Why “The Perfect Is the Enemy of the Good” and What You Can Do About It
Genesis 1:31 tells us that when God created the world, he looked upon what he had done and declared that it was “good.” Notice he didn’t say it was perfect. Just very good.
How often do you look over your day and pronounce it “good?” Or do you let the little bits of unfinished business eat away at you? Do you wish you had done a better job of that report, or that open house? Do you procrastinate about calling potential clients because you’re not perfectly articulate on the phone?
Let’s recognize that perfect is not a reasonable goal and stop Perfectionism right in his tracks. Here are four key strategies for getting over the perfectionism problem.
- Remind yourself
- Leave well enough alone
- Expect the unexpected
- Judge not
#1: Remind yourself. This tactic can be applied in two different ways. First of all, when you’re feeling caught in the perfectionism trap, remind yourself of all that you HAVE accomplished. If perfectionism is a significant roadblock for you, do this daily. Make a list of everything you’ve accomplished. Even small things, like skipping dessert at lunch time if you’re trying to lose weight, or spending 30 minutes at the gym when you intended to spend an hour. Starting your blog, even if you didn’t finish it. Tomorrow is another day.
The second use of reminders takes a tip from an old psychologist friend of mine. We were discussing the perfectionism problem one day and he shared an idea he had – make a sign and hang it over your desk. The sign says:
Good Enough Is.
Don’t worry about making the sign perfect. You can print it out on your computer, draw a picture, scribble it on cardboard, or decorate it with stickers—but do it NOW. Don’t wait to be inspired.
#2: Leave well enough alone. This probably should say “Leave other people alone.” Resist the temptation to reset the dining room table after your kids have put the forks in the wrong place. Don’t offer to critique a co-worker’s report because you know you could have done a better job. Let your client get her home staged for the open house and don’t come along behind her and start moving the furniture or rearranging the flowers.
#3: Expect the unexpected. Disasters will strike, so it’s always a good idea to have a Plan B, just in case. Since you know things sometimes fall apart at the last minute, anticipate it and be prepared. Have an extra set of documents ready for closing, in case someone forgets theirs. If you’re nervous about a listing conference with a cantankerous client, wear the power tie that makes you feel like the Chairman of the Board. You won’t be perfect in these situations, but you will definitely be “good enough.”
#4: Judge not. The truth is, you are being judged all the time, and usually by the ultimate critic—yourself. You set impossibly high standards and then get to beat yourself up when you fail to meet them. Do you know that most people don’t set goals because they are afraid of not accomplishing them? So if you set a goal to increase your sales by 10% and you only increase them by 7%, have you failed? Absolutely not! You’re 7% ahead of where you were last year. If you set a goal to lose 25 pounds and you only lose 15, have you failed? Of course not—you’re 15 pounds lighter than you used to be. You’re not perfect, but you’re good enough.
Accepting “good enough” doesn’t mean settling for mediocrity. There is always room for improvement, even after a project is launched or a negotiation has begun. There’s always a chance to learn something so you can do it better next time. Accepting “good enough” simply means that you refuse to let perfectionism get in the way of your accomplishment—or worse, stop you from doing anything at all.
When someone asked famed cellist Pablo Cassals why he continued to practice at the age of 90, he smiled and said, “Because I think I’m improving.” Cassals knew that good enough was good enough, as long as he kept trying to do better. You should too.