Why is this? Because it’s uncomfortable (to say the least) when we’re less than perfect and to guard against that discomfort we continue to aim for perfection. It’s a vicious cycle and a pointless one at that. We can never be perfect and we will always, in one way or another, fail to meet our high standards. So instead of aiming for perfection, which is impossible, why not aim for something a little more realistic?
The idea of good enough came originally from a psychoanalyst named Donald Winnicott. In his practice, he saw a lot of parents struggling great sadness because they often felt like they were failing their children. In no way were these parents getting anything majorly wrong, their discomfort was down to the fact that they were trying to be perfect and could never quite get there. If you’re a parent this is probably familiar territory. Winnicott developed his phrase “the good enough parent” to ease his client’s discomfort and help them realize that children don’t need perfect parents. Good enough was more than good enough and in sharing this principle with his clients, Winnicott gave them permission to move away from the counterproductive and often damaging ideal of perfectionism.
Now, this idea isn’t just important for parents, it’s important for everyone. At work, at home, in relationships with others and in the relationship we have with ourselves. Being good enough isn’t about settling for second best forever. It’s not about minimizing the effort we put in or being blasé because everything will probably be fine. It’s about recognizing that our efforts and intentions are often good enough and that we can aim for our best and don’t have to hold ourselves to the impossible standard of perfection.
In conversation with clients who are stuck on something being less than perfect I often ask: “So, it wasn’t perfect, but was it good enough?” They often reply with something along the lines of: “Yes, but it wasn’t up to my standard.” That usually gets us into a dialogue about their standards and how they are often a hindrance in work and life rather than a help. Aiming to do our best instead of aiming for perfection is often a far more helpful approach. It may only mean a subtle shift in the work you do and the effort you put in but the real shift is in your mindset and approach.
It gives you space to enjoy what you're doing because you're not beating yourself with a stick to get it done perfectly. It also offers you the chance to have a kinder dialogue with yourself instead of a harsh and punitive one. You're also more likely to beat procrastination with this mindset as when you're aiming for perfection it can be hard to get started. Perfection is often the biggest feeder of procrastination. It’ll take some bravery to make this shift though, as perfectionism is a deceptive but nevertheless appealing comfort blanket. But consider taking it off. It’s the only way to break the cycle and develop your ability to give things your best shot and be okay when they aren’t exactly as you would like them to be.
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