Good, Better, Best
In adolescence, I was given a book of quotes and enjoyed one catchy citation in particular. Though reportedly misattributed to St. Jerome, the quote went something like, “Good, better, best. Never let it rest. Until your good is better and your better is best.”
As a teen, I appreciated what I thought was an easily remembered message meant to motivate others. The idea of people improving their lives through the prompt of a rhythmic quote seemed fairly straightforward. Here’s how logic of the quote unfolds:
Premise 1: Until optimal performance is achieved, no one should rest.
Premise 2: I haven’t achieved optimal performance.
Conclusion: Therefore, I shouldn’t rest.
As an adult, and particularly in consideration of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), I wonder about implications of the quote. A number of questions come to mind.
What is “good”? “Good,” pertaining to what? What defines “better”? “Better,” compared to what? What does “best” mean? “Best,” meaning perfection?
What utility is there in never resting when en route to a successful outcome? Wouldn’t tirelessly striving for achievement require some rest? Without rest, how likely is it that a person will experience burnout?
Maybe I’m overthinking things. Perhaps the quote is little more than a banal phrase used to inspire people—not meant to be deconstructed and analyzed.
Do hackneyed quotes actually persuade people in a meaningful way? It very well could be that, like the “hang in there” posters of yesteryear, some imaginary person reads the phrase and becomes inclined to attain goals.
“But, Deric,” you may say, “weren’t you inspired by the quote when you were younger?” No. I liked the cadence of what I understood to be a motivational quote, though I wasn’t moved by its words any more than I was by a cat poster that hung in the room of a high school class.
Having coached people since the ‘90s, and having learned the REBT technique in the mid-2000s, it’s been my understanding from subjective experience that the people I’ve known are rarely moved by catchy quotes. Oh, they remember the phrases, no doubt.
However, I’m not convinced that simplistic catchphrases are what drive the often uncomfortable process of change. To test this hypothesis, I invite the reader to conduct a small experiment.
If you consume social media, you’re likely familiar with images and videos of scantily clad “influencers” who provide supposedly motivational quotes while essentially posting arousing content. Think of partial nudity with a misattributed quote from Albert Einstein, or something like that.
Have any of these quotes stood out to you? Did you encounter any of these posts and suddenly become inspired, because of what you read?
Perhaps you instead recall the barely visible G-string or thong, partially covered breasts, or clever placement of a background mirror that revealed portions of a body that flew in the face of terms of condition relating to decency and modesty.
I could be wrong. You very well may be the one person with whom I’ve had contact that actually used such attention-seeking posts as motivation to improve your life. Maybe.
If so, you’re likely also beguiled by phrases such as, “Live your best life,” “They don’t want you to be great,” “Positive vibes only,” and so forth and so on. For the rest of us, I imagine that the axiom about good, better, and best serves as little more than poetic white noise filtered in the mind.
That stated, I think it’s worth clarifying that when practicing REBT, my aim isn’t to help people feel better though to help them get better. In this regard, “better” is a subjective term and simply indicates an improvement to one’s circumstance and not with a goal for perfection.
When working with clients, rather than advocating perfectionism, I focus on a “good enough” standard. Regarding this, one source states:
In order to remain more or less sane, which is a pretty big ambition already; we have to learn not to hate ourselves for failing to be what no ordinary human being ever really is anyway. The concept of ‘good enough’ was invented as an escape from dangerous ideals […] Yet, none of this should lead us to feel freakish or unlucky. […] It takes a good deal of bravery and skill to keep even a very ordinary life going […] We should, perhaps more often, step back in order to acknowledge in a non-starry-eyed—but very real way—that our lives are good enough and that is, in itself, already a very grand achievement.
I suspect a person enraptured by social media conditioning may protest, “Deric, it seems like you’re encouraging people to settle and that sounds awful!” Inferred in this imagined challenge are should, must, and ought-type narratives—much like those italicized in the aforementioned source.
Challenge 1: People should never settle.
I’ve been told by many people in my personal and professional life that they believe settling for less than what one desires is somehow a bad practice. This sort of desire can lead to suffering.
