Is Good Enough Good Enough?

Last week we looked at the phenomenon of the Imposter Syndrome that affects so many of us. The Centre’s London-based therapist, Teyhou Smyth, had some good advice in her article and she follows it on today by examining the concept of “good enough”. If you feel that you, or your work or other efforts, are never “good enough”, perhaps you can find a new way of looking at life explained in this post. Remember never to let things fester or to bottle up your feelings – talk to somebody today.

Some days, we work harder than others. It’s human nature. There are some tasks and responsibilities that simply don’t require perfection, and we rise to the occasion and do the “good enough.” And then there’s that looming task that is super important and we lock in on that and give it everything we have to do it well.

The conflict lies in those times when, in spite of our best intentions, we don’t have the energy or ability to give an important task our very best efforts.

Sometimes we fail to meet a standard of excellence, again, human nature. We even have a cliche for that; “you can’t win them all.”

What happens when we consistently fail to reach toward excellence and become stuck in “good enough” mode? Good enough can become a mindset, just as much as a ridiculously high expectation of oneself to be perfect. Often, the ‘Good Enough’ mindset accompanies feelings of stress, anxiety or depression.

When over burdened by life, the good enough mindset can become the default mode; it can feel like a alternative solution to abdicating all responsibility (which may be tempting). Good enough mindset allows for squeaking by on the bare minimum of effort and energy required.

It may be tempting to liken this mindset with laziness, but that wouldn’t be fair. Often those who end up in good enough mode are there because of being over zealous to begin with; perhaps they took on too many tasks, or said “yes” when “no” would have been more reasonable for their own wellbeing. More likely than not, when an over zealous person takes on too many responsibilities and ends up in good enough mode, they will be their own worst critic anyway, so outside judgment is superfluous.

The danger zone with the good enough mindset lies within the shifting standard of expectation.

If there is a sense of being overburdened, the standard can continue to shift into a downward spiral in which good enough actually isn’t good enough. If depression is on board, it can result in decreased energy and loss of interest in doing things. A depressed person in good enough mode may struggle just to get out of bed or attend to basic tasks; good enough in this situation varies tremendously from that of a non-depressed person. It’s kind of like apples and oranges in a sense.

Someone who isn’t depressed who becomes stuck in good enough mode may find that the path of least resistance is tempting to pursue on a regular basis. This can be a comfy place to stay, even though it’s not very satisfying in the long run. There is something insidious about lowering your own expectations of self; it’s worse than failing to meet someone else’s standard, because, at the end of the day, your relationship with you is the most permanent one you have.

While it doesn’t feel good to let down your boss, professor or partner, it doesn’t have the same lasting effect as disappointing yourself.

If not kept in check, lowering one’s own standards can have devastating effects on self esteem. Good enough mode can translate from performance-based tasks into more significant areas of life such as settling for a “good enough” relationship or job; it can merge into self care and deciding that eating junk food at every meal is “good enough.” There is a subtle, underlying negative self-evaluation in these ideas; this little voice that says, “that’s good enough for me. I don’t deserve more.”

Be very careful and compassionate with these thoughts, as they probably stem from a deeper place of pain. Challenge those thoughts and talk to them as if you were talking to a friend; don’t you deserve excellence, better care and self love? You’re the only you you’ve got. Maybe ‘good enough’ isn’t worthy of you after all.

When Is It Enough?

“Good enough” should have to pass through certain criteria before being accepted as the standard in any given situation. Sometimes when we allow our emotions to make that decision, we end up choosing based on what we feel in the moment, and that isn’t always the best choice.

Your values play into what you consider good enough or “excellence worthy.” What is important to you in your life? If a particular task ties into your values, it is more likely deserving of your excellence. For example, if you are a person who values being on time, it may not feel “good enough” to arrive twenty minutes late to a lunch date with a friend. If you value “a job well done,” completing a thorough review at work would likely be worthy of your excellence.

Repetitive, mindless tasks may fall into the “good enough” category.

If the task at hand doesn’t directly impact anyone, and if just completing it is the important part, by all means, do a ‘good enough’ job! Who cares if your desk is impeccably organized and spotless, as long as you can get your work done and find what you need when you need it. Good enough.

The card you’ve been meaning to send to your aunt? If you’re value is writing the perfect sentiment, that may require more thought and attention to detail. If your value is letting a loved one know you are thinking of her, no matter what you write, your intention and value is being honored by the act of just doing it.

The important distinction between good enough and a higher standard of excellence lies in the intention. So often in our busy lives we are in a reactionary mode.

This is like treating a sunburn after the fact rather than putting on sunscreen before going out; we are responding to what life throws at us rather than proactively using our intentions to point our lives in a certain direction. Most of us do this; we have to react to the unexpected parts of life because that is what is in front of us and demands our attention. Many times this forces us into “good enough” mode, especially when responsibilities increase and energy is in short supply. The crazy-busy times of life are when it is most important to differentiate between what is good enough and what requires excellence.

Prioritizing in these moments can result in a feeling of empowerment and self-efficacy.

You may conclude that a task can be delegated or postponed, or conversely, that it is the most important thing on your agenda and demands your full attention to detail. As you commit to your values and offering your best where it belongs, you may also find that sorting these tasks becomes easier and more transparent. Does that sound good enough? Excellent.

[This blog post originally appeared on Teyhou’s website]

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