The Plague of Perfectionism: Good Enough Should Be Good Enough

Perfectionism: When is Good Enough, Good Enough

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:

  1.  We establish a goal
  2.  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.
  3.  We reset the goal
  4.  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.
  5.  Repeat process
  6.  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.”

Is your internal “good enough meter” malfunctioning? Grab you free 7-day guided meditation:

Project111Dr. Ines K. Roe has been helping women in transition rediscover themselves for over 20 years. If you’ve been feeling unfulfilled, are frustrated with your sense of accomplishment in midlife, or simply need guidance on your path to holistic well being, join her e-courses.

By |2016-10-18T00:33:18+00:00October 20th, 2014|Emotions|45 Comments


  1. Lisa @ Grandma's Briefs October 20, 2014 at 2:07 pm - Reply

    Great advice. It took me a while to realize that DONE truly is better than PERFECT, but I now fully ascribe to that, whether it applies to blogging, writing or housework. (And cooking, too!)

    • Ines October 21, 2014 at 12:56 am - Reply

      Lisa – Done is better than Perfect is a fantastic way to live at is is great that you have been able to incorporate that into your life. I am sure your life has become less stressful as a result.

  2. Carol Cassara October 20, 2014 at 2:18 pm - Reply

    I agree about good enough. I’ve never been a total perfectionist, thankfully, but there are plenty of them in my circle and I’ve seen what it does to them in terms of stress. No way.

    • Ines October 21, 2014 at 12:55 am - Reply

      Carol – That is terrific that you have been able to avoid the trap. As you say there are many women (in particular) who struggle with that curse. It is fantastic that you have been able to say – “no way”

  3. Stacia Fernandez October 20, 2014 at 3:41 pm - Reply

    Interesting! I waited so long for perfect that I had a hard time finishing anything. I have been taking this advice and now have a name for it! Thank you!

    • Ines October 21, 2014 at 12:53 am - Reply

      Stacia – I am glad you found it helpful – yes – perfect can so get into our way of finishing anything.

  4. Ellen Dolgen October 20, 2014 at 4:40 pm - Reply

    Great tips here! As women, we expect so much from ourselves. It took me years to find “my good enough” meter. I am able to celebrate me more now!

    • Ines October 21, 2014 at 12:52 am - Reply

      Ellen – I am so glad for you that you have been able to fix your “good enough meter” – that is an accomplishment.

  5. Ruth Curran October 20, 2014 at 5:51 pm - Reply

    Oh, I have such struggles with “good enough” when I do just about everything. No problems advising others to do so but rarely take my own advise! Great tips Ines!

    • Ines October 21, 2014 at 12:51 am - Reply

      Ruth – I know, accepting “good enough” is rough. I try hard to take in those words that “good enough really means good enough.” I am glad to see that I am not the only one that struggles with this.

  6. Lois Alter Mark October 20, 2014 at 6:08 pm - Reply

    I have been living by the “done is better than perfect” philosophy for years now, and it has totally changed my life. I get more done and I actually achieve more of my goals — not perfectly but good enough!

    • Ines October 21, 2014 at 12:49 am - Reply

      Lois – I love the “done is better than perfect” view of life. I too try hard to live that way. I agree that this is a good way to get more goals met. I have to admit though that sometimes that perfectionist in me pushes her way forward even if I try to hold her back. I have to keep reminding her the philosophy you point out.

  7. Kim Tackett October 20, 2014 at 6:50 pm - Reply

    I agree about perfection as the enemy of good. However, I do think there is a case for going the extra mile, when it matters. And sometimes it only matters to me…and sometimes that is good enough. : )

    • Ines October 21, 2014 at 12:45 am - Reply

      Kim – I like your point that it is sometimes important to go the extra mile and that this has to be important to us and that this has to be “good enough” even if it is just for us

  8. Helene Cohen Bludman October 20, 2014 at 9:06 pm - Reply

    This makes a lot of sense to me. Like many people, I berate myself if something isn’t done to perfection. And what good does that do? I’m going to remember this 80/20 rule from now on.

