Is Trying To Be The Best At Everything Stopping Us From Excelling At Anything?

This originally appeared on The Daily Life. Republished here with permission.

In trying to do everything, do we sacrifice the personal goals that matter the most?

Most days I get out of bed at 5:45am and practice yoga. I do not leap or spring, in fact I’m a zombie until 7am, when BOOM! I feel energized, zen-ified and yes, just a little bit smug. My secret is “auto-pilot.” The lazy person’s way of accomplishing the most while doing the least.

But lately it hasn’t felt like enough.

Last week when I couldn’t muster the energy for handstand my teacher gave us a lecture: “How can we expect to achieve our goals when we don’t challenge ourselves? Where have we ever gotten on auto-pilot?”

Does 5:45am count for nothing?

In her new book Thrive, Arianna Huffington says that the best way to achieve a goal is to drop it. I’m not going to drop yoga, because my goal is mental health and well-being, not the perfect handstand. But in not perpetually trying to achieve my personal best, was I stagnating and just not noticing?

In a fit of “not good enough,” I downloaded a goal-setting/time management strategy. As I scheduled and color-coded my Career, Health, Money, Personal Growth, Lifestyle, Family, and Relationships goals, I felt a rush of elation. All-around excellence would soon be mine!

Two days later my compartmentalized goal list felt more like a weapon of self-esteem destruction. If I take the cat to the vet during “Business and Career” goal time, do I work Saturday and cancel “Relationships”?

In which category does “collapsing on couch” fit?

Now, when I see joggers jabbing on fitness apps recording their vitals or hear personal trainers pushing people to beat their Personal Bests (at life! In sprints times! In super-food recipes!) part of me just feels…joyless. Is trying to be our Personal Best at everything stopping us from excelling at anything?

In trying to do everything, do we sacrifice the personal goals that matter the most?

When I look at the people who actually achieve the goals that are important to them, they all have two things in common. The first is that their goals are meaningful to them, regardless of whether other people approve. Whether the goal is “start my own business,” “write a book” or “do nothing all day”—if it’s meaningful to you, it’s worth pursuing. Others may scoff, but who gives a crap?

We’re lucky if we achieve our personal goals two, maybe three times in a lifetime. And when we do there’s no better feeling.

The second thing these goal achievers have in common is that instead of doing a stupendous job in all the things, they practiced the stovetop method. Picture your life as a stovetop with four burners: family, friends, health, and work. In order to achieve a goal, you need to turn down a burner. In order to achieve it fast, you need to turn down two.

The caveat is that turning off any one burner completely is counter-productive. There’s no joy in achieving your career goal only to have a heart attack at 40 because you turned off the “health” burner and ate takeout every night. Likewise, being left by your beloved because you turned off the “relationships” burner and they found love elsewhere.

The trick is to figure out that one goal that’s meaningful to you—whether it’s a five-year goal or just a 30-day challenge. And for all of the other areas, divide your life into categories and…

…Behold: the Good-Enough Maintenance Plan™.


“Research has shown that people who try to make massive changes to their lifestyle in order to reach a goal rarely succeed,” says Dr. Adam Fraser, co-author of The Good Enough Diet. “It is the people who go to ‘good enough’ who consistently get the best results.”

Define your daily “good enough” and stick to it. Mine? Eat greens, no sugar, move, and have quiet time. As for “Personal bests, 20-second intervals, goji berries, and detoxes”? Meh.


We need them. But hang with the people who don’t need a recap of your last three years. And if you can see them while doubling up on another maintenance goal, like mental or physical health, all the better.


Take an honest look at your body type. What suits you? What doesn’t? My body type is “giraffe with cankles,” which means no to capri pants, but yes to boat necks and boots. “High waisted is back—here’s how to wear it!” Forget it.  

Find two or three outfits that make you feel awesome. Buy them in many colors and fabrics.

Finances / Career 

If “get master’s degree” or “recover from physical or mental illness” is your primary goal, then your financial/career goals could be “Keep roof above head” and “Don’t screw up.” In that order.

Cooking / Lifestyle 

Does your primary goal prevent you from giving a crap about cooking? Do you watch The Food Network and think “those people look so relaxed about cooking”? No? That’s because “cooking” means looking up a recipe, buying ingredients you won’t use again for six months, stressing about timing, and then photographing the results. “Assembly” means bringing together four or five fresh, tasty ingredients and consuming them, because that is what food is for. Take a leaf out of your fashion book: Find three or four healthy meals in each category that work for you, and rotate.

Alice Williams is an author, university tutor and yoga teacher. In her spare time she enjoys line dancing, wearing singlets and teaching fools to lift their game.

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