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Perfection Is Our Enemy

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…

 

The Pursuit of Perfection

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…

 

What happened to good enough?

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.

 

Letting Go

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.

 

Some Strong Money examples

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’…

 

Moving House

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!

 

Investing

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.

 

Blogging

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…

 

The Perfect Happy Life

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.

 

Final Thoughts

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.

18 Comments

18 Replies to “Perfection Is Our Enemy”

  1. Love this perspective Dave – I’m absolutely no perfectionist (thankfully!), and just try to ‘lean’ towards things that I think will make my life ‘better’ or happier. Very similar to the list of things you shared at the end of the post. As long as I’m ‘leaning’ in the right direction, I’m happy.

    I read a fantastic post recently from one of my favourite writers on this very topic, with the message that ‘there is no right decision’:

    https://www.raptitude.com/2018/07/right-decision/

    Not always easy to put in practice, but as you say, we keep learning, and that’s all you can really ask of yourself.

    Cheers,

    Frankie

    1. Thanks Frankie. I like your ‘leaning’ way of thinking. Sounds like you’ve already got this stuff sussed out! Will check out that post thanks.

  2. Howdy Dave, another great article.

    I’m working on perfecting the art of imperfection. Then again perhaps that is still another form of perfection albeit imperfect????. Crikey now I’ve gotten myself confused and have a headache????. It’a all your fault Dave. Time for a beer????. Little Creatures is on the menu today.

    On a more serious note in regard to investing (and life in general) the following saying is a classic: “the enemy of a good plan is the dream of a perfect plan”. Or put another way by Peter T is the previous article: “Frieda and I got to where we are today not by trying to finesse our holdings but by simply getting the basic strategy in place and then damn well sticking to it.”

    As you wisely stated Dave, simplicity and “good enough” can make for a much happier life.

    Cheers

    1. Haha cheers Nodrog.

      When it’s all too hard, just stop and have a beer – I think you’re onto a great strategy there 😉

      Both quotes are excellent, and something I’m taking on board and practicing these days. It’s hard to see the power in simplicity until we complicate something, so sometimes it’s a case of having to make our own mistakes. Hopefully not too many times though!

  3. Another good & thoughtful post SMA, definitely an 8 or 9/10! I tried to post here a few months ago but it ‘got lost’ so here goes again. Yes,seeking perfection in all things can drive one crazy. With investing there’s been some interesting discussion on another forum of which you are a part of, about ETFs & LICs,as you know, concerning which strategy or vehicle is perfect or at least good enough. So it is entirely in the eyes of the beholder in that a particular strategy or idea must suit your own ideals, ideas & experiences. However nothing wrong with being more open-minded & listen to views as we can all learn something even if it just satisfies our current thinking and/or challenges it. I’m a confirmed LIC investor at present & see no reason to change as yet. As for the perfect LIC? For me it’s a mix of ‘old school’ & some absolute return LICs that have been around for a while also, though this could/will change as circumstances alter.
    WE will still make mistakes, but it’s how we handle these & seeing what we’ve learned from them is probably more important than continually berating ourselves for making the mistake in the first place.
    These days in many aspects of life there likely is too much choice,as in you choice of rental property, thus when you found ‘good enough, well good enough & be happy with it,forget about the ‘grass being greener’ elsewhere. Or, I just bought a new toy ‘Oh there’s better one I must have that now’ thus continuing to chase perfection & the slave mentality of working for more money to buy that toy as well instead of,as we would do, be happy with what we have & invest the money instead. Keep up the good work SMA.

    1. Great comment Monk, thanks!

      Haha 8 out of 10 is good enough for me. Hell, even a 7 will do 🙂
      It’s like the message from Peter T – get the basics right and don’t try to finesse it. In investing, that’d be saving regularly, and buying low-cost diversified shares, whether an investor prefers LICs or Index Funds, doesn’t really matter.

      Great point on mistakes. They’re going to happen, as long as we’re learning from them, that’s all we can really hope for 🙂

  4. Thanks Dave

    A couple of things 1). Tell your partner to carry on increasing the veggie garden – love it! 2). Early on I spent a lot of time worried about some of my initial investments before I stumbled on the dividend growth model and ended up fiddling waaaay too much with them to try and mitigate a change in investment style – pretty dumb in hindsight, I should have just left them be, they weren’t that bad … but I wanted a perfect portfolio – pfft! 3). I’ve lowered my expectations about a lot of things over the last 5 years and am infinitely less stressed about life – so it is true about the quest for perfection

    1. Haha don’t say that Phil. I’ll need to go back to work to pay the Bunnings bill! Oh well, at least a little bit comes back in the form of a Wesfarmers dividend 😉

      Thanks for sharing – it’s really strange how our mind works that way. Great to hear about your happiness boost!

  5. A mentor of mine says.

    “Perfection is the enemy of good enough, and good enough will do”

    Another great post Dave. I always appreciate your perspective on things.

  6. Great article Dave. I’ve heard the best investment strategy is the most boring. People try to make it exciting and think it shouldn’t be boring, always looking for the perfect strategy as you suggested. This usually leads to tinkering and under performance. Keep investing boring and focus on the important things in life, is my philosophy. It took me a while to embrace the boringness – (Not a word, but oh-well) of investing and I spent to much time thinking there could be a better strategy or that I should pick some stocks as it’s exciting. I am now happy with boring.

    I read a book recently by Mark Manson ‘The subtle art of not giving a f*ck’. You may like this. He touches on accepting being ordinary and the psychology behind wanting more and how Society pressures us into this. Pretty interesting and a very good read.

    Cheers

    Fergy

    1. Cheers mate. Took me a while to embrace boring investing too, and I think it’s something many of us struggle with.

      Yes, that’s an excellent book, I’ve got it sitting on my shelf 🙂
      So many great messages in it and such counter-intuitive life advice. Really helpful. Will do a brief summary for others next time I do a ‘recent reads’ post.

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