When work is good enough – managing emotions

When work is good enough – managing emotions

Do you find that you no matter how much effort you put into your work you often do not feel satisfied with what you have done?

We tend to be very subjective and critical of our work (especially when worried about being evaluated by others, or fear failure). What if you took a step back and viewed your work as if it were that of a friend? What questions would you ask to help him/her find alternative solutions? We tend to be kinder towards others and this can help to manage our inner critic.

Instead of focusing on the results you want focus on what you have learned, valuing the effort you have put in to your work. Even if you have not been able to work as consistently as you would have wanted to focus on the present moment and decide to continue with the task.

Overcoming perfectionism:
Sometimes it can be hard to get back to the task we are working on after taking a break, or when we feel stuck. We tend to rely on how we feel to decide whether to continue or not.

Emotions – from Latin “movere” means “to move” (Gollewitzer & Oettingen, 2015) .  As emotions are the energy that move us, consider what motivates you to engage with your work/activities? What do you want to achieve? If you are starting a project, or studying for a course, focus on the process of learning. This takes time so it will require repeated efforts to understand a topic, to then be able to remember it when you need to apply it.

Perfectionism refers to the tendency to set high standards that are impossible to achieve without having a detrimental effect on health (Ben-Shahar, 2009). Having high standards can be a good motivator, provided the focus is on learning and when aiming for improvement. When these become the only objective that is pursued relentlessly it can cause significant distress and prevent learning.

Thoughts such as “If it isn’t perfect it is no good.”, or “No matter what I do it will be awful.” Having difficulty in tolerating imperfections and being highly self-critical prevent making progress with tasks. Sometimes these high standards are applied to how we feel, e.g. when thinking “I shouldn’t feel frustrated or down.”

Sometimes it can feel that things are not progressing well, or we wish we had done things differently. Looking back will only cause more tension, instead bring your attention to the present moment to start to turn things around.

To develop your strengths to sustain efforts to do good work strive for excellence, where the focus is on developing a deeper understanding of the subject, and on improving skills. In addition, having a strong work ethic and discipline are essential characteristics that lead to reaching meaningful goals.


Bandura, A. (1997) Self-Efficacy. The exercise of control. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company.

Ben-Shahar, T. (2009) The pursuit of perfect. How to stop chasing perfection and start living a richer, happier life. New York: MacGraw-Hill Books.

Berkman, E.T. (2008) The Neuroscience of goals and behaviour change: Lessons learned from Consulting Psychology. Consulting Psychology Journal, 70, 28-44.

Brown, P.C., Roediger, H.L. & McDaniel, M.A. (2014) Make it stick: The science of successsful learning. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard Business Press.

David, S. (2016) “Emotional agility. Get unstuck, embrace change, and thrive in work and life.” London: Penguin

Duckworth, A. (2016) Grit. The Power of Passion and Perseverance. London: Vermillion.

Fishbein, M., & Ajzen, I. (1975). Belief, Attitude, Intention, and Behavior: An Introduction to Theory and Research. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Gollewitzer, P.M. & Oettingen, G. (2015) Psychology of Motivation and Actions. In Wright, J.D.(Ed) International Encyclopedia of Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2nd Ed,, Vol.15. Oxford. pp.887-893.





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