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The Case For Being Good Enough

June 7, 2018


Interesting Thought: The Case For Being Good Enough


It's better to try to be great at being consistent than to try to be consistently great. Why? Because being consistently great is really, really hard. Especially over the long haul.


Take a moment to reflect on an ongoing process that you're involved in. It could be anything, really—from parenting, to coaching, to running, to managing, to teaching, to writing, to making music or art. It could even be something like storytelling in PowerPoint or modeling in Excel.


Now think about how often you're great. The really on top of your game, everything clicking, firing on all cylinders kind of great. Also think about the effort-level, focus, and presence of mind-body that kind of perfect performance demands.


Is that a reasonable expectation to set? Or is it setting you up for a few really good days but a lot of failed ones? Perfect is so enticing, especially when you've experienced it, when you know it's possible. But that doesn't mean it's probable.


Being perfect every once in a while and internalizing it as an ongoing expectation is a surefire way to lose motivation, experience anxiety, and flame out. Setting perfect as the bar rarely leads to your best performance—or your best life.


Some simple math makes this clear.


Let's say that it's reasonable to be about 80 percent "on it" 90 percent of the time: 0.8 x 0.9 = .72. That's a lot better than being perfect, or 100 percent, only 40, or even 50, percent of the time: 1.0 x 0.4 = 0.4 and 1.0 x 0.5 = 0.5.


For most people in most endeavors, especially in those that unfold over time, it's better to aim for good enough rather than great. Good enough is a lot more probable than great. Good enough is a lot less angstful than great. And, the reality is, good enough over and again is actually how you become great to begin with.


Coaching Corner: Overcoming Fear of Failure


When we were young and just figuring out relationships, there was always that individual who was constantly in a relationship. A breakup occurs, and before they have time for any painful breakup rituals or commiseration, they’ve already found a new partner; someone to fill the void.


This isn’t necessarily a good thing or a bad thing. Either way can be argued as the right way. So there shouldn't really be any moral judgment on this kind of behavior. But an interesting question to ask is what’s the underlying driver?


Philosopher Alain de Botton would probably argue that, for many of these individuals who cycle in and out of relationships, the driver is fear, not love. As he stated in a discussion of singlehood versus relationships, “Only once singlehood has completely equal prestige with its alternative can we ensure that people will be free in their choices and hence join couples for the right reasons: because they love another person, rather than because they are terrified of remaining single.” And when the underlying driver is fear, and not love, the pattern likely continues. A fear of being alone can lead to many relationships, but the success of those are not as likely to last as if the driver for being in a relationship is coming from a place of love.


When it comes to performance in just about any endeavor, the same principle holds true. In the world of performance, the fear is not of being alone, but of failing. If your motivation comes from such a place, it can seem quite easy to ignite a spectacular flame. The fear of failure can be so strong that it will push you to accomplish more than you thought possible.


But, like in relationships, it comes with a cost. Performance driven by fear burns bright but fades quickly. There’s only so many times that you can dig into the fear well to get things done before the resource is exhausted. You can only hold off the war with anxiety -- What if I fail? What if I can’t pull it off this time? -- for so long before it begins to win the battle. In athletes competing in a variety of sports, a fear of failure is linked to higher rates of burnout.


If, on the other hand, you choose love as your motivator, you are developing something that is long lasting and can grow. You stop relying on an overtaxed stress and threat response system that sends a plethora of catabolic hormones screaming through your body, and instead come at your sport from a place of joy and excitement. The nerves are different. You know if you fail, while disappointing, it will not define you. That you are still on the path towards growth and development.


It’s not to say that you will never or should never use fear as a driver. It’s a powerful motivator that has stuck around for millennia for an important reason: it works. But, your primary motivator has got to be more sustainable. Something that you can reliably fall back on and inhabit during times of uncertainty. And that driver is love.


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