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Getting to Good Enough

Getting to Good Enough
Good Enough

Do you strive for perfection? Do you spend hours obsessing over the tiniest details of your life until they’re exactly right? Do you feel uncomfortable when everything in your life isn’t “just so”? Are you prepared for every eventuality, even the most unlikely?

In short, are you a perfectionist?

There are times when perfection is called for, of course, but allow me to suggest to you that most of the time, “good enough” will do. There’s a point where it takes more and more energy to achieve smaller and smaller gains — where you’re putting in as much effort as you’ve spent on a project so far to get a tiny 1% or 2% improvement.

It can be hard to accept imperfections, though. We all want to shine, and often feel that we won’t be recognized unless our work is absolutely flawless. Yet there are plenty of examples where this isn’t the case. Walt Whitman felt that his book Leaves of Grass, the book that established his place in the American literature canon, was never quite right, and re-issued revised editions throughout his life. Countless authors have complained about their early work — some claim they can’t even bear to read the works that launched them to national attention! The sciences are based on the premise that you publish as soon as your work is “good enough” — and let the rest of the science world try to perfect it.

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And yet we struggle. We concede a lot when we aim for less than perfection. Here are a few ways to get over these blocks and get your work, whatever it is, out into the world.

Planning

As with everything else, getting to “good enough” starts with planning. Start with your objective: You may have an image in your head of what a perfect outcome would look like, but what does a an outcome you can live with look like? Begin your planning with an outcome in mind that’s good enough to get the job done.

It might be helpful to compare your perfect outcome and your good enough outcome. What’s different in how you achieve each? Consider, for example, the desire to write a book. Of course, we all want to write a best-seller, to sell millions of copies and go on Oprah and with the Nobel Prize for Literature. That’s perfect! But maybe selling a few thousand copies, winning a couple of honorable mentions, and building a strong platform for the next book is good enough to be worth your time and effort. Some of the steps you need to reach either outcome are the same: getting a publisher, choosing a topic, marketing your book, making appearances, getting your book reviewed, and so on. But that perfect outcome is going to require you to take a lot of other steps, many of which are somewhat unrealistic (like getting nominated for a Nobel Prize). Planning can help you identify steps that are unrealistic given the nature of your product, your other obligations, your financial status, and the way the world works.

Second, set benchmarks for your project that are good enough to move on. If you’re launching a business, maybe you’d like to have a thousand clients, but for now, getting the first 10 is good enough — it gives you something to work with. Again, by making clear benchmarks, and determining what you have to do to achieve them, you’ll be able to identify some that are entirely unreasonable — tone those down to a doable level.

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At any step, of course, you can always go beyond “good enough” towards “perfect” — but focus first and foremost on building the necessary foundation.

Confidence

Often, our push towards perfection is not driven by a desire to do our best but by a fear that our work — and our self — isn’t good enough. Since we lack basic confidence in our ability to make something worthwhile, we invest more and more energy into our projects trying to push them just a little bit further.

Confidence can be a tricky thing; just saying “be more confident” probably won’t solve all your problems. Building self-confidence is really a life journey, not a quick fix.

That said, there are steps you can take to build up your confidence level.

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  • Catalog your successes, no matter how small.
  • Set yourself up for successes by planning achievable benchmarks and goals (as above).
  • Make a list of your strengths. Be honest — there are probably more than you think!
  • Make a list of your weaknesses, and focus on improving them. Again, be honest — there are probably less than you think.
  • Discuss your weaknesses with your loved ones. They probably have a different perspective!
  • Give yourself explicit permission to fail at something. Don’t make your self-worth contingent on constant success.

Make perfect mistakes

One reason people become perfectionists is that they’re afraid of making even the smallest mistakes — which is, ultimately, self-defeating. Mistakes are the stuff of personal growth, and making the right mistakes can help you build a firmer foundation for any project. Embrace mistakes as part of the process of getting to good enough.

Embracing mistakes means more than just accepting them, though. The point isn’t to make the same mistake over and over but to analyze and learn from each mistake. Sometimes they’ll come as a result of your personal weaknesses, but not usually. More often mistakes are the result of unknown external factors and planning with insufficient information. Perfectionism doesn’t correct for those things — it avoids them by keeping your project locked inside your head and away from the messy real world.

Putting your best foot forward

The problem with perfectionism is that, ironically, it keeps you from putting your best work into the world. Even worse, it keeps your work from being as good as it can possibly be. Why? Because in the effort to make your work better-than-human, it becomes less-than-human. All the human imperfections that make it yours are squeezed out of it.

To err is human, they say. Those human imperfections add character, your character. I think of The Replacements, a band that Rolling Stone once featured on its cover with the caption “The Greatest Rock and Roll Band of All Time”. If you’ve ever heard them, you know that at their best, they were sloppy (often sloppy drunk), ragged, unpolished — their early songs always sound just on the verge of falling apart completely. Instead, they fell together, bringing an energy and vitality to music that had been stripped clean, over the course of the early MTV years, of all its appeal.

