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 and How to Invest Your Time Like Money. Find out how you can accomplish more with peace and confidence at
load comments (28)
  • Matthew


  • jmk

    Very insightful! Thank you for your help Elizabeth. I can defintely relate to the toddler analogy- somtimes I just have a hard time being patient in my attempts to “be good” at something. Trying to overcome my own perfectionism, I realize that my endeavors don’t have to be all-or-nothing efforts. You’ve inspired me to start making “Get Better Goals,” and be more cognizant of my processes rather than just an end result.

  • Jujub

    Hmm..interesting. I find that when I finally do get better at something and reach a goal, I am so proud to have accomplished it, that sometimes it’s hard to continue to push myself further. A little outside encouragement or accountability often helps me- so I’m not stuck in the rut of just being good and can continue to grow and get better. Thank you!

  • Llonkg

    It seems like the common dilemma for all us creative types out there.

  • Elizabeth Saunders

     Thanks so much! I’m glad this was helpful for you!

  • Elizabeth Saunders

     Excellent self knowledge.

    I agree about the outside encouragement and accountability. I think it gives us the safety to step out into something new and then the positive affirmation for the incremental improvements.

    To your brilliance!
    Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • Chris Stewart

    I’m in the get-better mode right now, but at some point, I know I’ll need to switch to be-good for a while and after that, switch back to get-better. I think it’s okay to go back and forth. I think staying 100% in get-better mode can cause problems if you want to be in the make-$$$ mode:) I reckon paying clients usually want something along the lines of what you’ve already mastered. That’s not the time for bold experiments.

  • Elizabeth Saunders

     Excellent point Chris!

    It’s wonderful to be good at something. It’s just that you shouldn’t be so worried about proving yourself that you are never open to anything new.

    To your brilliance!
    Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • Steveb

    I feel that steady growth requires you be comfortable ping-ponging between the two… leveraging your strengths to fortify and power you whilst crossing the thin ice of limited knowledge/capability… or something like that.. lol

  • Simphiwe Nkosi

    Execlty what i needed, Thanks very much … I agree with this article completely.

  • Elizabeth Saunders

    It’s absolutely true that we should be working both in our strengths/expertise and exploring new territory.

    But even when we’re working in our areas of expertise, we need to see everything as a chance to get-better rather than to be-good. Otherwise, our pride/value/worth as an individual is on the line every single time we put our work out in the world.

    However, when we see everything as a learning experience, we can respond well to anything that happens and see it as feedback instead of a judgement on our value as a person.

    Does that make sense?

    To your brilliance!
    Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • Jennifer

    I make “be good” goals. It really does suck the excitement out of whatever you are doing! Thank you for this post! I really needed to hear this!

  • Vaughn Gunnell

    Awesome post! 

  • Elizabeth Saunders

     Wonderful Jennifer!

    So glad you found this freeing.

    To your brilliance!
    Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • Becci Diaz

    A good reminder on how refreshing it is to get “refreshed”.  Comes at a good point in my sorting out my mental trash!  Thanks much.

  • Ben

    What an awesome article! So true! 

  • Elizabeth Saunders

     So glad you found this helpful! It is important to assess what we’re thinking and to refresh anything that’s no longer working for us on a regular basis.

    To your brilliance!
    Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • heycassie

    This perfectly describes the struggle I’ve been having with myself – being too focused on “be-good” versus “get-better”. Definitely needed that read :) Thanks for the post!

  • Elizabeth Saunders

     You’re very welcome!

    So glad that it was of service to you!

    To your brilliance!
    Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • true religion jeans

    I am certainly thankful to you for providing us with this invaluable info. My spouse and I are truthfully grateful, precisely the computer data we needed.

  • DK

    This goes hand in hand with Carol Dweck’s Growth vs Fixed Mindset research.  Awesomely humbling stuff!

  • nXqd

    People shouldn’t compare yourselves with other. Why ? it lowers yourself and another people’s ability shouldn’t be our goals :)

  • Francis Mwangi

    What a ‘tip’, from how I would put it in my life is ‘Being Good + Getting Better’. Great analysis though; true that is. GOD Bless you.

  • Srinin

    “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.”
    Good parallel but with one difference.
    When a toddler makes the effort to get up and walk, every elder around encourages the effort explicitly.
    When an adult tries out something new many times even the near and dear ones are likely to be indifferent or find faults in the effort sometimes with the good intention of helping her!

  • Joey Panettta

    I usually make get better goals because getting better is always a task at hand. You can be good at something but being good is mediocre. There is always more room for improvement. And you shouldn’t compare yourself to others is something that should never be done because there is always people that are better then you, but if you work to get better one day you could be as good as them and keep trying to get better from there.

  • Elizabeth Saunders

    That’s why it’s really important to be encouraging of ourselves and others at any age!

    To your brilliance!
    Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • Brad Johnson

    This is eye-opening, and actually comes from a spiritual truth that can be found in the Bible. Hebrews 10:14 says, “For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” That is to say, that Jesus has perfected us once and for all, even though we are not perfect but rather are in a process of being made perfect. Acknowledging this allows us to move forward, not fearing our own incapability, but rather accepting His forgiveness. We can then enter into the rest of God, and not be afraid of our mistakes. This allows us to move forward in life and live with the hope that He has called us to. We are perfect, and in trusting and believing in that identity, we can make mistakes and always come back to a God who has open arms. Let’s get out there and live life, and leave our mistakes at the cross of Jesus’ sacrifice for us!

  • Arvind

    Thanks Ms.Saunders for the article. It really channelizes my thought process.
    I have a question here. The point that will help me put forth my question will be the last tip that you offered about the toddler – pondering over it practically.

    On the everyday reality, if I am to improve upon a skill, there are two stages to it – analysing what I am doing, and identifying what needs improvement (what is it that I can learn). All of us actually start in reverse, and end up doing the first stage subconsciously, maybe otherwise at times. And to analyze and come up with something that needs improvement, we need to identify the shortcoming, or the scope for improvement.

    Now, this identification is where I find a gap. Or a roadblock. Or a Slowdown. Would you have any suggestions as to how we could effectively, and efficiently, handle that task?

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