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SMART Goal Setting for Perfectionists

Goal setting for perfectionists: I don't know when it happened or why it occurred, but somewhere along life's road I learned to not accept mediocrity in my work. After decades of holding my work to higher standards than what other people actually expect, I have realized that perfectionism has robbed me of enjoying my accomplishments. I have decided that I will no longer let perfectionist tendencies hold me hostage. Follow along and discover how to set SMART goals.

Setting goals and achieving goals when nothing less than perfect will do

Setting goals and taking the necessary steps to meet those goals can be quite a challenge for most people, but throw a dash of perfectionism into the mix, and the outcome will most likely either be a masterpiece or nothing at all!

I know of what I write, since I am afflicted by perfectionism. I really do not write that in jest or to belittle anyone with a serious documented disorder, but my perfectionistic tendencies have finally gotten the better of me. In the past I proudly set goals and exceeded my self-imposed goals regularly and up to my standards. But perfectionism-burnout and the stresses of life have taken a toll on not only my ability to meet goals, but to set goals in the first place.

Smart goal-setting for perfectionists

Perfectionists often get overwhelmed by their own unrealistic and unachievable goals!

Perfectionists often get overwhelmed by their own unrealistic and unachievable goals!


Setting goals does not have to be an all or nothing approach

As a writer for HubPages, I have become keenly aware of how paralyzing my tendencies towards perfectionism can be - especially when it comes to setting goals for writing and following-through with published Hubs. I envy those who are able to complete the "30 Hubs in 30 Days" challenge. However, I really don't know of any perfectionist, or at least any perfectionist with teenage-kids and a beagle puppy, that would touch that challenge with a ten-foot pole.

It's not that I cannot set the goal of completing a Hub a day for a month, rather it is knowing that I will not be able to produce thirty Hubs up to my standards within that time frame. I operate under the mantra "quality over quantity," and in many respects that is a good thing; but when the produced quantity per week hovers near zero, then perhaps it is time to give in a little on quality in favor of quantity.

I've come to realize that there is a vast range between "All" and "Nothing" and it is time I discovered that I can be productive and happy in that middle ground.

Don't get me wrong, my over-arching goal is to make money online with HubPages -- knowing that both Google and readers demand a certain level of quality that I refuse to sacrifice. But it's time for the perfectionist in me to loosen up a little and become more productive; it's time to learn to set goals that are both realistic and achievable.


Goal-setting for the perfectionist

Perfectionists really are their own worst enemy, tending to set goals that are both high and difficult to achieve. And while some people may think that perfectionism is a desirable trait, the perfectionist himself often is keenly aware that it can be an affliction if left to self-perpetuate. The Counseling Center at the University of Illinois concludes that,

"... perfectionistic attitudes actually interfere with success. The desire to be perfect can both rob you of a sense of personal satisfaction and cause you to fail to achieve as much as people who have more realistic strivings."

A perfectionist's goals often:

  1. Are set too high
  2. Are not met since the goal was unrealistic in the first place
  3. Lead to chronic failure and reduced productivity
  4. Result in lower self-esteem

How then can a perfectionist learn to set realistic goals, achieve them with a sense of self-satisfaction, and break the tiring cycle of perfectionism?

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A .300 batting average is great! But it means that 70% of at-bats were NOT hits.

Athletic goal setting is not measured by achieving a 100% success rate, so why do perfectionists often think of anything less than 100% as mediocre?

Athletic goal setting is not measured by achieving a 100% success rate, so why do perfectionists often think of anything less than 100% as mediocre?

Set SMART goals

What is a SMART goal?

S Specific

M Measurable

A Attainable

R Relevant

T Timely

Healthy goal-setting

The University of Illinois Counseling Center recommends that all people learn to be healthy strivers, the opposite of a self-defeating perfectionist. One very significant difference between a healthy striver and a perfectionist, is that the healthy striver takes pleasure in the process of achieving goals and accomplishments, whereas the perfectionist focuses on the end result. Success is no longer solely tied to the outcome since there is joy in the journey.