One person from my personal social group (“person X”) recently expressed that her mother taught her never to settle, because doing so meant that person X basically gave up in life. The inference was to strive to be good and not stop until she achieved the best outcome.
How did person X’s indoctrination serve her? Like me, she developed a psychological condition worthy of formal diagnosis. As well, she bounced among romantic partners, because not only was she not ever going to attain the “best” standard, none of her partners were considered to be good enough for her.
Delightedly, she learned to reject the nonsense her mother imparted. Now, person X is married to a man who is good enough and they remain content rather than tirelessly striving for an elusive standard of happiness.
Challenge 2: It is awful to settle, as one ought not to do so.
This challenge relates to low frustration tolerance (LFT)—often characterized by the statement, “I can’t stand” someone or something. To awfulize is to imagine something being as bad as it possibly can be.
When awfulizing with an LFT belief, person Y may say, “I can’t stand how awful it is to settle, because I deserve the very best in life!” The implication is that person Y must have the best.
Using a demand of this sort may be unhelpful. Still, people convinced that it is “awful to settle” may inevitably require the highest standard of achievement for themselves, others, and life in general.
How healthy is it for person Y to use such a rigid condition? Suppose that instead of settling for contentment, person Y inflexibly commands that perfection must be met or else he will sacrifice whatever it takes to attain his goals.
Though it may sound like hyperbole to you, in my practice, I work with this very sort of scenario. There are people who will destroy themselves, ruin relationships with others, and self-disturb about life itself before they ever accept a good enough standard.
I can’t speak on your behalf, dear reader, though to me settling doesn’t sound as miserable as self-destruction. I think I would rather tolerate (stand) a good enough principle—because it’s attainable—than to disturb myself while striving for perfection.
Challenge 3: A psychotherapist and life coach must never encourage people to do an awful thing, such as settling for a “good enough” standard.
While I agree that some mental health practitioners may fill their client’s heads with fanciful ideas of living one’s “best life”—as though social media suddenly becomes reality and manifests in the form of a therapist—I am not that sort of service provider.
My practice is steeped in pragmatism— an approach that assesses the truth of beliefs in terms of the success of their practical application. As such, I’ll leave the pixie dust, rainbows, lollipops, unicorns, gumdrops, and positive vibes to others within my field.
For instance, suppose person Z has entered the dating market after the dissolution of her five-year marriage. Many men have expressed sexual interest, yet none have indicated a willingness to consider pair-bonding beyond dating or sexual activity.
Person Z tells herself, “I’m good enough to sleep with though not good enough to be with and I don’t think I can take going through life like this.” At this point, you likely recognize that person Z is using a self-disturbing belief and an LFT narrative.
Suppose that instead of doing so she practices unconditional self-acceptance by use of an effective new belief such as, “Though I want men to want partnership, their refusal to commit doesn’t mean I don’t retain worth.” How might this helpful and accurate belief impact her attitude?
Now, suppose person Z goes a bit further by using unconditional other-acceptance and says, “Although I would like for the men I date to value commitment as much as I do, there’s no rule to the universe stating they must do so.” How might this impact her mood and behavior?
To really challenge herself, person Z also uses unconditional life-acceptance and concludes, “Despite the fact that loneliness is possible in this life, I know I can tolerate being alone even though I don’t like this outcome.” How would this affect her situation?
Through use of UA, person Z could acknowledge something that is true, even if it isn’t the sort of glittery rubbish promoted on social media and by some therapists. Person Z could accept that she is good enough and retains worth as a human being, regardless of dating outcomes.
All things considered herein, there is nothing inherently wrong with the maxim of “good, better, best.” Personally, I place no value in it beyond the fondness associated with a memory from my teenager years.
Perhaps some people will be motivated by the quote, perhaps not. Rather than relying on extrinsic sayings, I promote use of the REBT method so that my clients can actually get better—with the understanding that “better” isn’t on the path to perfection.
Good enough is simply good enough and anything “better” than this is merely an improvement to an attainable standard.
If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.
As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.
At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!
Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW
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