Have you ever told yourself “I am going to do the best I can”? I’d be surprised if you haven’t! For most of us, this phrase is code for doing an amazing job. In fact, in a lot of cases, it is a fairly thinly veiled disguise for telling ourselves that we need to do something perfectly.
The aspiration to perfection usually originates in a values-based desire that we hold. For example, we might hold a value of excellence or quality or mastery. Sadly though, that value can be translated by our inner critical voice into the need to be perfect or to do something perfectly.
On some rational level, we all know we cannot be perfect and that doing something perfectly is typically beyond our very human reaches. However, that does not stop us from holding ourselves to these impossibly high standards.
So, if doing the best I can doesn’t mean doing something perfectly, what does it mean? My very first coach suggested that I look through a different lens in order to fulfill my values but avoid becoming a victim of perfectionism. Rather than telling myself that I would do the best I could, I could tell myself that I would do the best I could under the circumstances I was in.
Yes, that’s right – the new mindset I adopted is “I am going to do the best I can under the circumstances I am in.” It does not sound like much of a change, but it is truly a radical shift in thought and outlook.
For example, let’s say I tell myself to do the best I can to deliver a workshop that has a strong, positive impact on the participants. In my old mindset, this would have been code for delivering an amazing, if not absolutely perfect, workshop regardless of the circumstances.
Now, what if the majority of the attendees arrive late to the workshop or what if some of them are distracted by involved in a big acquisition but were told they had to attend the workshop anyway? These are pretty difficult circumstances wouldn’t you say? And, although I set an intention to deliver a workshop with a strong, positive impact, the participants’ behavior (which is beyond my control) may make that impossible.
On the other hand, if I tell myself that I want to do the best I can to deliver a workshop that has strong, positive impact given the circumstances I am in, the non-cooperation of the participants does not necessarily mean that I cannot fulfill my values and do what I set out to do. I can deliver a high quality workshop and do my best to engage the participants under these unfavorable circumstances. In other words, I can still feel and be successful, knowing I had a positive impact on those who chose to actively participate.
Let’s take another example. Perhaps you lead a team and want to do your best to lead the upcoming off-site meeting you’ve planned. However, when the day arrives, you find yourself battling a bad cold. You can still do the best you can under the circumstances but the standard is adjusted to take your head cold into account.
Again, this subtle mindset shift is a powerful one because it eliminates the need to do something perfectly and allows for each of us to be human. The great thing about the phrase “under the circumstances I am in” is that by looking through this lens, we can still aspire to excellence, high quality and mastery without falling victim to perfectionism.
I have used this phrase myself for over a decade and have seen it work with countless clients, especially those who struggle with perfectionism. The feedback I hear is that it is liberating and allows for aspirations without unwanted baggage.
Where are you holding yourself to a standard of perfection? Where might you benefit from allowing yourself to do the best you can under the circumstance you are in?