Good Enough Is Good Enough

A mountain lake with a sandy beach and a small, wooden church on the edge of the beach

If at first you don’t succeed / Try, try again.

— William Edward Hickson

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

— Samuel Beckett

Do you ever put off today what you could do tomorrow, and then do the same thing the next day? And the next?

We all do, more or less. Sometimes, there really is a “right time” to do something. Other times, the adage “just do it” applies. But if we procrastinate too much, it sabotages our success and well being.

Many of my clients with struggle with procrastination.

Some never finish desired results because they fuss and fuss with the final details until they get bored and frustrated. Others never get started!

Usually, “perfectionism” underlies both kinds of failure to produce results.

The Problem with Perfection

Some would-be creators find that getting started on creating a result is all but impossible because they refuse to make mistakes. They demand their actions be perfect. They are afraid to try anything new.

This kind of ideal perfectionism is a curse. It prevents learning and change. It keeps you rooted where you are, held in place by fear and inertia.

Such perfectionism often arises out of a perception that actions are performances to be judged, rather than experiments to be tried, and learned from. Many procrastinators stall or quit because they believe they must perform perfectly—at all times.

Albert Ellis, founder Rational Emotive Therapy (a precursor to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) stated that “musturbating” was one of the main causes, not only of inaction, but also of anxiety and depression.

It is fine to want to do well, but demanding that you “must” or “should” do well can get in the way of you actually doing anything.

All Or Nothing Often Leads To Nothing

Those afflicted by perfectionism are likely to think anything less than a complete and successful action is unsatisfactory.

Rather than take a step-by-step, create-and-adjust approach, they focus only on their vision of a result, and demand that they achieve it perfectly—the first time they try!

They are discouraged by the reality of a less than perfect performance. Even the thought of a less than perfect performance can put many off. Therefore, they don’t act. They don’t try again.

And if you don’t try, try again, you’re not likely to produce the result you want.

I find that most people’s procrastination arises from those idealistic “shoulds” of perfectionism, that nasty fear of a less-than-perfect performance, and the mistaken notion that success in creating results is an all-or-nothing prospect.

The Road to Good Always Runs Through Better

A client came to me for personal life coaching because, among other things, she wanted to be a “great” guitar player.

Nothing less would satisfy her, she told me. He father had taught her “if you’re not willing to be great at something, don’t bother.”

She was stuck because she couldn’t face the failure she felt when she actually tried to play.

Part of her difficulty arose because she lived in a co-op house with several music students. Two were exceptional guitar players. She was inspired by their virtuosity, but also intimidated.

Every time she picked up a guitar, she was struck by the gap between her current ability and her demand that she be “great.”

She wasn’t great, so, in her mind, she judged herself as “bad.” She couldn’t live with “bad,” so she’d quit. Later, she become inspired and want to try again, but the same pattern played out.

Then she met a man she liked who played in a country-folk band. He had no formal music training, but played well enough to make a living at it. He showed her how to play a melodic folk song she liked using three simple chords. With a little practice and his gentle coaching, she could soon play the song and sing along while she played.

“That’s great!” I said.

“No!” she said. “Now I’m really confused. So I can play a song on the guitar, but I’m still not good, let alone great.”

What, she wondered, was she?

One day, while she was practicing other songs that her new friend had shown her, it hit her — she was better! She’d been a bad guitar player (in her mind) but now she was better.

From that day on, she stopped criticizing herself for not being good or great, and focused on doing what it took to get even better.

The road from where we are to where we want to be almost always runs through “better.”

And for most successful people, the end of that road is “good enough.”

A good enough walkway made of wooden planks and slats cuts through sea side vegetation to the beach

How Do You Define “Good Enough?”

The “good enough approach owes much to Donald Winnicott, a UK psychologist. He found that many parents felt like failures because they feared what they were doing for their children was not perfect.

Winnicot came up with the “good enough parent” approach to help such parents escape from the dangerous perfectionist ideal they’d been imposing on themselves.

Now, the concept is applied widely in life, work, business and other areas.

Most people don’t want to spend time, energy and resources on getting the highest fidelity sound from their music system. For them, the compressed, lo-fi sound of their MP3 player is good enough.

Elite sprinters run faster practice times when they aim to give it 85%. When urged to give 100%, their muscles tighten and they run slower times. Eighty-five percent seems to be good enough for success.

Many couples live happily ever after in good enough relationships, rather than struggling to find or create the “perfect” one.

Adopting a good enough approach can help would-be creators rise above mistakes and failures, try again, and persist until they succeed at the level they want to succeed at.

In A Life Design Creating Approach There Is No Failure

I recommended that my client specify what she meant by good and better. I urged her to craft a clear and compelling vision of the kind and quality of guitar player she wanted to be.

She decided she really wanted to be “good enough to play folk and country songs, and jam with friends at parties.”

Getting clear about her reasons dispelled the intimidation she’d felt when she compared herself to her musician housemates. She established her own vision and took steps to move toward it.

She also set standards for herself that helped her measure “better,” as she progressed toward her vision of “good.”

Becoming successful at anything that matters to you is a step-by-step learning process. You rarely learn something new without mistakes and setbacks. If you try to make an all or nothing leap, too often you end up with nothing.

If you define mistakes as “failure,” you’ll stop yourself dead in your tracks.

However, if you simply see failure as feedback, as an opportunity for learning and a step toward progress, you can, with patience, perseverance, and plenty of practice, produce the results you want.

In the creating process, there is no failure, only feedback!

The Power Of “Yet”

One good way to overcome procrastination caused by fear that you aren’t good enough is simply to add “yet” to the end of your sentence.

“I’m not good enough, yet.”

By adding “yet,” you turn a fear-inducing judgment into a neutral observation of your reality.

When coupled with your vision of being good at whatever, this emotionally neutral description of reality can give rise to “creative tension,” and the energy needed to get started, stay on track, and follow through to completion.

So it seems the secret to success is, as Beckett said, “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Bonus: A Short, Funny Vid On Procrastination

WARNING: watching the video might cause you spit coffee on your phone or other device.

Bruce Elkin

Life Design Coach. Personal Life Coach. 25 years experience. Clients on 6 continents. Author of 5 books and ebooks. Cares about the Earth and living in harmony with its natural systems.