    • Ines October 21, 2014 at 12:43 am - Reply

      Helen – I am glad you too can identify with it and that the 80/20 rule can be valuable to you in dealing with perfectionism

  9. Donna October 21, 2014 at 2:21 am - Reply

    I labored with perfectionism until I almost went insane. Literally. Now I cringe when I see the word. Thank you for doing what you can to help us all. 80/20? I will have to work hard on that

    • Ines October 21, 2014 at 3:19 am - Reply

      Donna- Thank you so much for sharing. I know from experience how hard it is to suffer with the plauge of perfectionism. It sound like things are better for you know and I hope the 80/20 concept helps.

  10. WendysHat October 21, 2014 at 6:46 am - Reply

    Sounds GOOD enough to me! I had never heard of this principle before but it makes sense. Luckily I do not have that perfectionism issue but live with people who do. Great thoughts here.

    • Ines October 21, 2014 at 11:29 am - Reply

      Wendy – wonderful for you that you have been able to avoid this trap. Hope this insight can help you make a difference for the people in your life.

  11. Meryl Hershey Beck October 22, 2014 at 2:22 pm - Reply

    Great post. I agree “good enough” should be just that. Once we know we have done our best we need to let go and accept that we did good enough and praise ourselves for work well done instead of how we could have done better.

    • Ines October 24, 2014 at 12:01 am - Reply

      Meryl – Thank you for the feedback. I so agree that the final component has to be the praising ourselves for well done rather than ruminating about doing better.

  12. Roslyn Tanner Evans October 22, 2014 at 3:57 pm - Reply

    How forunate for me that I am not a perfectionist. Sometimes wish I paid closer attention to deails, typos, etc. More important to me to get projects done than to do it to someone elses standards or never feel satisfied.

    • Ines October 24, 2014 at 12:03 am - Reply

      Roslyn, it is great that you have been able to avoid that trap. I think you point out that it is important to keep our eye on the truly important and not obsess about the “small stuff.”

  13. Dru Weems October 22, 2014 at 2:15 pm - Reply

    Ines – I like the part where you say, 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. That makes sense to me, instead of worrying about the 80% , focus on the 20% that makes a difference even if it’s a smaller portion. Great advice Ines!

    • Ines October 23, 2014 at 11:59 pm - Reply

      Dru – I am glad you found the ideas useful. I am using that 20% solution and finding that it does work when I accept that “good enough is good enough.”

  14. Tina October 22, 2014 at 7:51 pm - Reply

    What great advice! My husband was a perfectionist and it was impossible to please him. Absolutely impossible. One day he woke up to a sign that said “Wife on Strike”!! That woke him up for a short time!! It’s very difficult to live with a perfectionist.

    • Ines October 24, 2014 at 12:05 am - Reply

      Tina, that is wonderful that you were able to be assertive and establish your boundaries. Yes perfectionism is tough on us and very tough when we try to meet the expectations of a perfectionist other.

  15. Beverley Golden October 22, 2014 at 11:10 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the wonderful reminder to honour ourselves for the “good enough” achievements we do accomplish, Ines. I’ve been challenged by what I call “self perfectionism” since an early age and it has certainly created enough physical health issues that I realize aiming for perfect all the time, is often a recipe for disappointment and self doubt. Appreciate the stats that go along to support this one too!

    • Ines October 24, 2014 at 12:07 am - Reply

      Beverly – you make a wonderful point about the cost of perfectionism not only on our psyche but also on a physical health as a result of the stress that perfectionism can impose. Than you for this reminder.

  16. Veronica October 23, 2014 at 1:41 am - Reply

    I am so not a perfectionist. While I try to do everything to the best of my ability and I believe in always putting out quality work, I am also realistic to know that nothing is perfect.

    • Ines October 24, 2014 at 12:08 am - Reply

      Veronica – That is the “perfect” (ha ha) attitude to have!!

  17. MamaRed October 23, 2014 at 12:18 pm - Reply

    Oh my darlin, are you running around inside my head? This is, well was, the script I ran for most of my life. Recalibrating the “never good enough” meter was a lightbulb moment for me. Great visual-without-a-visual!

