Growth / Personal Development

Beat Perfectionism with Good-Better-Best Goal Setting System

Updated: Sep 13, 2019 · 6 min read

Toolkit for download in this article

achieving a goal standing on a mountain overlooking water

Has this ever happened to you? You work hard to bring in some new clients, and while you get three good ones, you’re still disappointed because you were sort of hoping for...more.

Is that a success? Or a failure?

Or you’re determined to work out three days this week, but your shoelace breaks and your resolve falters and you only do one.

Do you get full points for even trying? Or get mad at yourself for not pushing harder?

Finally, you promise yourself that not only are you going to get dressed up and go to your friend’s birthday party, but you are going to NOT talk about work and you are going to flirt instead. After all, it’s been ages since you’ve been on an actual date.

You do end up going and flirting with another entrepreneur...but you end up talking about work (of course). And there’s no first date in the offing.

I’m going to guess that, given any of the above situations, you might be:

  • Disappointed
  • Discouraged
  • Tempted to beat yourself up for your lack of drive, willpower and dinner dates

But fear not, Oh-Too-Hard-On-Yourself One—I have a simple solution for you.

Next time you set a goal, set three instead. Actually, set three levels of the same goal. 

Think of it as, "first base, second base, home run" or "must see, would like to see, would love to see." 

Good-Better-Best goal setting

So if I'm offering a workshop, I might say, "OK, in order to make this worthwhile, I must have at least 25 people in the course. But I'd like to see 35 and if I can get 50, then, honey, drinks are on me." So if I get 28—well, fabulous. That's a win. And I don't have to spend time being annoyed that I didn't get 50, because I always knew that was a stretch. Make sense?

This practice contains a few built-in success principles:

1. Be specific.

2. Be flexible. 

3. Be compassionate.

Wait: What’s with “compassionate”?

You may believe that in order to succeed you need to activate your inner drill sergeant. And that your problem is with your will power, or lack thereof.

But study after study shows us that will power is a frail and easily-depleted resource.

And as for drill sergeants, well, no one does their best work while they are being yelled at. (This would be a good time for you to resolve to stop yelling at yourself entirely. And you should certainly stop yelling at everyone else.)

So creating goals that are more specific, flexible and compassionate will actually help you succeed. Even if your shoelace breaks.

Let’s take a look at some of the particulars of how this might work for you.

1. Be specific: Metrics are your new best friend

So in the first example (being bummed because there are only three new clients instead of more), the problem begins in being too vague about the goal to begin with. 

I can’t tell you how many people I talk to who say, “I just really need to make some money.” And I say, “Great! How much would you like to bring in each month?” And they say, “Oh…um…I don’t know…I haven’t really thought about it like that.”

There’s a big difference between thinking, “I need more income,” and “I need three more clients in my $5,000/month package.”

And that difference happens inside your brain. Because your brain is a fabulous, problem-solving machine that is exceptionally good at finding what it’s looking for. But “more” is not specific enough to trigger your brain’s seek-and-find mechanism. 

So give your brain a specific number (or three) to work toward and watch your successes multiply.

2. Be flexible: Life happens

I have found that there’s nothing like the attempt to make a big change in your life to trigger complete chaos.

No sooner do you decide to challenge yourself to lose the weight (or change your business model or deal with your addiction or dedicate yourself to your art or clear out the clutter or...) then out of the blue, the roof falls off the house, the tax man calls and your mom decides to visit you for a month. With her saxophone and three toy poodles. 

These obstacles have been described as “The Dragons at the Gate.” 

Those dragons are testing your resolve. Those dragons are double-dog daring you to keep going. Those dragons are inviting you to grow up and do things differently.

So create goals that challenge you, yes, but make sure that they have enough stretch in them to accommodate the vicissitudes of life.

Once again, the Good-Better-Best System can come to your rescue.

Resolving to hit the gym at least once, preferably thrice and best of all, every day during the week gives you room to fall partially off the wagon and STILL count yourself a success.

And there’s nothing like the feeling of success to keep you motivated.

3. Be compassionate: Prevent goal creep

“Goal creep” is my name for the personal productivity version of “scope creep.”

Goal creep is when you pile on too many elements—especially elements that are out of your sphere of control—and therefore you cannot tell where success begins or ends.

So while I think it’s a lovely exercise to imagine the whole picture of success in ever-increasing rings of bright, shining interconnected events, real life requires a bit more discretion.

Determine for yourself three critical elements of your vision that are measurable, attainable and meaningful, and you’ll have a way of evaluating your true progress.

(This beats the perfectionist’s favorite game of moving the goal ever further as you progress, so that you can never really feel satisfied, yes?)

Team goals and dream goals

The Good-Better-Best strategy works beautifully with teams, too. Acknowledging that not everyone will get everything done perfectly increases the likelihood that anyone will get anything done at all, and it encourages the team to be thinking about all of the moving parts at once, rather than just their bit.

Be careful, though—this kind of holistic project management might cause deadlines to be met in a timely manner, budgets to be kept and quotas to be exceeded. Heck, you all could start under-promising and over-delivering your way right into the President’s Club.

Samantha Bennett is a Creativity/Productivity Specialist, and the creator of both and She is the author of the bestselling, Get It Done: From Procrastination to Creative Genius in 15 Minutes a Day (New World Library). She offers her nearly-legendary "Get It Done Workshops" online for overwhelmed procrastinators, frustrated overachievers and recovering perfectionists everywhere.

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