• Two of my favourite contradicting idioms, and why I love to applying both of them

  • April 13, 2020

  • Since I am about to sing the praises for two idioms that contradict each other, it makes sense for me to talk about them separately first. So let’s do that.

    Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well.

    This was written by Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield in one of a series of letters he wrote to his son on “The Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman”. But this particular quote is one of my favourites as it applies to everything.

    There are many versions of this saying that motivational speakers and life coaches who will espouse in various forms. That is why I would be surprised to hear that you hadn’t already come across it in one way or another.

    In its most basic form, the saying is about the fact that if you are going to commit, you should only do so if you are prepared to do it wholeheartedly; to give it your full attention and do it to the best of your ability. This, in my opinion, is excellent advice. In today’s world, our attention is always being stolen and vied for by every device, app, computer program along with our friends, family and loved ones. As such, I know that I tend to “half-arse” certain things, doing it just well enough to get it across the finish line.

    The thing is, I know I’m better than that. And when I do give something my full attention, yes it obviously gets done to a higher standard, but it also feels better and easier for me to do it. Multi-tasking is all too tempting, and ignoring that temptation, for me, is very rewarding.

    Ignoring the little nagging voices who keep reminding me how much more fun I might be having if I was playing video games or going to the pub, helps improve my focus. Particularly if the thing in question is something I don’t want to do, then practising focus and “doing a good job” on it, makes it easier to focus and do an excellent job on the things I do want to do.

    If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing it badly.

    I’m sure you can now see how aggressively these two sayings seem to be saying completely different things and are at complete odds with one another. Technically, yes, they are. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s just have a look at what G.K. Chesteron was getting at when he wrote this.

    Lots of people will have done lots of research and studied into exactly what Chesterton meant when he said that. However, I just like what it implies when it comes to a bit of self-reflection. I used always to be trapped by the idea of having to do everything perfectly and would delay ever actually doing anything. Usually, my justification would be something along the lines of, “it’s not ready yet” or something similar. Thought were it was most insipid, was when it came to things as mundane as going to the gym.

    I would look for any reason not to exercise or work out, and since I “didn’t have the energy” for a full workout, I should probably wait until tomorrow. The thing is, five minutes exercise is better than no exercise. Doing a “poor” blog post/article is better than no blog post or article. If it is worth doing, it is worth doing it poorly, as long as it is done.

    How to use them together?

    This is something I only recently realised I was doing, but it is, as odd as it may seem, reminding myself of both of these inspirational quotes and allowing them to work in tandem.

    The argument that takes place in my head is usually something like this:

    • I don’t want to do the thing

    • I should probably do the thing anyway

    • I only have to do it “well enough”, so why not just get it done

    • I’ve started now, and it really isn’t that bad

    • I may as well do this properly now that I’m here and made it this far

    Then, I end up having completed the thing, and usually to a quality that I can be proud of! Try it for yourself, start with one, and then move to the other. You just might surprise yourself.

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