• Anj

    Definitely agree. For example, “I’ve ruined my diet today by having that slice of cake. I might as well eat a load of chocolate as well and start again tomorrow.”

    • gretchenrubin

      There’s actually a term for this! “Abstinence Violation Effect.” Not helpful!

      • Anj

        Googled it. Interesting to put a name to it. Next time I’ll try to think: “Ah, the abstinence violation effect,” to remind me that the rest of the day still counts. 🙂

        • gretchenrubin

          I always find it helpful to find out that something is enough of a pattern to have a name—makes the behavior seem more manageable, for some reason.

  • Cayt

    Agree!!!! Needed this today!!

  • peninith1

    Mainly, Welcome HOME! Always miss your posts when you take a break–though that is well deserved, and SHOULD happen from time to time. Happy New Year!

    And yes, I would never have got done with so many projects, nor presented so many flawed meals to friends, nor indeed, ever invited people over for conversation, mutual enjoyment, and pretty good dinners if I were worried about a perfectly clean kitchen floor, perfectly crumb-free carpet, perfectly matched china and so forth.

    Here’s the thing. I am in awe of the quilt artist who spends four years creating a single masterpiece. Truly, I am in awe of the patience, the beauty, the precision. But meanwhile, people like me, who don’t care that much about perfection or thousands in prize money or great art, still give pleasure and offer warmth–to tens or dozens of people–while that one perfect masterpiece is being created to circulate around shows and hang on walls. I applaud the people who have that drive toward perfection, and I admire the great beauty of their work. Yet I feel they pay a price for that perfectionism, just as I pay a price knowing that I’ll probably always do pretty work, but not GREAT work, that I will always be less than completely satisfied with my loose ends, imperfect bindings, random chopped off points and the like. There’s a way in which it’s just a choice–fuss to get to that perfection? or be satisfied with more and messier? I know what my choice is–to try to improve, for sure, but to make more room in my heart, my life, my world, for more, rather than more perfect.

    In family and friendships, I DO think that the perfect IS the enemy of the good. Anxiety about making things just right is just plain an ungenerous and fearful approach, I believe. I don’t go there. I try to do better, always, but BEST–pretty much never. It is vain, self-seeking, and ungenerous–and self punitive as well.

  • Completely AGREE! This is something I struggle with the most. I’ve actually written about it several times on my own blog but I seem to constantly need a reminder. 🙂

  • I definitely agree. I try remember the Lao-tzu saying, ” A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” This helps to motivate the start of my workout and also reminds me that it will take some time to get where I want to go, but if I don’t start….

    • peninith1

      This has been my ‘mantra’ to exercise over the past year. Have not accomplished a LOT, but yesterday my ‘single step’ had led to a total of 372 miles along that journey of a 1,000. Keep taking those single steps! (-:

  • Anne

    Hi Gretchen,

    I did a search last week about “not feeling appreciated” and some of your blogs showed up. I had read them previously, but I read them again, since I have been struggling with this issue the last couple of months. The example I want to talk about is….sending Christmas cards. For the past 8 years or so I’ve designed my own card, printed the cards out individually and sent out close to 100 cards. This takes a lot of time and effort on my part. I’ve always enjoyed this and I’ve never expected to receive a card back from all the people I’ve sent cards to. My cards are hobby-related and I send them to family and friends (who understand my hobby) and also to friends who share my hobby, many of whom are on facebook with me.

    This year getting the cards ready seemed to be a drudge. It felt like it took me forever to get them printed and addressed and it seemed more stressful than in past years. Now, I don’t expect my family and friends to acknowledge the cards but it seemed to me that the hobby people, especially those on facebook could at least say, “Hey…got your card and enjoyed it!” How long does that take? Out of perhaps 50 people I had two people thank me for the card. Bottom line…I felt taken for granted and unappreciated.

    Your advice to “do it for myself” makes sense. I guess since I didn’t really enjoy getting the cards ready this year then this is a tradition that I will abandon next year. Because not only did I NOT enjoy the process, I didn’t get any gold stars either! 🙂

    What do you think?