5 Tips on setting goals for the perfectionist:

  1. Set goals that are realistic and therefore reachable.
  2. Set future goals one-step beyond previous goals. Take baby steps in goal-setting. When you achieve a goal, set the next goal a little bigger.
  3. Set an acceptable level of achievement less than 100%. Consider baseball hall-of-famer, Babe Ruth. His .342 all-time batting average means that almost 65% of his at-bats were not hits. The lesson: 100% success is not only not necessary to be considered one of the best, it is often not even humanly possible to achieve. Does that mean that 80% or 90% is a failure?
  4. Do not fall into the all-or-nothing goal setting trap. If you miss a goal, don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. For example, if you set the goal to eat no more than two desserts a week on your diet, don't quit the diet just because you missed your goal and had three. Get back on track and move forward.
  5. Evaluate and learn. Be sure to reflect on what worked and what didn't, and learn from mistakes. Also, be sure to evaluate the entire process, not just the outcome. For instance, if you self-published eight articles for the month instead of your goal of ten, what else did the process bring. Did you meet new authors during that timeframe? Did you receive helpful feedback or unexpected recognition? Did you discover any new writing or publishing tools?

Don't dwell on missed goals!

Remember the 3-Second Rule: If you don't achieve a particular goal, evaluate why, learn from your mistakes, and move forward.

Remember the 3-Second Rule: If you don't achieve a particular goal, evaluate why, learn from your mistakes, and move forward.

The 3-Second rule:

Years ago when my son played Little League baseball, I would sometimes hear one of the other mothers yell out to her son, "three second rule." Finally, my curiosity got the best of me and I asked her what on earth was the 3-second rule. Gladly she explained how her son had three seconds to think about what went wrong, get his head back in the game, and be ready for the next play.

It occurs to me, that the concept of the "3-second rule" is pretty good advice as far as setting goals and expectations for ourselves goes too. Don't dwell on the errors; get back in the game and achieve.



Kristin Trapp (author) from Illinois on April 27, 2012:

justmesuzanne - I have found that having goals that are simple, measurable and attainable works best for me personally. With my other non-HubPages job this work great, especially since I more-or-less determine what projects I am going to be working on without much oversight.

justmesuzanne from Texas on April 27, 2012:

The SMART mnemonic is a great guideline. Breaking goals down into smaller, obtainable objectives is also an excellent thing to do. Voted up and useful! :)

Kristin Trapp (author) from Illinois on January 24, 2012:

Three seconds - three minutes - same principle in terms of just picking up and moving forward. I think the "rule" definitely applies to goal setting since it is so easy to just dwell on what went wrong, which can often be all-consuming, keeping us from achieving new goals. Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

Enlydia Listener from trailer in the country on January 24, 2012:

Ahh, three second and not three minute...must be why I am lagging behind. I often need help in breaking this rule will be helpful. Blessings and have a nice day.

Kristin Trapp (author) from Illinois on January 23, 2012:

I liked the 3-second rule myself, or at least the concept of getting yourself back in the game and moving forward. If not, it is so easy to dwell on past events or missed goals.

Enlydia Listener from trailer in the country on January 23, 2012:

I really enjoyed reading this...including the comments...since as Dave was asking you more and more questions, I was understanding my own connection...

I love the 3 minute rule...and in three minutes, I will leave the computer and do one of my goals.

David Stillwell from Sacramento, California on January 03, 2012:

so how do you find the balance between beneficial data collection and harmful obsession? I find that data is fascinating and so I tend to collect and collect... but I get lost in the pieces rather then putting it to use. Then my mind opens a million doors and the possibilities of what to look at next is like a brick wall. Can you see really far down a chain of events? that is my problem... I see too much...

Kristin Trapp (author) from Illinois on January 03, 2012:

Dave - Thanks for reading again and yes you did in fact make Simone's point. There are any number of ways various personality types can keep from reaching their goals. Analyzing data tends to a be a two-edged sword for me - it motivates me, yet if left unchecked can consume vast amounts of time.

David Stillwell from Sacramento, California on January 03, 2012:

Well... I had to go read this again... and a thought came to me about all of this... well not all of it but just the great parts... have you plotted earnings yet to see which days make the most? Or if a hub published on X day of the week does better then a hub published on Y day of the week? Is there a difference between weekly views and weekend views? Which are the highest days for google viewing, etc. I am making Simone's point... lol

Kristin Trapp (author) from Illinois on January 03, 2012:

Absolutely agreed, Simone. I have watched non-perfectionists in action (i.e. my kids) and they definitely have their own "reasons" for not getting tasks/goals completed :) Plus, I think with all the 24/7 technology at everyone's fingertips, the opportunities to be distracted are endless.

Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on January 03, 2012:

I think perfectionists can have just as much trouble as other folks with goals- but in very different ways! So glad you've addressed those specific problems. This is a fabulous guide!

Kristin Trapp (author) from Illinois on January 01, 2012:

Hi Danette - I can actually still hear that mom yelling out, "3 second rule" in my head. It did seem to work and the concept is a good one.

There is actually a SMARTER goal acronym (SMART is listed in the article) with an added E for evaluate and an R for reward. I certainly agree that we should evaluate how we did compared to our goals and learn from any failures. I really am going to try to do this every month for the year. Thanks for your thoughts.

Danette Watt from Illinois on January 01, 2012:

I like that 3 second rule - I think it's important to be kind to ourselves. Even if we don't reach a goal we set for ourselves, as has been said, we can learn from our failure to do so.

Cindy Murdoch from Texas on December 31, 2011:

ktrapp - thanks! I will look at the hub you mentioned!

Cindy Murdoch from Texas on December 31, 2011:

Not the bull .... no B.S.You'll have to guess again!

David Stillwell from Sacramento, California on December 31, 2011:

that may be it... I don't get much into astrology as a science or whatever it is... but I think the common personality traits are fun.

Kristin Trapp (author) from Illinois on December 31, 2011:

Dave - I just read that a Taurus has the highest compatibility with Virgo. No wonder we like homesteadbound so much :)

David Stillwell from Sacramento, California on December 31, 2011:

I think Homesteadbound is a Taurus...

Kristin Trapp (author) from Illinois on December 31, 2011:

Oh my gosh Sue! I just have never gotten into or understood the whole astrology thing, especially when some people consider it a religion, but this Virgo thing is a little weird. I vote that Dave should write a virgo/perfectionist hub - or you could. Too funny.

Kristin Trapp (author) from Illinois on December 31, 2011:

Homesteadbound - I think stuff is a great word! I wrote a hub with an answer to your question on what I mean by webmaster tools and how to submit a website or new article to it. I would suggest reading the steps and then watch the video. It's pretty straightforward, but I am more than happy to answer any other questions you have. However, I am not sure about other search engines.

Sustainable Sue from Altadena CA, USA on December 31, 2011:

OK, well I'm an amateur astrologer, so I'm not too surprised. I'm also a Virgo - August 25th. Any others of us out there? (lol)

Cindy Murdoch from Texas on December 31, 2011:

ktrapp - I admire your hubs. You have knowledge of SEO and stuff (do you like that professional word) like that. I wish I knew more. Like - could you tell me what you mean by webmaster tools and submitting hubs to google. And is there a way to do this for some of the other search engines.

Kristin Trapp (author) from Illinois on December 31, 2011:

Homesteadbound - I think sometimes "life" interrupts our goals for a purpose. But I can think of interruptions I would much prefer than dental work. But I will say it again, I am amazed by your quality, pace, and determination. But just make sure you're having fun in the process.

Cindy Murdoch from Texas on December 31, 2011:

One more comment. After I finished my 30 in 30, I was still pushing myself to do one hub a day, and I saw no end in sight to that expectation. Then this week I was supposed to get 8 crowns at the dentist, but they wound up doing 7 crowns and pulling one. The pain of that plus the allergic reaction to the pain med wiped me out, so I have accomplished very little in the last few days. I am starting to feel like myself again. But the cycle of absolutely having to have one hub done a day has been broken. It is so easy for me to have that expectation of myself.

Kristin Trapp (author) from Illinois on December 31, 2011:

Michelle - I love it. What a nice perspective and I am gathering one's perspective can make all the difference. Did I miss my goal of 50 hubs by year's end? Yes, but I accomplished 96% of my goal.

Kristin Trapp (author) from Illinois on December 31, 2011:

Steph - You stated how I feel so succinctly. Having kids in the home makes sticking to personal goals a little trickier. But I really am not willing to compromise on quality. Slow and steady wins the race. I think you are proof of how consistency can pay off. Thanks for the vote up.

michelleernst on December 31, 2011:

Always work toward the "middle ground" where there is accomplishment yet room to learn...

