July 28, 2018
Some people among us would call themselves a perfectionist. And occasionally, it’s even worn as a badge of honour.
In fact, depending on your job, the trait may be somewhat of a necessity – food safety control perhaps?
The aim for perfection itself can be a healthy habit of a passionate individual. Think of a sculptor, for example.
But for the rest of us, it can often lead to a slippery slope of disappointment, anxiety and unhappiness. Here’s how it works…
Whether it’s a partner, our investments, our diet, the work we do, or the house we live in, the fact remains the same. We all want to make the best choices in life. That’s just our nature.
But it’s often not as simple as finding the ‘best’ choice.
All of us have different personalities, behavioural biases, attractions and life histories. So what’s right for one, is not necessarily right for another. Then there’s the issue of having too much choice nowadays.
In our heads, the very idea that we don’t have the ‘best’ option available tends to cause us great stress.
This is extremely well highlighted in this must-watch TED Talk by psychologist, Barry Schwartz.
I couldn’t stop smiling and nodding through the video. I get this frustration so often!
How much energy is spent and anxiety created on the following things:
Trying to take the perfect photo. Finding the perfect place to live. Getting the perfect partner. Finding the best investment strategy or creating the perfect portfolio. Finding the perfect diet. The best place to go on holiday. The list goes on…
It’s not that we shouldn’t put effort into these things. We should. They all matter. Some more than others of course, but they each matter to us.
Maybe I’m just more anxious than the average person. Or maybe I just drink too much coffee! But looking around, it certainly seems people are more worried than ever about making the ‘perfect’ choice.
Rather than making us happier, it’s making us miserable!
And I think it’s simply because there’s so much more choice available.
So the first thing we need to do is take a step back. Relax. And realise, it really isn’t a big deal.
Then let’s admit to ourselves, we won’t make the optimal choice all the time. In fact, we’ll probably make poor choices pretty regularly. But that’s ok. Thankfully, we don’t need to get it right every time to have a happy and satisfying life.
By letting go of the need to strive for perfection, we’ll (strangely) become more satisfied with our choices, and happier as a result!
In many ways, aiming for perfection is a losing battle. There’s really no such thing. The chase will create stress and cause us to question our decisions regularly. And it’s mostly a waste of energy.
Striving for ‘good enough’ is incredibly powerful.
Happiness is when you realise things don’t have to be perfect. Because honestly, they never will be. Or, we can learn to change our interpretation of ‘perfect’.
In my view, when things are pretty good, like an 8 or 9/10, there’s little to complain about. And that’s about as perfect as you’re going to get.
This stuff has dawned on me relatively recently. Some of it I’ve improved on. But other times it’s still a challenge. As with many aspects of life, we learn as we go, hopefully improving over time.
In a couple of areas, I was analysing the choices to death. And what I can tell you is, it doesn’t result in the best decision. It results in more frustration over whether your decision is going to be the right one. That is, until you settle for ‘good enough’…
Long-time readers may remember, at the end of last year we moved house and started renting. After finally deciding we were going to do it, then the choice overload came.
Which suburb? How big a house? How close to shops? How new/old? How much to pay?
It didn’t help that Perth has an oversupply of rentals, meaning more properties to choose from!
Eventually we decided on a location and one of the first houses we saw had pretty much what we wanted, so we decided “yep that’s good enough.” After all, if we don’t like it, we can move in 12 months.
In case you’re curious, so far we love it. The extra space, more nature and peacefulness, as well as my partner’s seemingly ever-expanding veggie patch. Soon there’ll be no yard left!
Another common one that I experienced, and I see many others struggle with, is in investing. Trying to create the perfect portfolio or strategy. Or at least, the one that will deliver the best result. You can stop now, because it doesn’t exist!
There is no perfect portfolio. There’s some overwhelming factors that are important, like low fees and diversification.
But then there are more personal factors, like whether you are aiming for the highest total return, or you have more of an income focus. Also, your tolerance for simplicity or complexity, how much risk you want to take, how you feel about volatility and how involved you want to be.
Every investment strategy has its flaws. There’s no best portfolio. There’s no best allocation. And for those of us investing in LICs, there’s no best LIC.
I settled on my dividend focused investing strategy because it matches my goals.
Will it be the highest performing approach? Maybe not. But I deem it good enough!
And I write about it here because it’s not well in the financial independence community, or in the general public. I think the difference between the people its suited to, and the people who are following it, is huge.
After starting this blog and enjoying the process, I decided to put more effort into it. So I started coming up with more ideas for new posts and trying to fine-tune my (still beginner) writing skills.
While I’m (hopefully) improving, the problem is, each post seems to have problems I can’t quite fix. Sentences that don’t flow. Words that aren’t quite the right ones. Paragraphs I can’t seem to simplify.
It started getting to me. But then I realised the problem. There’s never going to be a perfect post. There’ll always be some way to tweak or improve it.
So the solution is, when I get to 8 or 9/10 satisfied with a post, then that’s good enough!
Could it be better? Definitely. Is it worth the stress of trying to make it perfect? Probably not.
In case you’re curious, here’s what I’ve learned so far after one year of blogging.
Anyway, these are just a few examples, but I think you get the point.
And this perfectionist problem carries over to our life happiness too…
In reality, most of our decisions come back to the desire for happiness. So we believe finding the perfect this or that, will result in the highest happiness.
But we tend to hit level 10 happiness every now and then, when we’re feeling ecstatic or elated about something. If you’re hoping to feel level 10 happiness for an extended period of time, you’re likely to be disappointed.
So aiming for level 10 happiness at all times, is likely to cause stress and anxiety, paradoxically, making you less happy.
We should simply aim to make our lives better over time in small increments. Here’s some examples…
Spending more time with people you really like. And less with those you don’t.
Spend more time on hobbies that excite you and bring you joy, rather than at a job you no longer enjoy.
Focus on being more active and less lazy.
Try to be more resourceful and less wasteful.
Be more mindful and less careless.
Try to be more kind and less critical.
These things aren’t easy of course, or we’d do them all the time. But putting in the effort makes you happier, because your subconscious knows it’s the right thing to do and you’ll feel like a better person for doing so.
It’s not about perfection, it’s about ‘good enough’ plus incremental improvements.
We’re all still learning, all the time.
Even those people we look up to with vast amounts of knowledge, they’re still learning too. And if they’re not, perhaps we shouldn’t be listening to them!
I hope this helps you let go of the desire for perfection, especially when it comes to investing. Our recent chat with Peter Thornhill had an undeniable tone of keeping things simple and not overthinking it. To settle on an approach and portfolio that’s ‘good enough’, rather than aim for ‘perfect’.
This way of thinking is something I’m learning to appreciate lately. So I’ve been making a conscious effort to practice it more in my own life.
And honestly, letting go of this unhealthy pursuit of ‘perfect’ has given me a fresh dose of satisfaction and happiness.
So if perfection really is our enemy, then ‘good enough’ and simplicity are our best friends.