By: Camillo Zacchia, Ph.D. – Psychologist
In this guest post, clinical psychologist Dr. Camillo Zacchia looks at the tendency to question whether we’re doing enough. He looks at the personality types that can get derailed by these feelings of inadequacy and offers a way forward when confronted by the sense that you’re not doing enough. Read on for Dr. Zacchia’s article on the art of good enough.
Can I do more? This question is a trap if I ever heard one.
Can I do more to help my parents? Can I do a better job on this assignment? Can I eat better? These types of questions are endless and the only answer to them is yes. The simple fact is we can always do more or do better. This means that in order to stop working on something, we have to accept this fact and just “be OK” with it. In other words, we have to accept that good enough is good enough.
But what happens to people who can’t be satisfied with good enough? Those who are unable to accept this option are going to be in trouble. The question of “can I do more?” will leave them with only two other options. The first is to be disappointed with not doing their best and the second is to try harder and keep going. But if they try harder, they are still left with the question of “can I do more?” and they’re right back to the same two options of trying harder or being disappointed. There is no alternative. For them, all roads eventually lead to disappointment.
Of course, this isn’t a big issue for most of us. The majority of people can live with good enough. They acknowledge that they can do better — after all, nobody’s perfect — but can nevertheless be satisfied with what they’ve done. No disappointment for these people. But there are others who have a much harder time letting go, and for them the question of “can I do more?” will cause significant problems and often lead to feelings of burnout. There are two groups of people who have particular difficulty letting things stand.
Some people just can’t seem to be happy until things are just right: a job that seems well done still needs refining, a good meal still needs a little something, nothing feels quite good enough. These people can sometimes be seen as perfectionists, or as picky. There is no denying the fact that their work is generally very high quality. The only problem is that they are rarely satisfied with it, even if everyone else around them is.
There is another group of individuals who are governed by excessive guilt. They are generally seen as people pleasers and are constantly doing for others. This can include trying to please bosses, coworkers, friends or members of the family. Many of them may have grown up in a home with a parent who was difficult to please or who was needy, dependent and required lots of attention and help. Since everyone around them always has needs, the guilt-ridden can’t stop. To do so would mean to disappoint others and it just isn’t in their nature to let others down.
For the perfectionist and guilt-ridden people, the question of “can I do more?” is a trap. The answer will always be yes. As a result, they will keep pushing for more and will almost always overdo things, potentially leading to burnout or complete avoidance of people or responsibilities. It’s just too much work, so they often run away and simply stop trying.
This is the self-fulfilling prophecy we often see in such people. Even though they always do very well in both quantity and quality, at some point they know it won’t be good enough so they just give up. Ironically, it confirms their belief that they aren’t “good enough” because now they really are getting nothing done.
For those who aren’t very good at letting go, the only way around this bottomless pit of disappointment is to be aware of the trap that comes with the question “can I do more?” A far more functional question is “did I do a lot?” Just look at how your raw performance numbers or indicators stack up to others in your position. Do you treat as many dossiers as your co-workers? Do you do as much for your parents as your siblings? The answer to “did I do a lot?’ is usually also yes. But at least answering yes to this question does not require you to do more.
When we know in our logical minds that we did a lot — probably more than most others would — then we have to force ourselves to stop. This may make us uncomfortable at first but like all emotions, they fade over time. If we give in to these feelings, they will strengthen. If we don’t act on them, and allow them to dissipate naturally, they will get weaker and weaker over time.
The idea of things being good but not quite good enough may make you feel uncomfortable at first but by not giving in to your urges to do more, you will eventually feel that things really are just that…good enough.
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Dr. Zacchia is a clinical psychologist specializing in the treatment of anxiety disorders, depression and interpersonal problems. He blogs at Psychospeak with Dr. Z and the Huffington Post Canada: The Ilk of Humankind.
Stay tuned for more from Dr. Zacchia as he looks at mental health in the workplace.