    • peninith1

      Yes, you DO have to do it for yourself. I make quilts and sometimes send them away–always the charities ask you to put your name and address on the quilt. Never had a note back. You know what? I don’t care. I had great pleasure in making the quilt and somebody, somewhere, is enjoying it. Sure, I would enjoy hearing where it wound up, but praise and appreciation are not what I am after. It’s the MAKING that pleases me.

      But consider this–sometimes when we do something that is beyond other people’s skill set or inclinations, they actually love it, but are shy of saying anything. They may feel intimidated, or as if they are expected to make a return. (Actually, it sounds as though you hope they WILL). I write a newsletter with photos, to a long list of friends every week of the world. Rarely do I get a reply. But every now and then I will see someone who gets it, and they say “don’t take me off your list!” or “I always read your newsletter!” Or, if something difficult is happening to me, all of a sudden these people who are silent for months on end will send me a message of comfort and hope. I’m saying that not hearing praise doesn’t mean that your work isn’t recognized. It may be greatly admired, but people may just not know how to respond. That’s a shame, but it I have found that it is just TRUE.

      In the end, the work you do MUST be for your own pleasure, amusement, and striving to learn and to do better and become more the creative artist that in your heart you are. “Virtue is its own reward” is a saying I hated when I was a kid. Darn, but it’s true.

      • Anne

        Really, I did not expect cards in return. I just wanted “Got your card and enjoyed it. Thanks.” I did get that……from TWO people :-). But thanks for your reponse and I agree. I have to do it for me.

        • Beth

          Hi Anne,
          My husband and I are also Christmas card senders – he designs them, I write notes in them. It’s our holiday “thing.” It IS frustrating when people don’t acknowledge them at all. Maybe if you send them every year (as we do), people take your cards for granted. You could take a year off and/or even simplify the process (re-use a design, take them to a printer, trim your recipient list.)

          • gretchenrubin

            We send our holiday cards for Valentine’s Day. That’s easier for us (and by “us” I mean “me”), plus people do seem to appreciate getting them in a time when there aren’t so many cards. Maybe try sending yours at a different time of year.

          • Anne

            Hi Beth,
            What you said really resonates with me. Sending cards is my “thing” too. I often joke that I don’t bake cookies, but I DO send cards. I really like your helpful suggestions…..take them to a printer, reduce the list size, take a year off and see what develops. Since in past years I was not so bothered by lack of acknowledgement it may just be something with ME this year. Maybe I should do them in the summer??

        • Theresa

          I send out a lot of Christmas cards too. (Store bought not homemade) I hardly ever hear anything from the family and friends that I send them to but that’s not why cards are sent. Cards are sent to wish people a happy holiday season. And you need to remember that the holidays really are a busy time for people and many might not have the time to say “thanks for the card.” We received cards from family and friends but I didn’t contact the person to say thanks. To be honest, I didn’t think it was required. If you’d like to hear from people after receiving your card, perhaps you should write “give me a call. I’d love to hear from you!” or “What’s new with you?” on them. You might get a response that way.

          • Anne

            Well, since my cards are hand-drawn, personally designed and printed individually, I see them more as gifts and not just cards. I send them because I think they will make people happy. It gives me pleasure to know they enjoyed my card. People may be busy but they still seem to have plenty of time to hang out on facebook :-).

        • Karen

          You could try spreading the fun in order to have more impact and connect with even more people! I have a friend with quadruplets (three girls and a boy) – he and his wife had a photo card where they were tied up on chairs like hostages while the kids ran crazy, big mess all around, etc. They not only mailed the cards but posted it on Facebook – a great idea! Makes sure that friends who are not on the Christmas card list get a greeting and allows everybody to comment and share good wishes.

    • ks

      If you aren’t enjoying it anymore, perhaps you could think about giving yourself a year off next year and see how that feels? You might miss doing it for your own reasons, or have friends coming out of the woodwork asking for the card that you never realized was special to them…or you might feel freed and realize that what was a huge process to you was just another card to the folks you were sending them out to. I will say that as a rule, I find that doing anything in hopes of getting gold stars from other people is destined to lead to disappointment, but I’m sorry you had that experience!

      • Anne

        Thanks, ks. I had the same thought…..taking a year off and seeing if I miss doing the cards.

