How to Get Type A About Being a Type A

As someone with a “Type A” personality, things in your life are generally going more than well because you work hard and smart to create the life that you have. There are plenty of blessings to count. Except that you often wish you were more in control of your time, mind and relationships. 

This is a recurring theme with a Type A personality. Type As tend to be serial overachievers, setting incredibly high standards for themselves and others. They aren’t afraid to work hard and on multiple goals at the same time. They stay accountable to their goals and visions, and are often lost in their heads because they overthink. If you’ve nodded your head to most of these, then chances are, you are one.

I work with Type A overachievers to accomplish multiple goals concurrently, so they perform and lead at their best always, and sleep like a cat. I resonate because I am a self-confessed Type A+++.

Except that I also am intimately aware of how being Type A can also be detrimental to our performance, health and sanity at times. We’re the type most likely to die of cardiovascular and hypertension problems, for example.

And because we burn out often, we then look towards plenty of well-meaning wellness and mental health advice that we gamely try, except that plenty of these strategies clog up our time further. Or they don’t seem to apply to us. 

With time, this can make us wonder if there is a way out of burnout, towards peace and sustained performance.

There is. 

And it’s specific to us Type As. 

Want to thrive as one? Then let’s get Type A about being Type A.

1. Be proudly perfectionist

There is a chasm between being a productive and unproductive perfectionist. Type As are productive perfectionists. Yes, we have what others would call insanely high standards and we have doubts about ourselves; but that doesn’t stop us from showing up or doing the work. And it’s fabulous to both pursue and produce excellence. 

That said, our perfectionism often comes with periods of burnout, shaky confidence and exhaustion. 

That’s because we try to be excellent in too many things.

Here’s the reality. We have 24 hours a day, and a limited amount of energy. 

There are plenty of things we don’t need to be perfect. Figure out what those are, so that you can focus on the 1-2 things you can become artisanal in. Find something where you can devote your energy, love and brainpower towards honing your craft, the way a carpenter would be unveiling a masterpiece he worked on with his two hands.

Let me give you an example. As an entrepreneur and psychologist, having the perfect newsletter provider or business cards really doesn’t matter that much. I get clear on what the good-enough standards are, even if in my fantasies, they’d be produced by a top branding expert. 

Because I let go of the less-relevant things, I can focus on developing the techniques and protocols that will benefit my clients; that helps them make big transformations quickly and deeply, especially in things they’ve struggled with for a long time. My clients are important, so they are what I focus on. 

2. Keep growing

Being content with where you are right now is a great thing; it’s feeling this baseline-level sense of peace so you sleep like a cat, and you’re constantly delighted by what others would call “the little things”. For me, this is the Holy Grail that marks when I’ve progressed to every new level of growth. 

But many Type As have been taught to feel guilty by society and self-help books against seeking growth. They’re told to be happy with what they have, and that they have way more than everyone else. This creates a plateau where they ask me “Is this it?”

The answer is never about an absolute. You can be content and grow— not an either-or.

Because fundamentally, as a Type A, your 2021 self is not enough for your 2022 self. 

When you’ve taken care of some areas of your personal or professional life, to the point where they become deeply-ingrained rituals, then you have space to create more growth. And that’s a great thing.

3. Confidence isn’t arrogance 

Most of the Type A personalities I’ve worked with have been the most humble people I’ve ever met. Yet many are acutely afraid of being arrogant. 

There’s a chasm between arrogance and confidence. 

The term ‘self-efficacy’ refers to how we judge our ability to do something well. The higher our self-efficacy, the better quality we produce, because we’re fuelled by confidence. 

For Type As, this confidence is not plucked out of thin air. Instead, there’s a track record of performance and success to back the confidence, which comes from countless hours of labouring and finessing.

Being aware of our strengths and gifts helps us have a higher regard for ourselves.

This does not mean that we aren’t aware of our challenges, or that we aren’t working on sanding these figurative rough edges. 

If you’re comfortable to admit your vulnerabilities to people you trust or learn from you, whilst being confident in what you’re good at, that’s the sweet spot.

4. So what if you are outcome-focussed? 

“If I hear one more person who preaches at me that it’s all about the journey and not the outcome, I will explode”, said every single Type A client. 

We laugh, because it’s so tragic that it’s funny.

Or maybe seeing the tragicomedy behind it is how we stay sane. 

Yes, I get that many spiritual circles preach that. 

I also get that there are people who genuinely love the journey and don’t care much about the outcome. There’s a bunch of reasons, besides their wiring or how they’ve been raised. Maybe the outcome doesn’t mean much to them because they have a cushy safety net; or perhaps it’s how they’ve trained themselves to protect themselves from possible failure.

For you, as a Type A, it’s absolutely acceptable to be outcome-focussed, especially on the things that matter.

As you hit different levels of growth — whether reflected in the changes in your bank account, body composition or relationship quality — the reward molecule dopamine floods the synapses in your brain. You feel great. And you want to do it over and over again.

What matters here is we know what gets you ticking and moving, instead of incinerating energy and sanity beating yourself up for not being process-driven. 

5. You don’t need to meditate for two hours daily

One of my biggest pet peeves is the statement “If you don’t have time to meditate two hours a day, then you should meditate two hours a day”.

Or any variant of that ultimate patronising Holier-Than-Thou utterance.

Disclaimer: I have been practising different forms of meditation for more than half my life; I personally and scientifically understand the benefits.

The caveat being, we don’t jump into a meditation practise or retreat blindly just because someone tells us to, or via a corporate wellness program. 

And this is why many Type A clients tell me that these initiatives have made them feel worse or more frazzled, because they think they’ve got to do it. But they’re annoyed, and it merely clogs up their time.

Whatever you do to recharge or rejuvenate has to sync with your personality, lifestyle and goals. 

This means that if you’re generally impatient, and have got a rather full calendar, then even an hour of sitting everyday isn’t practical. 

The point behind breathwork is that it’s important to reset your brain. When stressed, the fear center hijacks our higher brain. This means that our primal animal selves fuelled by survival instinct make the decisions, rather than the part that makes us uniquely human. That can often lead us to make choices that leave us with more messes to clean up. 

With this in mind, what’s most important is that we learn to breathe correctly. 

When you’re breathing in, you’re filling your belly with air, as though it’s a balloon inflating. And when you breathe out, you’re emptying your belly. When we do this properly, all our attention is naturally focused on the process; there is no space for our mind to actually wander. 

When many of us are stressed, we hold our breath or worse still, suck in our bellies when we breathe in. This leads our chests to clamp and we eventually hyperventilate, and when our brain picks up on this, it interprets this as being in a threatening situation. Consequently, we feel worse.

And three deep breaths is really all you need to get back in-control of your brain. That’s way more effective than two hours of breathing wrongly.

As a Type A, you’re all about making your time spent pay dividends for you. Having read this piece, (1) what is your biggest takeaway (2) what mindset shift have you chosen to commit to, and (3) what’s that one small action you’ll apply from today onwards?

Dr Perpetua Neo

Dr Perpetua Neo (DClinPsy, UCL; MPhil, Cambridge) coaches Type A+++ overachievers with demanding lives to be in-control of their heads, time and relationships, so they perform and lead at their best. DrP is an insider expert on Forbes, Business Insider and Vogue; consults for media campaigns; and writes for The Huffington Post, MindBodyGreen and Thrive Global. Her work is in 39 languages.

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