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There’s a difference between good enough and half-assed. There was nothing half-assed about The Replacements — they embraced their calling and made great music. A lot of the advice out there for perfectionists says to “settle for 80%, 60%, or less” — their hearts are in the right place, but getting to good enough isn’t about settling, it’s about achieving greatness. Perfectionism isn’t a problem because it does too much, it’s a problem because in trying to do too much it causes us to do nothing at all.

You can’t “settle” for a half-assed job when your reputation, income, and possibly the well-being of your customers, audience, or clients are on the line. But the fact is you can avoid perfectionism and still create work that is good enough — that does what it’s supposed to do reliably. Good planning, confidence in yourself, learning from your mistakes — these are the elements of a job done well enough; unrealistic planning, a lack of confidence, and avoiding mistakes are the hallmarks of both perfectionism and half-assed work.

Go figure!

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Last Updated on November 18, 2020

15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It)

15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It)

It’s okay, you can finally admit it. It’s been two months since you’ve seen the inside of the gym. Getting sick, family crisis, overtime at work and school papers that needed to get finished all kept you for exercising. Now, the question is: how do you start again?
Once you have an exercise habit, it becomes automatic. You just go to the gym, there is no force involved. But after a month, two months or possibly a year off, it can be hard to get started again. Here are some tips to climb back on that treadmill after you’ve fallen off.

  1. Don’t Break the Habit – The easiest way to keep things going is simply not to stop. Avoid long breaks in exercising or rebuilding the habit will take some effort. This may be advice a little too late for some people. But if you have an exercise habit going, don’t drop it at the first sign of trouble.
  2. Reward Showing Up – Woody Allen once said that, “Half of life is showing up.” I’d argue that 90% of making a habit is just making the effort to get there. You can worry about your weight, amount of laps you run or the amount you can bench press later.
  3. Commit for Thirty Days – Make a commitment to go every day (even just for 20 minutes) for one month. This will solidify the exercise habit. By making a commitment you also take pressure off yourself in the first weeks back of deciding whether to go.
  4. Make it Fun – If you don’t enjoy yourself at the gym, it is going to be hard to keep it a habit. There are thousands of ways you can move your body and exercise, so don’t give up if you’ve decided lifting weights or doing crunches isn’t for you. Many large fitness centers will offer a range of programs that can suit your tastes.
  5. Schedule During Quiet Hours – Don’t put exercise time in a place where it will easily be pushed aside by something more important. Right after work or first thing in the morning are often good places to put it. Lunch-hour workouts might be too easy to skip if work demands start mounting.
  6. Get a Buddy – Grab a friend to join you. Having a social aspect to exercising can boost your commitment to the exercise habit.
  7. X Your Calendar – One person I know has the habit of drawing a red “X” through any day on the calendar he goes to the gym. The benefit of this is it quickly shows how long it has been since you’ve gone to the gym. Keeping a steady amount of X’s on your calendar is an easy way to motivate yourself.
  8. Enjoyment Before Effort – After you finish any work out, ask yourself what parts you enjoyed and what parts you did not. As a rule, the enjoyable aspects of your workout will get done and the rest will be avoided. By focusing on how you can make workouts more enjoyable, you can make sure you want to keep going to the gym.
  9. Create a Ritual – Your workout routine should become so ingrained that it becomes a ritual. This means that the time of day, place or cue automatically starts you towards grabbing your bag and heading out. If your workout times are completely random, it will be harder to benefit from the momentum of a ritual.
  10. Stress Relief – What do you do when your stressed? Chances are it isn’t running. But exercise can be a great way to relieve stress, releasing endorphin which will improve your mood. The next time you feel stressed or tired, try doing an exercise you enjoy. When stress relief is linked to exercise, it is easy to regain the habit even after a leave of absence.
  11. Measure Fitness – Weight isn’t always the best number to track. Increase in muscle can offset decreases in fat so the scale doesn’t change even if your body is. But fitness improvements are a great way to stay motivated. Recording simple numbers such as the number of push-ups, sit-ups or speed you can run can help you see that the exercise is making you stronger and faster.
  12. Habits First, Equipment Later – Fancy equipment doesn’t create a habit for exercise. Despite this, some people still believe that buying a thousand dollar machine will make up for their inactivity. It won’t. Start building the exercise habit first, only afterwards should you worry about having a personal gym.
  13. Isolate Your Weakness – If falling off the exercise wagon is a common occurrence for you, find out why. Do you not enjoy exercising? Is it a lack of time? Is it feeling self-conscious at the gym? Is it a lack of fitness know-how? As soon as you can isolate your weakness, you can make steps to improve the situation.
  14. Start Small – Trying to run fifteen miles your first workout isn’t a good way to build a habit. Work below your capacity for the first few weeks to build the habit. Otherwise you might scare yourself off after a brutal workout.
  15. Go for Yourself, Not to Impress – Going to the gym with the only goal of looking great is like starting a business with only the goal to make money. The effort can’t justify the results. But if you go to the gym to push yourself, gain energy and have a good time, then you can keep going even when results are slow.

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