Stephanie Marshall from Bend, Oregon on December 31, 2011:

Simply PERFECT (get it - perfect?) LOL!! But seriously, I am like you when it comes to writing hubs, and many other endeavors in life. They have to meet my high standards, or its not worth doing. With 4 children who are all competitive in sports, this is key advice. I am bookmarking for their reference - especially my teenagers. Thanks and rated up, up, up!

Kristin Trapp (author) from Illinois on December 31, 2011:

OK - no more over analyzing homesteadbound - except of course for all the stuff that is going to be on my new spreadsheets. That kind of analyzing actually propels me forward. Haha.

Kristin Trapp (author) from Illinois on December 31, 2011:

Very interesting millionaire tips. It's funny how differently people set out to accomplish the same goal. For myself, for now anyway, I am going to have to set a very concrete goal within a very short, measurable time frame. At the moment I am going to have to break it down by the week, and get at least one hub published per week for four weeks. If I plan on doing four hubs in a month then it may not get done. And now that I have actually published my goals, you guys can all hold me accountable. I think the SMART goal setting acronym (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, timely) is going to work best for me. I'm sure in the future I can widen my time frame. I think this method can really work for any type of goals, even dog walking!

I am wondering about the lady that does the 10 laps - I bet she enjoys her walks, maybe gets lost in music, the scenery, other people and dogs, etc. She probably enjoys the process and so 10 laps comes easily. I on the other hand, would be counting down the laps until I was finished. I think that is why the U of I says that healthy strivers are often more successful than perfectionists because they enjoy the process and not just the results.

Thanks for all your interesting stories this morning.

Cindy Murdoch from Texas on December 31, 2011:

Y'all quit it! Over-analyzing and everything! I can't help but laugh! It's like looking in a mirror!

Shasta Matova from USA on December 31, 2011:

I walk my dog everyday at a local park. It has a track that goes around the perimeter. I would walk around it once, and wonder if I should push myself to go a second time. What if I can't do it? What if I get tired? I know I won't want to go around twice when it s super cold outside. I met a woman who was walking around, and she says she goes around 10 times. Ten.

I decided that if she could do ten, I could certainly push myself to do two. Finally this week, I decided I might as well try for three. Yes, I know that when it gets cold, I probably will have to force myself to do one, but for now, I will do what I am capable of under the current circumstances. I may be able to work up to ten, or I may go down to one or even half. But by taking it one day at a time, I can actually achieve something.

I am almost thinking that I should use this rule for my hub writing. Maybe I can write three hubs one day, even if that means I might not be able to write a hub at all for the next day or even the next week. Take it day by day. As long as I stay focused and make the effort, then I still should get the total I was thinking about for the year - if not more.

Kristin Trapp (author) from Illinois on December 31, 2011:

Last night all these comments had me laughing, and now this morning you've got me laughing again. It's funny how when I read back over my own comments, I see how ridiculous my way of thinking is. Writeronline noticed that too about his comment.

I am glad to have found like-minded people. I guess the key for me (and probably others) is to quit over-thinking everything!

At times when I really got into using my treadmill (yes, that's actually possible) I played mental games with myself. Basically, if I let myself run for 20 minutes, then my mental rule was that I had to always at least run that much every time in the future.

So there were times that I purposely didn't push my running time up because I didn't think I could maintain it and would then run the risk of feeling defeated. Basically, I had to pace myself and build up to a sustainable time. So that is what I think I am going to do with my writing. So no goal adjusting for me. But - wow - I just overthought again!

Cindy Murdoch from Texas on December 31, 2011:

Your response to millionaire tips made me laugh! I keep thinking of my goals that I made for 2012 and thinking that they are too easy, and maybe I should have made this more difficult, or maybe I should have increased this number, or maybe ...

But I have to tell myself to stop it. There is nothing wrong with having a goal that you don't have to kill yourself to achieve. It does not have to be hard.

And whose to say that Once I have achieved the goal that I can't do more than the goal says.

And then rather than just having met my goal, I also exceeded it. And that should make me feel even better.

Except for those little voices that I hear in my head telling me that I should have made a better goal to begin with. LOL

There just seems to be no escape!

