Don't Let the Perfect Be the Enemy of the Good


I probably had heard this before, but I came across this phrase recently in a conversation, and it’s been running through my mind ever since.

I was chatting about how people who broadly agree on a generally positive agenda in relation to a particular good cause, say equality or environmental campaigning, can often turn inwards spending an inordinate amount of time and energy arguing over details of their platform. 

My conversational partner turned to me and said: “Yes.  Too often we let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

I was really struck by this phrase, especially in relation to a number of conversations that I had recently with people in relation to their own personal health and wellness.

The phrase, and the idea that it represents, isn’t new. (Which in and of itself strikes me as interesting.)  It seems people have been struggling with this idea for centuries. 

Writing in Art Dramatique (1770), Voltaire attributed the phrase: “The best is the enemy of the good” to a “wise Italian”.

Indeed even Shakespeare offered a similar sentiment in King Lear (~1605): “Striving to better, oft we mar what's well.”


How often have you heard something along these lines in conversation; maybe even from your own lips?

  • “I don’t have the time to go the gym enough, therefore what’s the point.”
  • “I had a cream cake last night, therefore there is no point in continuing to eat healthily.”
  • “I’ve missed too many {insert name here} classes recently.  So I can’t go back.”
  • “I don’t have the time to set aside an hour a day to meditate or be “mindful”.  I won’t bother at all”
  • “I can’t do that {activity}, I will never be as good at it as {person}”

Or even, coming from the other direction but with a similar psychological basis:

  • “I used to do this to a really high standard, I can’t now because {reason}, therefore I won’t bother at all”

The phrase is one of those, “imps of the mind” that it seems so many of us suffer from now, and indeed have down through the ages.

It’s the negative part of our mind trying to trick us into inaction, and the more it wins the stronger it gets.

The key to defeating this tiny demon is to remind yourself three things:

  • You don’t have to be perfect at whatever it is you do
  • Doing something - is always better than doing nothing, and finally
  • Don’t beat yourself up over the things you don’t do.

In the health and wellness environment, this means that we must never let ourselves use the excuse of not being able to do the amount of movement and activity that we want to do (or think we should be doing) as an excuse not to do anything!

We must always remember, taking some steps towards a healthier lifestyle is infinitely better than just settling down on the sofa (maybe with a pizza) and doing nothing.

This is particularly important at busy times of our lives, when family or work commitments are laying heavily upon us.  We must look to embrace what healthy activities we can, but we must be kind to ourselves as well.  We must give ourselves a break when we skip a workout or class, or indulge in a weekend of junk food.

It’s not a problem to fall off the ‘horse of healthy living’.  The important thing is each time you do you dust yourself off, climb back on, and ride on towards the sunset.

Don't let your vision get blurred by negativity.

Don't let your vision get blurred by negativity.

Just keep on going, one day you'll get there.

Just keep on going, one day you'll get there.