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Why Smart People ‘Underachieve’ And How They Can Fix That

Have you ever come across those really smart people, who are capable of achieving high and yet all they seem to produce are inadequate results? Many of us have! On Reddit i came across a question asking the readers (in this case, the “underachieving”smart people) how they overcame that stage and what they did to become successful and happy in their work. From the responses,  it’s clear how real and frustrating this problem can be and how it affects people their private and business and career lives.  So how can you as a leader, employee or in your private life fix that?

On Marie Forleo TV, Dr Edward Hallowell, MD,  a psychiatrist, director of the Hallowell Centers in New York City and Sudbury, Massachusetts and Best selling New York Times author and world-renowned ADHD expert, shares information as to why this happens to smart people and gives the following FIVE tips on  how they can overcome this problem.

1)  Define Clear and Specific Goals

It is common for people to want to do so much because they have the ability to do so. However, dealing with more input than you possibly can, usually lead to loss of focus on your goals and it’s difficult to define what exactly needs to be done.  In order to stay focused, it is important to define what you really want to do and aim at a maximum of 3 goals for short term, medium, long term and life time. This is an important exercise because it forces you to prioritize.

 2) Avoid Screen Sucking

With many people totally addicted to the internet or technology it’s important to be in control of your digital life as was discussed in a previous post. Dr. Hallowell emphasises on the importance of setting a limited amount of time for your digital activities in order to avoid losing focus.

3) “Let me get back to you on that” -Default Response

It’s all about the kind of the response we give to others. Sometimes we’re too generous and we feel the pressure to please people and try not to hurt their feelings. We therefore end up saying ‘YES’ to everything even when we should actually be saying ‘NO’ or simply just saying “let me think about that.” Practising to say this helps to avoid over commitment.

4) Never worry Alone

You know that saying- ‘A shared problem is a problem solved’?- This can be practical if you speak to someone who can help you solve your problems. In today’s world, where everything thing is practically happening ‘virtually’, it’s very easy to become lonely and completely isolated. Even in our business and career lives, we all need people to connect with and share information to help us get rid the burden.  Of course, not all people are invited to worry with us in our private or business lives. Therefore it is important choose wisely whom you share information in order to solve that particular problem.

5) Cultivate Lilies and get rid of Leeches

According to Dr. Hallowell, Lilies in this case are people or projects that are worth it.  Investing your time and energy on lilies is possible if you get rid of leeches (Leeches here are projects and people that aren’t worth your time)

Ps. on the show, Dr. Hallowell adds that “ Too many worthwhile Projects crowd out each other’s growth and none of them flourish

On a separate article on  , Dr. Edward Hallowell, MD explains in depth ‘Why Smart People Underperform’ and how Corporate Leaders and employees can deal with Attention Deficit Trait, (or ADT) which we all know is now epidemic in organizations.

Here’s the interesting episode on Marie Forleo TV

How Smart Should Your SMART Goals Be?


Life is about setting and achieving goals. The same applies to our careers and business lives. To avoid chaos and disappointments, starting off a new year with well developed sound goals is a smart way to manage your own personal perfomance or those of your organisation. Usually in a business environment, even though a company may have it’s own overall SMART goals, many company leaders go ahead to encourage their  employees to set their goals which support their organisation’s main goals. A SMART goal is one which is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results focused and Time bound

A Specific goal should be simplistically written with a clear definition of  the What, How and Why you are going to do it.

A Measurable goal is one with tangible evidence. It’s about defining the physical manifestation of your desirable goals by identifying what exactly you want to see, feel, hear or even taste once you reach that goal. For example-

Not smoking anymore because you adhere to healthier lifestyle where you are committed to eat in vegetables and fruits twice or thrice a day  and exercise twice a week .

Of course there are many more examples, but the bottom line is to establish a concrecte criteria that helps to measure progress towards attaining the goals set.

The importance of measuring progress not only helps to stay on track, but also enables one to have a a realtime experience of each step of the progress towards attaining those desirable results.



Once a goal has been identified, investigate if your goal is Achievable or Attainable.Depending on how you look at it and what you are willing to do to achieve your goals, always remember anything is possible. You can attain almost any goal if you carefully plan your steps wisely and act accordingly. Careful though! I came across and an article on FORBES-(‘SMART’ Goals Can Sometimes Be Dumb) where the author states that goals that are ‘Achievable’ and ‘Realistic’ do make the SMART goals pretty dumb because they may not act as enablers of achievement thus encouraging mediocrity and poor performance.

Well, as mentioned earlier, it depends on how you look at it and what you’re willing to make it happen. It is therefore important to figure out smart ways to accomplish your goals. This may mean, develop the right attitude, mindset, skills, have the right team members and of course, if required, ensure that you secure right amount of the financial resources to get the work done. Also notable, in a working environment, attainable goals also serve as a motivating factor for the employees which keeps them feeling positively challenged and wanting to achieve more without wearing out or giving up easily. Still on the Forbes article, the author further suggests  another alternative, HARD goals, which according to studies are more likely to drive great achievements than the SMART goals.


In business organisations, Results-focused goals should measure outcomes and careful not to loose focus by trying to measure aach and every activity involved along the process. (Here is an excellent article expounding on that). As for a company’s labor force, performance evaluation can play a big role in attaining the setl goals regardless of the size or type of the business or even the company’s departments. Employees not measure their actual performance against expected performance, but also identify key areas that need to be improved in order to achieve goals (higher) (More on that here)

Goals should be Timely- Anyone can create a goal but not every one achieves them. Time is money! A goal should be grounded within a time frame which creates a practical sense of urgency and calls for commitment.  For example  installing deadlines, enables people to switch to (swift) action. However, the timeline should be realistic and not too stringet in order to keep the motivation and morale still high.