        • Anne

          My spiritual director advised me to take the Enneagram test and I came out a “3”….The Achiever. Like Gretchen, I’ve come to realize that I DO like to get gold stars and that this is part of who I am and I’m trying to accept that about myself. There are ways that I can give myself gold stars or find small ways to be appreciated. Example: Yesterday I had nothing on my agenda, so I called a local nursing home and asked them if I could come and play my flute for the residents. They told me to come at noon. I ended up playing while the residents ate their lunch. It wasn’t a glamourous gig by any means. Dishes were clanking and wheelchairs were moving in and out of the room. But I ENJOYED playing (as I enjoy playing in the kitchen by myself) and some (not all ) of the residents clapped. It was a win-win situation. I had fun, got to play my flute for an audience, the residents had music with their meal and got to see a new face. And I felt appreciated. It was VERY fulfilling.

    • molly

      I completely understand how you feel. I am so often disappointed in how little effort people put into simply appreciating other people’s efforts. This happens a lot at my son’s school. A number of families put most of the effort into getting involved in the parent organization and activities, and few of the other parents even make the effort to thank these families. If it weren’t for the families who are involved, there are many many great activities and events the rest of the school couldn’t attend! I also ran into this when my son was younger and I got involved with other moms and play groups. I did the lion’s share of entertaining the kids, and while the mom’s would express appreciation for me having them over, they rarely to never invited us to their houses. It really wasn’t fair to my son and he even asked me a couple times why we couldn’t go to his friends’ houses. I couldn’t tell him how I really felt, and I didn’t know the answer, so eventually, I stopped inviting people who didn’t invite us. I started signing him up for scheduled activities and let it go at that. I don’t need gold stars (mentioned by someone else replying here), but I’m human, and when I don’t get anything back, even if I like doing it, I just get too resentful, and realize it isn’t worth it. I remember reading a book and the woman compared trying to get something back from people you put something into to putting money in a soda machine and not getting a soda. You wonder what’s going on, press the button, and after a while, bang on the machine b/c you want something back for what you put in. It’s human nature to expect/want something back from people, if only a “Hey, got your card and it was beautiful,” and when you do not get that, it’s only human to feel resentful or angry. Best wishes to you!

    • gretchenrubin

      Well, in general, I try to “do things for myself” and not expect praise or appreciation.
      HOWEVER, I will say that with holiday cards, I myself love getting them, and look at them all carefully, and appreciate the especially imaginative ones, but because that time of year is so crazy, and we get so many cards in the space of a week, I’m not as good as I should be about letting people know how much I loved their cards.
      So while I think it’s a good rule in general, it may be that a lot of people delight in your work but are too overwhelmed to take the time to tell you.
      But I do think it’s true: doing things because you expect people to react in a certain way is often very disappointing.

      • JennH

        I wold agree with this & the “take a year off to see how it feels” advice. Maybe if you find you miss it you could do Valentine’s Day cards instead. I quit sending Christmas cards a long time ago but love to send Valentine’s cards to everyone. No one gets enough love, right? People are less inundated w/ cards that time of year & they may have more time to appreciate your masterpieces as well. I recently visited a friend & realized she still had out Valentine’s card from a few years ago on the frig, didn’t see any old Christmas cards laying around!

      • Elise

        This past year I have had trouble listening to other people tell me that they are overwhelmed and busy because I tend to hear it as “I am so important and too busy to make any time for you.” I also hear “You are not as busy and important as me so I expect you to keep making the time for me without anything in return.” When a person cannot even take a couple minutes of their time to do something for me, it just ends up feeling like EVERYTHING in that person’s life is more important than me and I end up getting my feelings hurt especially when I know that so many people waste so much time surfing the internet. I wonder if that is their hint that they don’t really want me in their life. I also realize that I cannot change anyone else so I need to figure out a way to change myself but I have already spent many years doing for others and expecting nothing in return and that is no longer working for me.

    • Lynn

      I did not send Christmas cards this year, and I am feeling guilty. I do love getting cards from others. My husband was laid off right before Thanksgiving and I just did not make them a priority. I frequently go for the perfect. It seems I need to do a search here for feeling guilt…

    • Anj

      Maybe your cards are so good no one realises they’re homemade 🙂

      • Anne

        No, it is obvious they are homemade. And I sign the artwork. But thanks for your reply.