Kristin Trapp (author) from Illinois on December 31, 2011:

Millionaire Tips - I can see how a messy house can be the sign of a perfectionist. But as a stay-at-home-mom for many years my home became the focus of my perfectionist tendencies and therefore was clean under the couch, inside the closets, and in the places everyone could see. All the toys were neatly arranged and every piece was carefully put away when the kids were done playing. However, as my focus turned towards my business, other jobs, and now writing hubs, housework has definitely taken a back seat. Not to mention, I'm just exhausted.

I was just looking over my January goals and wondering if I am being too easy on myself, but I am going to leave them alone because I want to achieve them. I already feel reduced pressure so I may actually work more efficiently and exceed my goal. But I do want to follow the goal-setting technique of setting future goals one step beyond current goals and I do want to learn to enjoy the process and not just the final results.

Thanks for your comment and for sharing the housework/perfectionist comparison - very interesting.

Shasta Matova from USA on December 31, 2011: sends out advice about cleaning your house and organizing your life. One of the things she said that really struck a cord with me is that many people's houses are messy because they are a perfectionist. It is true. I spent so much time cleaning underneath the couch and behind furniture, that I didn't have time to get around the whole house.

Now I allow myself not to be perfect. It is okay to make mistakes - in fact that is what makes me human, and more accepted by fellow humans.

P.S. Yes, I still go back and edit my published hubs. It's my hub scrub project.

David Stillwell from Sacramento, California on December 30, 2011:

I am sure with practice... everyone can tell the difference between azure and blue... lol

Kristin Trapp (author) from Illinois on December 30, 2011:

Dave - I never thought that a hub about setting goals for perfectionists would produce so many comments that seriously make me laugh. You're right - no negatives here, only opportunities for success. And oh how I loved office and school supplies, and neatly arranging them all. So funny.

David Stillwell from Sacramento, California on December 30, 2011:

There is nothing negative about being a virgo... because every thing is an opportunity to succeed... even failure... It is what we learn from our actions that helps us to grow as a person. The fact that we are attracted to office supplies like pens, calendars, post-it notes, and ohhhh is that a highlighter.... its all good.... don't eat the paste... I need it!

Kristin Trapp (author) from Illinois on December 30, 2011:

Dave - So I never really paid much attention to astrology, but you are not the first person that has asked me if I am a virgo. I took a minute and looked it up and on the negative side virgos are said to "worry unduly about the need to make things as perfect as they can be." Yikes! With my goals for 2012 I will keep this in mind and hopefully become a freed prisoner from myself too, but I imagine that I won't let go of the chain either. I believe you should write a hub about how you accomplished this! I also now am curious as to how many hubbers may be virgos.

David Stillwell from Sacramento, California on December 30, 2011:

I am an Aug 28 virgo... a free prisoner who will not let go of the chain...

Kristin Trapp (author) from Illinois on December 30, 2011:

Dave - below day 10 (and so is my beagle if that matters). Haha!

Kristin Trapp (author) from Illinois on December 30, 2011:

Writeronline - Oh my gosh - You made me laugh so hard, I am crying. I completely understood every word you wrote, and it's as crazy as it seems. People that don't spend a lifetime doing this to themselves must read stuff like this and think we're all nuts. And you know what? They would be right.

Now that I've sort of gotten burned out and productivity has dropped considerably, I completely understand your comment about vast amounts of idle time contemplating goals, but I do intend on changing that. Maybe it is people like us, that were inspirational behind Nike's "just do it" slogan.

Thanks for making me laugh out loud!

David Stillwell from Sacramento, California on December 30, 2011:

above day 10 or below?

Kristin Trapp (author) from Illinois on December 30, 2011:

Dave - September. Why, what does that mean?

Kristin Trapp (author) from Illinois on December 30, 2011:

Ahh Sue - What a relief to know there is someone else who frets over white space. That's what a lot of people probably would never guess, it's not just the words, grammar and seo, but it's the placement of them, the line breaks, the white space, a pleasing overall look. I think I am both left-brained and right-brained. At least I have gotten a handle on that and can quickly get the "look" I am after. I know if I did the 30 day challenge it would be to the neglect of everything else in my life. I am glad to know you survived it with good results! Thanks for the encouragement!

