Ever been told it doesn’t matter what your result, “as long as you tried your best” or that you should strive to “meet your full potential?” These sayings drive me bonkers. In my opinion, they don’t take the pressure off; in fact, I believe they increase it, sending the message that you should always be functioning at 100%, regardless of external or situational circumstances (and if you fall short in your performance, you truly are a “failure” as it was the best you could do) Not only does this expectation leave a lot of room for “failure” should you believe you “could have done better/more,” but it often leaves people feeling defeated and anxious unless they can be certain they’ll meet their expectation, and so they just avoid the task altogether (hello procrastination and avoidance!) It also sends the message that, if you didn’t “give it your all” or “aim for 100%,” you’re “lazy” or “unmotivated.” It’s either perfect or failure. You’ve either written a masterpiece or a piece of junk. You’re either eating a perfect diet or you’re eating like it’s your pre-execution meal; you’re either being highly productive or you’re lazy. I’m either writing an entire post or I’m not writing at all…
I speak to a LOT of highly stressed-out people each day. Many are in school full-time, working, maintaining a family and a household, and are trying to keep up with some sort of fitness regime and social life. They often come to me at a breaking point, sometimes with a belief that they have “failed” to cope successfully, or that they are clinically depressed. When we work together to factor out all their external stressors, it is generally only their critical inner voice and high standards for achievement that are internal contributors to their mood. So what do we do? Well, in addition to seeing if there is any space for getting tangible assistance with their stressors, setting boundaries with those demanding things from them, and transforming their critical relationship to themselves into more compassionate ones, we work on adjusting expectations for performance, particularly during stressful times.
How much more likely would you be able to succeed with your diet and exercise goals, meeting your expectations for a clean house, being a good friend/parent/employee if you only expected a 75% from yourself in terms of performance, or if you only had to “succeed” 75% of the time? Way more likely, and not just statistically-speaking! Lowering your expectations to a more realistic, achievable, manageable number staves off feelings of overwhelm and defeat, reduces the possibility of “failure,” and makes you feel more motivated and confident about being able to achieve the task at hand (good-bye procrastination and avoidance!). Behold: The 75% rule!
75% with your relationships
Aim to be an involved partner/parent/child/sibling/friend 75% of the time. If this seems unmanageable for you or brings up feelings of guilt, you might have learned somewhere along your travels that “you only exist for others” or “always put others first.” These ideas can be helpful until they threaten your own well-being. You might benefit from benefit from reading some of Melody Beattie’s work or checking out this website.
75% with your daily tasks
A 75% clean home, 75% of your “to-do” list completed, 75% effort in your work-out. Need I say more?
75% with your diet
Aim for 75% of your day to be filled with healthy foods, and you get 25% of room for treats and “slip-ups.” You’ll be less likely to fall off the wagon and consume the entire box of cookies if you haven’t “failed” as a result of eating one.
75% with work/school
You may notice I often initially post with typos or incomplete sentences. This is because I write a post, I re-read it, I decide it’s 75% good enough, and then I publish it. I often go back and edit several times after it has been published, but I don’t strive for perfection. Perfection is a real hindrance when it comes to efficiency, and my guess is that your boss would agree. Perfectionists are actually much less productive than their less perfectionistic friends, because the less perfectionistic folks spend less time laboring over creating a masterpiece. Hand in a 75% paper, create a 75% report, study until you feel 75% ready, you get the picture.
75% with your appearance
Bad hair? Breakout? Notice another wrinkle? Gain 5lbs? Chances are, you’re going to have a tough time ever being imperfection-free (“…and that’s what makes us beaaaaaaaaaaauitful!”), especially if you’re self-critical. If you aim for perfection in your appearance, you’ll never leave the house. Try to achieve 75% in terms of your reflection before starting your day, acknowledging that “flaws” are what make us human, and our bodies/skin/hair are always changing :).
The 75% rule can be applied to pretty much anything (the aforementioned are just a few suggestions for its application), so feel free to take it and run (but only at 75% j/k). Not only will you experience less pressure to achieve perfection, but you may find yourself feeling more confident as a result of all your achievements. Finally, as I said, try to remember the external factors coming into play when you’re setting goals for yourself. Sometimes, 75% may be too high. If you’re sick, running on no sleep, or managing grief, heartbreak, another transition, etc., it might be more realistic to expect yourself to function at 30%. Taking “life” into account when setting your expectations can help diffuse feelings of guilt or worthlessness if you’re not “being productive” or “meeting your potential.”