    • lrober03

      Maybe if you don’t do them next year, you’ll be flooded with comments from people saying that they miss your cards! But definitely, “do it for yourself”!
      One factor for not receiving a response might be that people don’t normally respond to Christmas cards they receive because they may have already sent out their own cards. I would expect more of a response if I sent a birthday card, because that is something that I would typically take the time to write a thank you card to.

  • ks

    Definitely agree. And there’s a sliding scale, too, depending on how important the task is to me. If it just has to be done but I don’t really care much about it, I do it as quickly as possible and move on. Other tasks merit a little more perfectionism, because I care about them / the result.

  • ccr

    Absolutely agree. I remind myself of this All The Time.

  • Definitely agree, although I wouldn’t limit it to adulthood. Kids and teens would be better off learning this, too.

  • Molly

    I didn’t realize how much I liked your blog until it was gone for a week!! So glad you are back. And yes, I definitely agree with this statement. I’ve spent too much time not doing things b/c I couldn’t do them perfectly, and it has really set me back in my progress. My goal in 2013 is to get my career back on track by writing more, and I need to keep this in mind. I’ve read this b/f in your books/blog, but I think I need to tape it to my computer. I back slide easily! Welcome back…so glad (again).

    • gretchenrubin

      That’s so nice to hear! Thanks! (You know I love a gold star.)

  • Marianne McGah

    What a great quote! It reminds me of the theme of a retreat when I was in high school… “Don’t throw away the permanent in the trashcan of the temporary.” Such important words to live by!

  • I grew up with a perfectionist and married one as well. Perfectionism rarely brings happiness or satisfaction to anyone around it, because it is difficult, often impossible to achieve. It is paralyzing and it is a joy-stealer.

    When my husband or I do a task around the house, we often say, “I did such-and-such but I didn’t do a very good job.” For some reason, that makes us laugh.

    • HEHink

      This sounds like a line from one of our family’s favorite movies – Miracle, about the 1980 US Olympic hockey team. Coach Herb Brooks watches some of his players run through a play, and responds “That was better. Not good, but better.” We always laugh at that, too. I say this to myself a lot when working on getting rid of clutter. If I get one or two boxes of stuff out of the house, it still might not look good, but it definitely looks and feels better!

  • Agreed! So often we don’t do things, because they won’t be good enough, or so we fear. But, if we just did them, we would be happier, and so would others around us. To examine the example in your post: a friend just appreciates the invitation over, and the thoughtfulness behind it. In the big picture, if it’s takeout pizza or homemade pasta, it doesn’t matter as long as it happens.
    I’ve spend a lot of time wondering about this, the crippling fear of not being perfect that results in inactivity, and being a woman in her 30s, I blame the Internet. There is always a website with helpful content that constantly changes showing us how to do something better, more efficient, faster, more thoughtful. So many ways, so much advice. How we’ve always done it seems small and shabby in comparison, but the plethora of advice for improvement can make us give up, because where do we start. No one says what we are already doing is good.
    Recently having sent out Christmas cards, I almost drowned in the advice for making homemade Christmas cards. I have made them in the past, but life no longer allows for a month of weekends in November spent doing that, so I sent out store bought ones. Were they perfect? No. Were they good? Yes,

  • Rachel

    This perfectionist has started living by that philosophy and it has changed my life. I’m never going to be the best writer and maybe I’ll never be published but I’m writing a novel anyway. I only have about ten people following my blog so far. Who cares? I love doing it. On Christmas Day, instead of watching people who play 8-ball better than me, I played loads of games. I lost them all but had so much fun. It’s the same with Wii Tennis which I’ve been playing. I got excited that I wasn’t beaten in straight sets the other day – that was a win for me, even though I lost. I’m much happier just doing than trying to be perfect.

  • Des Tinney

    100% agree, I always wait for the conditions and timing to be prefect to arrange an event or make a change. But weeks and months can pass due to…. Well life!

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  • My father always said it this way, “Don’t overlook the good for the perfect.” Great and insightful message.

  • Paul

    To be perfect is not to be without flaws. It is in the flaws we find beauty, but perhaps to name them as flaws is to deny their beauty. So it is with perfection. To view something as imperfect reveals a difference in perception and attitude. There are always things that could use improvement in the future, but for the present moment, they are perfect.

  • I perfectly agree. I would add that one can get to perfection by thriving on the satisfaction that comes small successes.

