The Plague of Perfectionism: Good Enough Should Be Good Enough
We all have expectations about what we should be able to do, don’t we? Run five miles, have the perfect job, fit into certain jeans, cooking the perfect meal, writing the perfect blog (?), be the perfect, spouse, parent, grandparent or friend , find the perfect holiday gift..expectations of ourselves for a hundred big and little things.
For those of us who are considered a perfectionist it seems we are never able to get it “just right enough.” We spend a great deal of time, energy, self-esteem, sweat, and, occasionally, tears, working on something…but the elusive perfection is never achieved.
In many ways, those of us who are perfectionists set ourselves up for failure by playing a complicated psychological game with ourselves.
And I do not have to tell you how destructive this game can be:
- We establish a goal
- If we achieve it, and then we dismiss our achievement by telling ourselves that if we met the goal, it clearly wasn’t high enough; anyone could have achieved this. We set the rung on the ladder higher.
- We reset the goal
- Repeat… obviously if we achieved this goal it still wasn’t high enough, or good enough since, once again, anyone could have achieved this. So we set the rung on the ladder even higher.
- Repeat process
- Now we’ve reached a point that the goal is truly unachievable, and at that point we feel validated because we are then able to say ….” See, I knew it. I am no good. I can’t do it.”
Breaking the Perfectionism Cycle
For those of us plagued with perfectionism, our “good enough meter” is faulty. Somewhere we have learned that perfection is an achievable commodity and that we are faulty if we are unable to produce it every. single. time.
In order to cure ourselves from this plague (I include myself here) we’ll need to learn an easy numeric formula to help us re-calibrate our broken “never good enough” meter to recognize “good enough.”
The formula is called the Pareto Principle, named after the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, and it is based on the 80/20 rule. What the principle proposes is that 80 percent of the results come from 20 percent of the actions. Usually my eyes cross when I look at numbers and formulas but this one may be worth exploring further because it can have a big impact on how we function in the world.
We need to recognize that achieving absolute perfection is impossible and so, as increasing effort results in diminishing returns, further effort becomes increasingly inefficient. The more I put into achieving this goal, then, the less results I’ll see; so why reach impossibly high?
Here are how the numbers look, again:
Pareto says it takes 20% of the time to complete 80% of a task, while to complete the last 20% of a task takes 80% of the effort. The point is to realize that you can often focus your effort on the 20% that makes a difference, instead of the 80% that doesn’t add much. Aha! So, does this mean that “good enough” is achieved at 80%? And we should be ok with that and re-calibrate our “good enough meter” to 80%?
It is important to recognize that “good enough” does not mean accepting mediocrity. Good enough does not let us off the hook for doing our best. If you plan to run five miles, cook the good meal, write the good blog, be present for family and friends you still need to put in the effort to reach for that goal. But be kind to yourself in recognizing what that means – that doing your best is “good enough” even if it isn’t perfect.
Ok – I need to take my own advice. I think I have invested my 20% into this blog post and have achieved 80% of the output. If I spend more time on it I will reach diminishing returns. I have to accept my “good enough meter” and say that this is “good enough.”