Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

Getting Better vs Being Good

Everybody likes to do stuff they’re good at. When we’re doing the types of tasks and projects we’ve already mastered, we feel in control and confident. But settling into our sweet spots – and avoiding new experiences that require us to “stretch” – comes with consequences.

Let’s try a quick self-assessment:

  • Do you feel hesitant to learn new skills, especially with others?
  • Do you feel uncomfortable working on new types of projects or with new clients?
  • Do you only apply for jobs when you are 100% confident that you can already handle all of the responsibilities?
  • Do you avoid going to places where you don’t know most people?
  • Do you dread showing others your work in progress?
If you answered, “Yes,” to any of these questions, you may be limiting your creative potential by focusing on “be-good” goals versus “get-better” goals.
Heidi Grant Halvorson, PhD, explains this concept (and backs it up with lots of research studies) in her excellent e-book “9 Things Successful People Do Differently,” and I wanted to share with you how this small mental shift could produce massive creative gains.

To start, let’s define the two types of goals:

  • Be-good Goals: Put the emphasis on proving you have ability and showing you know how to do something.
  • Get-better Goals: Put the emphasis on developing ability and learning to master a new skill.
Although on the surface be-good goals may seem like they would scare you into completing your best work, they in fact make you anxious about stretching yourself and make it difficult to adapt well to change. Halvorson’s studies show that when you feel you must complete flawless work—no matter how challenging the task—you tend to make MORE mistakes.
Ironically, the negative impact of be-good goals can actually increase as you become more skilled. Once you’ve developed a certain status in your field or expertise in an area, you can shy away from doing anything where you can’t guarantee your initial performance will meet your exceedingly high standards. Learning becomes “embarrassing” instead of “energizing.”
Get-better goals, meanwhile, push you outside of your comfort zone so you can focus less on perfection and more on learning and growing. Here are a few of the benefits:

  •  The freedom to open yourself up to new opportunities. Almost every career advancement requires that you say to yourself, “I don’t know exactly how to do this yet, but I’m willing to learn and grow to make this happen.” Plus, with the rapid changes that are now par for the course in technology and business, this openness is becoming a necessity. We all need to be adapting and learning new skills all the time just to keep up.
  • The ability to get more of your ideas out of your head and into action. Many creative professionals struggle to move forward on projects because they feel immensely frustrated when their early, real-world executions of their ideas don’t perfectly match the ideal images in their heads. By seeing your work as a “draft” or “mock up” that you can refine, you can dramatically lower the barrier to external manifestation of your internal musings.
  • The courage to ask for help. When you worry that you have something to prove, you can feel ashamed to ask for assistance or direction—even when you desperately need it. Reminding yourself that asking questions and getting input is not a sign of weakness but of confidence can help you gain valuable insight earlier in the process. It can also save time and lead to a better end results.
One final tip to get you to a place of answering, “No,” to all of those questions at the beginning of this post: You will not only want to make “get-better goals” but also evaluate your progress based on “get-better assessments.”
If a toddler compared her first shaky steps to the expert strides of an Olympic marathon runner, she’d end up feeling hopeless that she would ever learn to walk, let alone run. But with steady acknowledgement of her improvements as measured against her own past attempts, she’ll be tearing around the playground in no time.
In the same way, you’ll want to celebrate incremental progress from your own past achievements instead of immediately measuring yourself against the top in the field.
Over to You…
Do you make be-good or get-better goals?

More insights on: Motivation, Skill Development

Elizabeth Grace Saunders

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Elizabeth Grace Saunders is the founder of Real Life E Time Coaching & Training and author of The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment: How to Achieve More Success With Less Stress. Find out how you can accomplish more with peace and confidence at www.ScheduleMakeover.com.
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