  • peninith1

    I have been mulling over this quotation some more–my first reaction was to ‘judge’ perfectionism as ‘the enemy’ without putting sufficient emphasis on ‘not letting perfection be the enemy OF THE GOOD’. This is not advice to do things in a ‘slipshod’ or ‘sloppy’ manner. Recognize everything I do is PRACTICE. Perfection is a point in infinity that belongs only to the divine. Maybe perfectionism is the tipping point, where joy in work ends, and anxiety and a feeling of pressure, weariness or a grasping need for ‘credit’ sets in, where the work in itself is not a reward. As I become more competent and skilled, the joy of the work may carry me further and further along–toward masterpieces. I need not enviously judge people who happily spend hundreds of hours on elaborate projects–I just need to stop striving and say ‘GOOD’! When I have challenge myself enough, but not worn out my pleasure in the work.

  • Kate

    So helpful for me because one of my New Year’s Resolutions is to have friends over more for meals, despite my occasionally paralyzing hosting anxiety. Like my dear friends will care if one dish isn’t perfect or the fact that I only have a small table. I like to make things nice but sometimes I almost feel as if I can’t have friends over unless everything’s PERFECT. This is the year I want to get past that!

    Besides, the one time I accidentally made a risotto with SOAP in it? That dinner guest is, years later, still one of my very best friends!!

    • gretchenrubin

      Secret of Adulthood: The things that go wrong often make the best memories!

  • Gina Ferrari

    Totally agree!

  • Heidi

    I do agree that it is better to walk than do no exercise at all. Sometimes this might be all one is able to achieve for whatever reason anyway, but at other times it should not be an excuse to be lazy. Take another example: I suppose it is better to cook frozen vegetables instead of eating fatty fries, but the actual goal should be to use and prepare fresh veggies. Being an active yogini, I also think that a short practice is better than none at all as long as it is not done half-heartedly. So yes, I agree that you should not give in, because something will not turn out to be perfect. Try to do your best and aim to be as perfect as possible.

  • Taylor Robertson

    Absolutley agree. And this is something I need to remember. Thanks!

  • Mommy from scratch

    This is a great tip! Ever since I was little my mom always used to tell me “The better is the enemy of the good” (which is a popular saying in Russia where I grew up). Just finished your book “Happier at home”, can’t wait for more. I love your books, they are so inspiring!

    • gretchenrubin

      So HAPPY to hear that you enjoyed them.

  • I agree. At school we had this daft motto of “what is good enough is never any good at all” which just stinks. Sometimes getting something done – however imperfect – is a lot better than doing nothing because we fear it won’t be perfect. Without practice we will never get good or even near to perfect.

  • Do you think this comes from the same family tree of thought as, “’tis better to have loved and lost, than to have never loved at all?” I do.

  • Ray

    I feel that there is so much pressure on us to have perfect lives. The advertisers use it to get us to buy more products, media portrays it as normal, people use it to manipulate and there is little truth to it.
    I think you are right in saying that the living I did today will alwasy be betetr that the living I didn’t do today.
    Thanks for sharing

  • Our home is furnished with a collection of furniture from garages, workshops and basements that my husband has HAPPILY collected from Saturdays at auctions…scarred, used, painted, imperfect, functional, charming, and good. It makes me HAPPY to look at these tables, benches, boxes and shelves and imagine their stories. Maybe more importantly, it doesn’t make me unhappy when the puppies in our lives scratch, chew or add to the story! In our house, perfect could be the enemy of good, but we choose to embrace good. What if my friends looked for perfect in me? I’m afraid they would miss my blunders, the laughter at my own missteps, and a lot of fun, while searching for the perfectionist that never used to smile. And what is perfect anyway? Do you ever really achieve it?

  • rob k

    Why not send your friends cards in July? Less competition that way.
    Surprise them and they may surprise you with a thank you:)

  • Theresa

    Agree. I read somewhere recently that an imperfect finished project is better than a perfect project you never start. I’ve really been trying to keep that in mind as I work on cleaning/decluttering my house.

  • So true…and hard to live by it but agree completely that this is one BIG secret to greater joy & happiness both.

  • Kelcie

    Your blog is EXACTLY what I needed to skim this afternoon. Thank you.

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