What needs to have happened in your life so that you will admit at long last to being good enough to satisfy your own harsh standards?
Good Enough (Audio)
When is a performance good enough? Does it have to be “perfect”? Where does excellence fit into these questions? Does “good enough” often feature as a question in your mind? When am I “good enough”? And when am I not? These are some of the questions I want to deal with today.
Striving for excellence or perfection can be a good thing if our aim is to constantly improve our quality. However striving for excellence or perfection is not OK if it results in our “putting ourselves down” if we don’t meet the targets we set.
Perfection can defined as being complete – nothing could be better. Excellence can defined as quality so good that it sets or surpasses the standard.
I have learned that a lot of people struggle with some of these. Many of us allow doubt to creep in from time to time and wonder whether “we are up to it”, whatever “it” is.
Please allow me to quote from Andre Agassi’s autobiography “Open”. In one of his many “troughs”, is coach Brad Gilbert is telling him: “your problem is perfectionism. You always try to be perfect, and you always fall short, and it messes with your head. Your confidence is shot, and perfectionism is the reason. You try to hit a winner every ball, when just being steady, consistent, meat and potatoes would be enough to win 90% of the time“. It was reading that paragraph that inspired me to write this blog.
We all know such perfectionists, don’t we? We sometimes see it in our children, and notice that they only try something when they are “assured” of the desired outcome. Conversely, they are seen to lack confidence because when they feel that they can’t achieve a perfect outcome, they rather not have a go at all. That way they can’t fail, and they still feel good about themselves.
Please appreciate how powerful a driver this often unconscious approach is for all of us.
Ironically, if the fear of “getting it wrong” can become so great a factor, that they hardly ever have a go, then they could quite rightly ask themselves why they are considered such a perfectionist. Circular equation, right?
I have learned that perfectionists can “beat themselves up” when they have a go and fail. They can extend the berating words from the “error” to themselves. Instead of saying: “that approach or result was no good” they infer in their self talk that: “I’m no good”. In time that can become a self fulfilling prophecy. – An unconscious belief.
Think about the adults around you that might display such tendencies. They often transcend childhood and are still as prevalent as adults, right? I’m going to challenge you now to consider where and when and how that may even still be true for yourself today. Don’t we all do that from time to time?
Having a go
We have spoken many times in the past about us allowing the “left brain mind chatter” to get in the way of us “having a go” because its job is to “keep us and our ego safe”. Preventing failure is one of those strategies. That may be true whether we are perfectionists or not, correct?
In my work as a coach I frequently encounter procrastination. In my blog Procrastination I suggested that to do a task we need to:
- believe that we can do it lest we wouldn’t commit to it if we didn’t.
- We need to believe it is worth doing, be prepared to put in the necessary preparation and practice,
- and also that we deserved its results.
To me convincing ourselves with the right self talk into believing that we can do it is the key. Remember Henry Ford’s quip: “whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re dead right”?
So perhaps there is an interim step? In my blog Confidence, Certainty and Doubt I spoke about as a professional we can choose to act with certainty, even when feeling a lack of confidence, and that in time that will manifest in confidence.
The 80 / 20 rule
This age old law, also called “the law of the vital few” stems from Vilfredo Pareto who in the early 1900’s recognized for example that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the people. This concept is used extensively in business today where we recognize that typically 80% of revenue is often generated by 20% of organizations clients. There are so many more examples.
I remember in my previous corporate organization that the accounting community would sometimes “lock horns” with the engineering community. Engineers are trained towards “complete” solutions as the word perfect implies, whilst accountants believe that 80% is often commercially “good enough”. The investment or costs that the last 20% requires over and above the 80% solution are often difficult to justify. Just like the Agassi example mentioned before.
And so I believe that to be transferable to many situations. It has become one of the “sanity check filters” I am known to use, always trying to look for the 20% that creates 80% of the momentum or outcome.
What I have observed is that we are our own harshest critics, and that we are the ones that beat ourselves up more often and far worse than anyone else, right? We set our own standards and we set our own measures. And all too often, thinking that perfection and performance is expected of us, we set them far too high.
What if we were to practice Using “the Gap” to reframe yourself, stand back and ask ourselves what external standards or measures we could use that might give those outcomes some different insights? We might ask ourselves who we know that does this well, and look at how they do it so well. And then, without falling into the trap of what I described in my blog Compared to what? ask what we can learn from that and then start to use it ourselves?
For example, if I wanted to lose weight and had a go and failed. Looking for someone that did that successfully could help me understand what they did right and how they overcame the things I “did wrong” and thus give me the courage to try again. Would you agree with me that this might work a whole lot more successfully than “beating myself up”?
So if this is something that you struggle with, could you start by asking the question: “if I knew that an 80% solution would be good enough, would I have a go?” And if it didn’t turn out as well as I expected, could I refrain from “beating myself up” for the 20 % that didn’t work by suggesting to myself: “yep, I knew there was a 20% chance of this happening – it’s OK to focus on the 80% that did work”?
If you acknowledge to yourself that you are a bit of a perfectionist, instead of setting goals that “build Rome in a day”, why not tackle it in small steps and set small achievable goals, the achievement of each of which takes you on your road to achieving the “big picture” you want in your life’s work? Allowing yourself to applaud and encourage yourself for each win and no longer have to ask yourself in your self talk whether you “are good enough”?
As a coach with 1000’s of hours of coaching experience I know that you are “good enough” without even knowing you personally. I have learned that this is largely a matter of asking and telling yourself the right things as you go, and doing it all in small steps. I know that a coach can assist you to find the right approach for you, and once you have “learned to fish”, you can put doubting “whether you are good enough” behind you forever and go and fish to your heart’s content.
I trust this article has helped put some of that into perspective for you.
You can, you know? What if you convinced yourself that you could?