Let go of the need for perfection

Every month, Martha Roberts invites you to road-test research around feeling good, and this month it's how to cultivate a 'good enough' philosophy


Let go of the need for perfection

The project

Always striving to be the best can drag you down, whereas cultivating a ‘good enough’ philosophy may increase your happiness.

The aim

In the West, we often focus on perfection and ambition as a gold standard to leading a happy life. However, experts suggest that embracing the concept that we might fail can make us even more contented.

The theory

Research has shown that striving to be excellent may actually be your great undoing, while being ‘good enough’ may help you find happiness. In a 2012 study, Timothy Judge, professor of management at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, said ambition can help you achieve success, but this may not make you happy in the long run. In fact, he found that less-driven people were happier. He also found that if ambition failed to translate into career success, ambitious people were more likely to die before less driven people.

Professor Judge says this may be because ambitious people experience a constant sense of dissatisfaction. ‘If you have the highest goals in the world, you’ll always fall short,’ he says.

In 2011, authors of Good Enough Is The New Perfect: Finding Happiness And Success In Modern Motherhood (Harlequin, £7.99) Becky Beaupre Gillespie and Holly Schwartz Temple carried out a survey that discovered women who said, ‘Being the best isn’t important; I try to be good enough and happy’ felt better about their ability to connect with spouses, were better able to find time for themselves, family and friends, and had greater overall success.

Try it out

  • Beware of PR ‘highlight reels’. People are good at giving you the edited highlights of what’s going on in their lives. But in all likelihood, there will be lots of not-so-good stuff that they don’t want you to know about.
  • Change your language. Listen to how you describe your mistakes. It may be that you use the word ‘failure’ to describe the tiniest error. Instead, refer to your errors as ‘learning opportunities’. Rather than say, ‘I’ve failed’, try saying, ‘I’ve made a mistake, but I’ve learned what to do next time.’ Keep a note of these ‘learning opportunities’ over the next month.
  • Imagine how you’d speak to a friend – and be kind to yourself. When you start to feel you’re beating yourself up about something, imagine that a friend is telling you your story and be as kind to yourself as you would be towards them in the same situation.

MARTHA ROBERTS is an award-winning UK health writer and mental health blogger at mentalhealthwise.com