“Perfect is the enemy of good.” – Voltaire
What does the quote above mean? How can being perfect be the enemy of good? When it comes to the maximum amount of effort you should put into projects, decisions, and planning. Yet, isn’t it always best to put in as much effort as you can into something you want to get absolutely right? Surprisingly, the answer might be, “No.”
According to Dr. Alex Lickerman, writing in Psychology Today, putting in too much effort might be detrimental to what you are trying to achieve. He writes, “Our development as a creator of good works must at some point involve us learning how to leverage our desire for perfection to impel us toward quality without becoming trapped in a miasma of permanent dissatisfaction with everything we create. At some point, we must remind ourselves, any changes we make to a creation no longer make it better but just different (and sometimes worse).” He even explains that, “overworking something is just as bad as failing to polish it.”
New York Times writer Tim Herrera recently wrote about this topic and came up with the idea of the “M.F.D.” or “Mostly Fine Decision.” He defines this as “the minimum outcome you’re willing to accept as a consequence of a decision. It’s what you’d be perfectly fine with, rather than the outcome that would be perfect.” He explains that the source of the MFD is the difference between people who are maximizers and people who are satisfiers. Maximizers tend to extensively research all aspects of every decision. They spend hours agonizing over a decision, fearing that they will miss the perfect one. On the other hand, satisfiers do little research and make a quick decision.
The irony is that it is usually the “satisfiers” who are happier with their decision. While they make the decision quickly and with little effort, they are satisfied with the results. The maximizers who spend so much time on the decision are often less happy with the results.
The moral of both Dr. Alex Lickerman and Tim Herrera’s research is to just get it done. You will feel so much better after making the decision even if you know it is not perfect.
If you are a maximizer and find yourself stuck in indecision, here are some quick tips to overcome it:
Trust your gut. Your “gut,” or emotional center, will often lead you in one specific direction. It’s probably your brain that is holding you up with “analysis paralysis.” If you are struggling with a decision, chances are that neither option is inherently better than the other (otherwise you would have made the decision quickly, right?). So, allow your emotional side to swing the balance.
Practice with the small stuff. Some decisions should warrant lengthy discussions and multiple pros and cons lists, but others can be done in a snap. In order to get more comfortable making decisions, try working on the “small stuff.” When ordering in a restaurant or picking out a book in the bookstore, attempt to make a quick decision. Don’t allow yourself to linger on these momentary decisions. This way, when you get to the bigger decisions, you won’t be worn out by the smaller decisions already.
Beware of choice. In our society, we love options. We always want to be able to choose between one thing and the next. “The more choices, the better” is the common wisdom. But, in reality, more choice is not always better. In fact, more choices can paralyze us and make it almost impossible to act. Therefore, don’t always look for more options. Instead, stick with the ones you have – most likely you will find one that perfectly suits you.
Stop analyzing. When you find yourself stuck in a fit of indecision, it is often because you are over-thinking everything. You are thinking about the positives of one option and the negatives of the next. You are lining up the different calories in the dishes compared to the protein levels. You are deciding what you will eat for dinner if you eat this dish for lunch. But, if you are working this hard to order in a restaurant (or to make even a much bigger decision), it’s probably because either option is equally good or bad. Therefore, stop analyzing and just do it. If you can’t make a final decision, flip a coin. Because after all, not making a decision is a decision itself.
If you are struggling with perfectionism, in which you feel that everything you say or do must be perfect (not just the decisions that you will make) – that’s a topic for another article. Just remember, no person or decision will ever be perfect!