David Stillwell from Sacramento, California on December 30, 2011:

aug or sept? lol...

Kristin Trapp (author) from Illinois on December 30, 2011:

Dave - You're scaring me! YES, virgo! Does that mean I'm doomed?

David Stillwell from Sacramento, California on December 30, 2011:


writeronline on December 30, 2011:

I can certainly identify with much of what you say about the downside of perfectionism. My lifetime pattern has been to set a reasonably major goal, and just at the point I realise it's going to be reached, discount its value and focus instead on what comes next, or should have come instead, or could have been achieved if I'd set the bar a little higher (since, obviously, if the initial goal was worth reaching, it should have been challenging to the point of virtual impossibility..).

The result of that has been a lifetime of achieving most of the major goals I set myself; but allowing myself no satisfaction or joy in doing so.


I just read that back, it sounds absolutely ridiculous. But it's true.

Luckily, (not) I've drifted the other way now I'm semi-retired - and since I joined HP. Nowadays I waste vast amounts of time idly contemplating goals I should be reaching, but can't quite define. Like, how many Hubs could I write if I got off my ass and got on with wtiting... but hang on, here's something interesting someone else has just posted.. This one of yours fell into my feed the same way, ktrapp. Maybe though, (just maybe)this is the one to rekindle the flame.

In a non-perfectionist kind of way, of course.

Thanks for the brain food.

Sustainable Sue from Altadena CA, USA on December 30, 2011:

You want to know perfectionism? I go back again and again in my hubs, changing words and paragraph breaks and the size of photos to get rid of any unwanted spaces (lol). I did do the 30 day challenge deliberately to make myself let go of the paralysis you speak of. It worked, in that I discovered I can write good hubs without a lot of planning, but the perfectionist streak is still there. Oh well.

Kristin Trapp (author) from Illinois on December 30, 2011:

Homesteadbound, How ironic that both you and Dave should comment on my goal setting article, as I admire the work ethic that you both possess. And I am pretty sure you have completed two, 30-day hub challenges, and are one of the few that has done that without losing quality. I really am in awe. Cloverleaf also comes to mind of someone who seems to have set goals as far as hub writing goes. When she's done vacationing (lucky her) I think she is going to be all over our feeds again, no doubt!

I am glad to know that you've eased up on yourself and still produce very nice work, and seem unstoppable. You seem like you're having a lot of fun and that's where I intend my goal-setting to take me.

Thanks for your comment, as always!

Kristin Trapp (author) from Illinois on December 30, 2011:

Dave, Thanks for your thoughtful and encouraging comment. I think my problem is that I have to achieve quality but I need to increase my productivity level. You, Dave, are a prime example of a hubber who achieves this - producing quality hubs at a very steady pace. In fact, I still recall the first hub I read of yours (growing herbs in a strawberry pot - which I plan to do next spring) and since then I have read one quality hub of yours after another. You have found a nice niche in gardening and nature, it seems. Perhaps for one of my monthly goals I will try to emulate that and focus in on a niche.

I don't think I can discard my second goal for January. It has been on my mind for some time. I want to put together a spreadsheet so I can keep track of additional things that I think are important. For example, I want a column for dates that I've made revisions to a hub, and another to keep track of Google rank, and another for when I've last submitted an url directly to Google via webmaster tools. In the hub stats, you can export a csv of the info that is there so I know I can complete this goal rather easily. For me, a born list-maker, having my own spreadsheet will actually probably increase my productivity. I'm not going to recreate the wheel, but I am going to revise it! :)

And thanks for the davenmidtown goldstar! It's a real honor.

Cindy Murdoch from Texas on December 30, 2011:

Wow, ktrapp! Great hub! I can so relate! I used to be extremely perfectionistic, but I have dramatically eased up on myself, but it is so easy to fall into - over and over. And burn-out is inevitable.

You are a great writer and I wish you luck in achieving you goals.

David Stillwell from Sacramento, California on December 30, 2011:

ktrapp: 1) your hubs are well written and though you did not make 50 this is still a success because I know you can turn out two hubs in 1 day....choosing quality over quantity is always a winning choice! 2) Discard Jan rule #2... it is already done for you in hubpage statistics. Don't recreate the wheel....take advantage of it and move on. You get the davenmidtown goldstar... lol.. well done.

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