Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Perfection Paralysis

Do you ever find yourself unable to move forward?  You have an idea of what you want to happen, but feel stuck because none of your actions feel like they're "good enough".  You end up paralyzed by the need for PERFECTION.

I was so excited to have written my first blog post a few days ago: I had finally achieved one of my long-term goals - "Become A Blogger" (quickly replaced with "Become A SUCCESSFUL Blogger")! It was exhilarating to create something substantial, even if it was only an introductory post. Well, that high faded by the time I got home and I had to start thinking "So, what's next?"

Obviously another post. But on what? I had a couple of ideas laid out, but none of them seemed right.  I had to have the perfect post to follow up with, or the few readers I had drawn would scatter to the wind.  And so, in my pursuit of perfection, I dismissed topic after topic after topic... and got pretty much nothing done.

Man, was I getting frustrated - here I am wanting to become a professional blogger and I can't think of a single damn thing to write about!  On top of that, the layout of my blog wasn't quite where I wanted it.  Oh, and my text editor isn't the BEST - shouldn't I be searching for a better one first? And that's when I remembered...

"The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good"

Thankfully I had remembered an old GRS post which was very instrumental in getting me DOING things.  J.D. talks about how obsessing over things like interest rate comparisons or investing in the BEST mutual fund can keep you from investing at all: where you could have made a 1-2% return on a suboptimal investment, you're now making 0% because you can't make up your mind.  This is applicable in many other areas of life; many of my endeavors in the past year have fallen short because I was unsatisfied with the results I was getting, or worried I wasn't working in an "optimal" way.  I either gave up halfway or didn't even bother to start.

Perfect A good example:  strength training.   When I finally decided to get in shape back in February, it took ALMOST A MONTH to finally get to the gym.  Why?  I had to make sure that the program I chose was the "best", of course.  Why waste my time on anything less?

And when I finally started a program, I found myself constantly questioning it's effectiveness.  Hour upon hour was spent researching better programs that would use my gym time more optimally to gain faster results.   If I had applied a fraction of the energy I had spent trying to find the perfect strength training regimen to actually lifting, I would be a monster by now.  Instead, I got fed up and stopped exercising altogether, convinced I would never find the perfect routine.

Because I did not believe what I was doing was optimal, I did nothing.  When action is required, I cannot think of anything less productive than getting stuck in this cycle.

This is the curse of the perfectionist.  In settling for nothing but the best, we end up missing out on quite a bit of life.  David Turnbull recently wrote a "guide", How To Be Imperfect, that illustrates many of the dangers of seeking perfection and offers some solutions.  To me, the greatest danger is that in constantly striving for perfection you are essentially getting nowhere, as perfection simply does not exist.  Anywhere.  Ever.  Name me one thing that is perfect.  Just one! (Don't bother. Green & Black's 85% Organic Dark Chocolate is about as close as we're going to get.)

The world we live in is does not conform to human-invented concepts of 'perfection', and that is exactly what makes it interesting.  It's perfectly fine wonderful to have ideals and want to do the best you can, but if you get caught up in trying to do something 'perfectly', you'll probably find you end up doing nothing at all.

So I settled for imperfection.  I read Tim Ferriss' Geek to Freak article recently, and it lit a fire under my ass.   Time to get back to the gym!  But there was no way in Hell I was going to make the same mistakes again, or waste all of that time researching.  I packed up my gym bag and busted out a couple of sets - and boy did it feel great!  It may not be the 100% best program, but I guarantee you it'll give me better results a month from now than the alternative - nothing.

And hey, look at that - in just letting go and not worrying about how great it is, I managed to write up a pretty decent post.  It may not be perfect, but it'll do.

Trying to follow my own advice and not edit this thing into oblivion.


  1. Thanks for the shout-out Aaron. Much appreciated. :-)

  2. David,

    Thanks for being a rock-star :) Your writing has been a powerful inspiration to getting me on the road I'm on.

  3. Aaron, this post is Earth-shattering. You just helped me shed so much light on my own perfectionist, time-wasting habits. Thank you.


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Man vs World by Aaron M Fraser is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.