Aim for thriving, not surviving

Strange though it may sound, good enough sometimes isn’t good enough. Very often people are so busy that they will settle for getting things done to just about an acceptable standard and then start to focus on the next task, rather than get the first thing as far beyond ‘just good enough’ as possible. What we end up with then is mediocrity at best.

There is a technical term for this: satisficing. This is a made-up word, derived from combining satisfactory with sacrificing. It refers to the tendency for people to settle for what is satisfactory and thereby sacrifice producing the best results possible. Freud captured this idea when he said that the good is the enemy of the best, by which he meant that we can so easily fail to fulfil our potential by not looking beyond what is good enough.

Imagine being asked at a job interview: ‘How will you ensure that you achieve the most positive outcomes in your work?’ and replying with: ‘I won’t; as long as things are basically good enough, that will do me’. Not very impressive, is it?

But, it isn’t just about impressing (prospective) employers. It’s also a spiritual matter, in the sense that our personal strivings are what help us to get a sense of meaning, purpose and direction. Ironically, in the modern world personal strivings can so easily become materialistic: more money, more material goods, more of the things that ultimately don’t make much real difference to our spiritual well-being. It is ironic because focusing on material goals, rather than goals of achieving the best we can, will make it less likely that we will flourish enough in our work to earn the necessary income.

I am not suggesting that we should all become perfectionists, as that too brings its problems. We need to be balanced in our approach. Aiming for achieving the best we reasonably can is likely to give us a much better quality of life in a number of ways, not least in terms of giving us a stronger sense of purpose and, of course, the satisfactions to be gained from making as much of a positive difference as we can.

What can stand in the way of achieving our best is the problem of low morale. Operating in a culture of low morale will tend to sap motivation, undermine hope and, in so doing, make it more likely that we will settle for good enough. And, as is so often the case with low morale, this can lead to a vicious circle in which settling for surviving, rather than thriving, contributes to, and reinforces, low morale which then has the effect of making us more open to settling for just good enough.

Of course, it can be difficult to be positive and aim for thriving if you do happen to be faced with a context of low morale, but this means we then have to ask ourselves whether we want to struggle to do our best, despite the low morale (and thereby play at least a small part in eating away at that low morale), or make do with mediocrity (and thereby allow the low morale to eat away at us).

So, what is your idea of the best results you can achieve and what do you need to do make sure you are doing your best to achieve them? How can you make sure that setting for just good enough is a last resort, something you would only do when you really have to?

But, if you are already committed to thriving, rather than just surviving, how can you help those around you to appreciate the benefits of this approach and support them in adopting it?