    It took me a lot of years to realize that yes, I wanted to be known for quality work. Good enough. Yet underlying it all was my fear of not being enough or being a “fraud” or something other thing. Realizing that was the start of my recalibration! Your article is the next big step.

    Thanks oodles

    • Ines October 24, 2014 at 12:14 am - Reply

      MamaRed – Thank you so much for your feedback. I am glad the blog resonated with you. Us perfectionists often struggle with the “impostor syndrome” and the fear that somebody will discover it and “out” us – I am glad that we can recognize that this is a self imposed sentence.

  18. Heather Cameron October 25, 2014 at 2:24 am - Reply

    Great advice, both for what you are doing and what others are doing for you. “Is it good enough?” is a question I taught many people in leadership roles. It doesn’t have to be your role it has to be good enough for the requirements.

    • Ines October 25, 2014 at 11:57 am - Reply

      Thank you for your comments and I am glad to hear that you are helping people to accept themselves and their efforts to recognize when they are good enough to meet their own or external requirements

  19. Pat Moon October 25, 2014 at 3:12 pm - Reply

    At times there seems to be a fine line between seeking to be perfect and doing my very best possible. It can get confusing. Is going the extra mile to do your best the same as seeking to be perfect? My husband has often been accused of being a perfectionist. He says “No.” He says he just needs to do his best to make whatever he is working on, work as it should work. He is good at building things and measures to the 32nd or 64th of an inch. As I have worked along side him, I have seen first hand how that makes such a difference in the end. Being off a 64th of an inch in the foundation or beginning can grow to be off an inch or even a foot in the end. If you are building a house or a room that does not have square corners, it is not good. To me, being perfect is ending up with a project that functions as it is supposed to function.

    • Ines October 25, 2014 at 7:20 pm - Reply

      Pat I so agree with the principle of what you are saying. Attention to detail is critical. Don’t they say “the devil is in the detail” – what that had meant to me is that if you don’t pay attention to the detail in can all “go to hell in hand-basket.” (Boy I am full if idioms today!). The point that you are making is that attention to detail is so important and a critical element of being “good enough.”

  20. Barbara Keen October 26, 2014 at 6:09 pm - Reply

    Great Tips and Advice Ines! I always try to do my best in what every I do in life. I am a perfectionist at times with certain things. It has to be done a certain way. So at times my family tries to help and they feel like it is never done to my perfection. I am trying to work on this and just go with the flow. I just can’t keep up at times with everything so I need the help with what ever it maybe. Thanks for sharing this great post!

    • Ines October 27, 2014 at 12:38 am - Reply

      Thanks Barbara – I think it is important to do our best in everything we do – that should be the measure – not some arbritary Perfectionism. I am glad you have devleoped the “go with the flow” mind set – it is something that can bring sanity to our lives

  21. Debbie Shelor October 26, 2014 at 10:52 pm - Reply

    I used to run the whole perfectionist thing. Thank heavens I got over it. As an engineer, I’ve been applying and sharing the Pareto principle for what seems like forever. I recommend it for everything. Great post.

    • Ines October 27, 2014 at 12:41 am - Reply

      Debbie – That is wonderful that you have been able to overcome the perfectionist thing – it is such a trap. I am thrilled to heaar that you too share the Pareto principle and I appreciate you sharing this here.

  22. A. Lynn Jesus October 27, 2014 at 12:06 am - Reply

    I love your term “good enough meter.” That’s great. What an awesome post! Perfection is a myth. But good enough gets gifts into the world to people who are waiting for them. Good enough keeps movement going. Thanks for sharing this!

    • Ines October 27, 2014 at 12:43 am - Reply

      Lynn – I glad the “good enough meter” idea resonated with you. It is so true that perfection is a myth and that good enough “keeps movement going” – I like that – thanks for pointing this out.

  23. Norma Doiron @Savvy Biz Solutions October 29, 2014 at 7:44 pm - Reply

    I was working at a dental office at the time, and I learned how being the perfectionist that I am can actually be a hindrance. It took way to long to get things done, and I really cut back on perfection and began getting great instead. Was a powerful lesson!

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