe you’ve achieved a huge goal and you’re celebrating. But in the grand scheme of things, does this goal align with your purpose? Your ideal self?

You are, by all accounts, successful… but do you feel fulfilled?

Many high achievers look successful on the outside but still feel like something’s missing. No amount of money or external validation can fix this. Instead of approval and accolades, we need our successes to support our deepest desires in order to feel fulfillment. When our achievements align with our emotional needs, they do more than boost our financial and professional growth. They foster our mental and spiritual wellbeing as well.

One simple exercise I recommend is figuring out what are your top priorities, what are your daily habits, and where are the gaps in between.

We say we most value health, happiness, our families… but our actions often say otherwise. For example, if you say your #1 priority is health, but you’re always too busy to exercise, eat well, or schedule regular checkups, your priorities and habits are misaligned. This requires some deep reflection and brutal self-honesty. It’s hard to accept when our actions aren’t supporting what we say matters most to us. As a high achiever, it’s also hard to admit that we even value something other than financial or professional gains.

For success to be sustainable, it has to be fulfilling. Make it a daily habit to ask yourself: “Are my behaviors today getting me what I want?”

5. focus on flexilibity

Ask any high achiever about the daily habits of successful people, and most will tell you they prioritize strategic planning. I don’t disagree with this. However, when high achievers also tend toward perfectionism, people-pleasing, and self-doubt (raises hand!), plans can become a rut that’s hard to pull ourselves out of.

This was a major struggle for me for many years. I put so much effort into creating plans. I mapped out tasks, color-coded calendars, and filled hundreds of future pages in my planners – only to have dreaded life obstacles come crashing onto my path. With a single step of my plan missed, the entire thing quickly unraveled.

Sometimes life happens, and it doesn’t align with our plans at all. What I’ve discovered is that allowing ourselves to succumb to frustration over this is a waste of our energy. Plans are great for helping us clarify objectives and create the strategy to get there. But they’re more effective as a framework vs. a regimen requiring perfect execution.

Instead of beating ourselves up for ‘failing’, our energy is better used to develop emotional agility and mental resilience. One way to do this is to simply take the next right step from where you are now. Let go of your grip on what the path ‘should’ look like according to your plans. It helps to remember that sometimes, life has a way of putting us on a better path than we could have ever planned for ourselves.

Going with the flow can be challenging, but it provides many benefits. It reduces stress. It opens our minds to new possibilities.

6. embrace grace over grit

Don’t get me wrong, grit has its place. We couldn’t be high achievers if we didn’t have the gumption to keep moving despite life’s inevitable obstacles. But there’s a point where grit does more harm than good. Ignoring, grimacing, and forcing our way through adversity does not make it stop. This only prolongs our suffering. It heightens our stress response and threatens our mental wellbeing. 

Here’s where grace comes in. Can you forgive yourself for not being perfect? Are you able to celebrate your wins even when they fall short of your exorbitant standards? Can you stop judging yourself harshly for every mistake and pitfall?

Furthermore, do you listen to your inner guidance and honor its whispers of your need for rest? I know, we like to think this is only necessary for the lazy and the weak. It’s not, actually. Our health is our most basic, and vital, need. Without it, maintaining our high achiever status is impossible.

The unfortunate truth is this: If you don’t listen to these whispers, you’ll be stuck dealing with the screams. Put another way, think about how often you tend to get sick or injured precisely at a time when you’re way too busy to slow down. Your drive to keep pushing forced your body to take drastic measures. This is not a coincidence. So if you think it’s hard to balance everything when you’re healthy, remember how difficult is when you’re not.  

I’m not saying to give up. Don’t ever quit. But learn to be ok with self-compassion too. The daily habits of successful people include mindset mastery. Grab ahold of those old beliefs that say you must push through no matter what, and yank them out by the roots. Then revel in your newfound ability to balance grace and grit.

7. stop striving

Do you ever engage in activities with the sole intention of achieving a goal? If you’re anything like me, I bet you do it more often than not. The biggest problem with striving is that we set out to reach an endpoint that’s impossible to reach. We tether our focus to ‘getting there’ – but the finish line is a mirage! We achieve one goal and then move the goalpost further away. What we’ve accomplished suddenly seems like it’s ‘not enough.’  This cycle can lead to feelings of defeat. 

Not only that, but it’s hard to develop self-acceptance when we make it conditional. Relying on achievement to create our sense of worth is a slippery slope. For many of us, it’s the only metric we’ve ever known as a way to quantify our success. And while assessing our goals and measuring our progress are key habits of successful people, this can also prevent us from noticing the golden nuggets of true happiness in our lives.

What if you committed to investing in yourself through a pursuit that’s not so results-driven? How would it feel to engage in something with the main purpose being to bring you pure joy? Yes, it’s important to have goals and aspirations in life. But what’s the point of being a high achiever if we don’t enjoy ourselves in the process?

Life improves exponentially when we start focusing on the journey more than the destination. We’re more present. We feel less bogged down by our aspirations. And we begin to notice and feel gratitude for the little things (which, it turns out, are actually the big things). 

The missing factor in daily habits of successful people

We tend to believe that success requires lofty goals and that we can measure it only via tangibles. To improve our lives as high achievers, we must let go of the actions that keep us trapped in stress and strip us of our joy. The greatest marker of success is a life well-lived. And that, my friend, we build one tiny self-nurturing habit at a time.   

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