The Problem with our Pursuit for Perfection and the Life-Changing Practice of Good Enough’


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    Entries in ish (31)


    Exhaustively seeking the best 

    This week’s posts are on maximising. It's not a good thing.

    Nobel Prize-winning economist Herbert Simon talked of ‘maximising'. As a political scientist and cognitive psychologist he knew plenty about how we make decisions.

    If we keep working on something - think a presentation, report or document - we can end up wasting a great deal of energy, time and effort. The result is we create stress, worry and unnecessary overthinking.

    We can find ourselves overworking, over-researching, checking and rechecking or endlessly gathering information. It’s a painful choice to keep chasing or seeking better or best. And yes, better and best belong where standards of excellence are required and achieved.

    But that report, presentation, article, post … it’s time to stop the endless search for the best. It's exhausting. Not just for you, but for the people you work with (and live with). They might be waiting on you to deliver, finish, send or hand over something. Or be there.

    Go check with them: is what you’ve done so far good enough for the task at hand?

    Do you feel exhausted? Might you be seeking 'the best' on something you're currently working on? 


    The danger of more 

    Buying popcorn at the Apollo 11 doco recently (incredible music by Matt Morton btw) the attendant asked if I’d like to ‘supersize it’. The opportunity to upgrade, add more and make bigger is everywhere. When is enough enough for you?

    ‘Maximizing’ is a perfectionist behaviour. We think we need more, better, different or just more.

    ➕More research, data or insights before we present

    ➕More consultation, more people, more topics before deciding

    ➕More searches for more options before choosing

    ➕More editing before posting.

     The drive for more is habitual, hedonic. We gain pleasure, reward and satisfaction - first from desiring more, then seeking it, getting it and knowing that we have it. Only to start the cycle again when we don’t feel better about the more we just got.

    To go without is a fear. There's the rise of FOMO (fear of missing out) as a feeling but the JOMO (joy of missing out) fans affirm that life is OK with less.

    Be aware of your drive for more, more than you had when you thought it was enough. Don’t be fooled by it. Enough can be good enough.


    What society expects of you

    In recent posts I’ve mentioned the expectations we can have:

    - of ourselves

    - of others.

    There’s a third. It’s what we perceive society expects of us.  

    - Society ... you know, other people. Them. Those people over there.

    We can worry a lot about what people think of us. What will they say? How will they perceive us? These worries can become huge filters, censors and constraints to our thoughts and behaviour. They can cause us unnecessary doubt and make us procrastinate, second guess ourselves and reject some of the great things we attempt.

    We can also worry that we ‘should’ be doing better ... or more or higher or faster or longer or neater or cleaner, than we are.

    These are the three types of perfectionism and expectations, all on the increase in the world right now:

    - Of ourselves

    - Of others

    - What society expects of us.

    All of this pressure, piling up, making us overthink, overwork, lose sleep and get stuck.

    Next time you feel stuck or find yourself judging your work or ideas, check in on which of these three types of perfectionism could be at play. 'Seeing it' is the first step to finding ways around it. 


    A high expectation of others. 

    I’ve been posting on 'ish', the practice of good enough and the challenges when don't know the standard we're going for. But what about others?

    Unhappy about the work someone has done for you or a service delivered to you? Perhaps it didn’t have the right information, didn’t look right or wasn’t the way you expected.

    The increasing problem the world has with perfectionism isn’t just about the standards we have for ourselves. Our expectations of others is a problem on the rise too.

    If someone hasn’t done a ‘good enough’ job, you absolutely must clarify the expectations you had ... and the expectations they had. We're not so great at doing this.

    Instead we talk due dates, timelines and deadlines with little to no regard for quality, fidelity or standard. If you 'manage expectations’ in your role, it's not just managing other people’s expectations of you.

    It’s also about you managing your expectations of them. Don’t be difficult about it. Be clear. The ‘are we on the same page’ metaphor is worth working on until you really are on the same page. 


    Go for excellence not perfection

    Excellence says 'good'. It's the act and output of excelling with good qualities in high degree. Yet some parts may not be excellent and these we hope will be the parts that don't really matter or those that can be improved over time.

    My mother, Shirley, put a little sign in our family home years ago that read: ‘I may not be perfect, but parts of me are excellent.’ This is what it's about! Parts of our project, task or activity could well be admirable, impressive, grand and outstanding. And other parts...may be less than that.

    Industries that have established 'Centres for Excellence' - in my local region - include Science, Child and family health, Disability, Railways, Youth mental health, and Automotive.

    These sectors know that everything isn't perfect but parts of them are excellent; the parts that matter.

    They want to improve and get better with both the parts that are already excellent and the parts that need to be a bit more excellent!  

    Let me know what you think. Could you go for something like ‘iterative improvement’ or ‘progressive excellence’, rather than trying to make things perfect?