In the pursuit of excellence, it’s easy to end up not even good.

I’ve heard from enough friends wanting to start an exercise habit that if they could not do it at least 3 times a week, there would be no point. Others who think they can never eat a piece of cake again if they are to be healthy.

Why couldn’t they have started training one day a week? Cut out out sodas first? Instead, they rather hold onto the dream of being perfect, rather than good enough. There is also an element of self-sabotage: “Well, if I cannot do this task to perfection, why bother. I may as well order the fries.”

In the media, we see the extreme cases of success and the training involved. We hear The Rock gets up at 4 am to train for 90 minutes, followed by a 10-12 hour day of shooting, and then repeat it 6 more times. We hear Gary V works 18 hour days on his business. Remember, we all have our unique strengths and weaknesses.  

As much as it can be motivating, if you are not keeping up this pace, you can quickly feel like a piece of crap for not giving it 110%. “I guess you don’t want it bad enough…” type of talk.

However, what we don’t see is the ramping up period to obtain these remarkable levels of success. We don’t see the years of struggle and doubt. The beginning years of The Rock working out a few days a week rather than all the time. Oh, and the failures. The times The Rock likely had a night in with Ben and Jerry. 

The grinding and the hustling do not happen like a slo-mo image of Rocky running up the steps. Overtraining is a thing. It’s very easy to burn yourself out from not setting the right pace. 

Enter the Habit Building Buffer Zone.

Steven Pressfield, in the excellent book Turning Pro, tells a story of a famous horse trainer:

“A horse is a naked nervous system, particularly a thoroughbred. He's a child. A three-year-old, big and fast as he is, is a baby. Horses understand the whip, but I don't want a racer that runs that way...Never train your animal to exhaustion. Leave him wanting more.”

While we may have these preconceived ideas of how much effort we will dedicate toward a new goal, reality will set us straight. Sometimes we will get exhausted. Sometimes a fight with our boyfriend/girlfriend will distract us from the business at hand. Instead of just pushing through, because “that’s what winners do”, it’s better to account for this and leave ourselves wanting more. Like your trainer will tell you. Always leave one or two in the do not want to hurt yourself.

Instead of having an “all or nothing mindset”, what if you adopted the concept that had a wee bit of built-in slack? I call this the “Ideal Good Enough” mindset:

  • Ideal: This is the ideal effort I would like to dedicate towards my goal
  • Good Enough: This is the least amount of effort I would still feel good about dedicating toward my goal.

What this looks like in practice:  

A few months ago, I stopped doing The Five Minute Journal. Missing a few days turned into a few weeks and, well, you get the picture. I thought if I did not do it every day, what was the point?

To get back into it, I gave myself permission to do less. Sometimes I would only do it in the morning. Sometimes only at night. Other times I would cross out questions and fill out my own. I made it fun and work for me. There is no recipe. Trying to stick to an unrealistic schedule only produces more stress. 

I still miss days, but only occasionally, not months at a time.

  • Ideal = I do the Five Minute Journal every day.
  • Good Enough = I journal at least 5 times a week and at least fill out a gratitude section.

This may be the pace I “run” at for the rest of my life aka my Personal Sweet Spot. Or perhaps I up my “good enough” standards as my consistency improves. I still strive for the ideal, but I’m ok if I only reach Good Enough.

How many goals/habits in your life could you apply this to?  

Maybe you ideally want to go to the gym 3x a week, but would you be okay going at least once? Maybe you want to spend every weeknight starting your business, but what about just a few hours on Saturday? Want to read a book every week? What about once a month?

Slow and steady wins the race. Ask that turtle that beat the hare. I have mentioned Mark Manson before. Check out his post: “In Defense of Being Average”. Don’t sweat it if you do not look up today. Tomorrow will be just fine :)


Written By

Kevin Evans

Head of Marketing and Growth at Intelligent Change. Taco and whiskey lover. Formerly a rare books dealer. Reside in Chicago.


  • I wish I would have read this before going to therapy for the past three months. Write another article this good and I’ll send you the $1800 instead…


  • I love this concept! With experience I am realizing more and more than I need to be gentle and easy with myself regarding shortcomings. This idea- esp if I can
    Ideal and lower limits for myself, will help me to feel like my performance is enough* even if it’s less than ideal. Thanks again!

    Gina Philbrick

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