Consistently good enough

I came across a nice articulation of the power of “consistently good enough” in a newsletter by Brad Stulberg, a coach.

“Anyone can burn bright for a few days, weeks, months, or maybe even a year. But burning bright over the long haul requires consistency. And trying to be great all the time usually leads to illness, injury, and burnout. It also creates a lot of tension and stress.

But if you can string together a whole lot of good enough, you generally wind up with something great.

I first heard about the idea of good enough from the mid-twentieth century psychologist DW Winnicot. Among other things, Winnicot was known for his concept of the “good enough parent.” The parent who tries to be perfect all of the time burns out (and sadly, they often harm their kids along the way). The parent who is neglectful or just wants to be average generally isn’t great either. But the parent who can be repeatedly good enough—their kids tend to be the most well-adjusted and their relationships the most enduring and best.

I was thrilled to see it validated by Stuart McMillan, arguably one of the best coaches alive across any discipline. He’s worked with over 35 Olympic medalists and countless world champions in sprint and power sports.

In a recent conversation (this is a must-listen podcast), Stu put it like this: human performance is super complex. Complex systems have all of these interacting parts. If you try to optimize them all, you end up with unintended consequences and a whole lot of stress. But if you can be a 7 or an 8 out of 10 across all of the parts, then the whole ends up being incredible.

It is an idea that resonates deeply. One of the bigger shifts in my thinking over the years was to change how I approached days in a work week. When I was starting out, I sought to make days great. And, every week, I’d get a day or two when I just felt extremely productive or “great” by my definition. But I’d have also have a couple of poor days.

In recent years, my focus has shifted away from “great” days. Instead, I just try to be consistent about making progress on my priorities. In other words, to be consistently good enough. And I find myself consistently more productive and happier with this change.

The impact of aiming for consistently good enough is as much about long term performance as it is about its impact on our psychology. By keeping things simple and keeping our expectations low, it helps us focus on what actually matters – doing the best we can given our constraints.

Drip by drip, the impact of that consistent effort adds up and compounds over time.