It’s a phrase that’s tossed around all the time when you’re looking at any form of self-improvement, whether it’s financial improvement or otherwise.
The perfect is the enemy of the good.
It’s a powerful phrase, and it has a lot of good thought behind it. If you make a mistake after a period of making positive moves, that doesn’t mean all your work is undone. It doesn’t mean you should abandon your positive progress.
There’s still a problem, though. Once you’ve allowed yourself to make a mistake, it becomes much easier to make another one. And another one.
“Well, I’m still doing well enough over all,” you might tell yourself, but soon enough you’ll look at the scale or at your checking account balance and find that your progress toward your goal has slowed to a virtual standstill.
The perfect is the enemy of the good, but “good enough” can also be an enemy.
I’ve found this idea to be true in almost every self-improvement goal I’ve set for myself. If I find myself eating without concern for health once or twice, it isn’t long before my weight progress falls apart. If I find myself buying a frivolous thing or two, it isn’t long before it becomes a pattern.
Sure, in both cases, I might still be making a small amount of overall progress, but the change slows down so much that I might as well be doing nothing – and before long, I am doing nothing.
The trick is to not kill yourself over your mistakes, but not tell yourself that your mistakes are fine, either.
There are two tactics that really work well for me for solving this problem.
One, set a splurge period in the future. For example, I know that during Thanksgiving and Christmas, I’m going to want some freedom to eat what I want. I don’t want to miss out on the things that my mother and my mother-in-law have prepared for the holiday meals.
I mark that in my head. Then, when I’m thinking about eating with reckless abandon, I think ahead to those dates and remind myself that this opportunity is coming up and that I should just wait for the really good food available then. This is often enough to convince me to curb a bad impulse.
What about encouraging a good impulse? To do that, I chain days together. I keep a little wall calendar for each positive goal that I have and whenever I manage to achieve it, I cross off that day with a big X. My goal is to chain days together, meaning that my calendar has a long row of Xs on it.
So, let’s say I’ve decided to lift weights at the gym for half an hour each day. Whenever I achieve that, I mark a big X on my calendar. Before long, that big chain of days becomes a motivation itself – I don’t want to end the chain.
If I do end up breaking the chain, I spend a lot of time focusing on trying to break my old record. I’ll push myself really hard to go the first couple of days on the new chain, then the new chain becomes somewhat self-motivating.
Both of these methods allow for mistakes, but they provide a lot of push to overcome those mistakes and keep moving towards a big goal. Limping along with something that is just “good enough” isn’t really good enough.