There are two words that have the power to change your life.
They’re not words that sit comfortably in a culture swarming with perfectionists.
We want to be right. We want to be the best. And why shouldn’t we?
Interestingly, swapping the need to have or be “the best” for “good enough” may increase our chances of happiness, achievement and, counterintuitively, success.
For starters, perfectionism can lead to analysis paralysis where we become frozen with the fear about having to make the “right” decision or that something might not be perfect.
“When people have too many options, instead of being liberated by all these choices, they’re paralysed,” says psychologist Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less. “They can’t choose at all. And if they overcome paralysis, they make worse decisions.”
Instead, Schwartz suggests going for “good enough”.
“The single most important piece of advice I can give is: Remember that good enough is almost always good enough,” Schwartz recently told psychology blogger Eric Barker.
“If people go through life looking for good enough results, the choice problem will take care of itself. Go through your day getting a good enough cup of coffee and a good enough toasted bagel and so on and so on and life will look much sunnier.”
Research has found that those who go for “good enough” are generally more optimistic, happier, and less regretful, Schwartz says.
Potentially more successful too.
“Research confirms that the most successful people in any given field are less likely to be perfectionistic, because the anxiety about making mistakes gets in your way,” says Thomas S. Greenspon, a psychologist and author of a recent paper on an “antidote to perfectionism”.
“Waiting for the surgeon to be absolutely sure the correct decision is being made could allow me to bleed to death.”
Anxiety about making mistakes is just one of the problems perfectionists face. It has also been linked with depression and can be so destructive it pushes people to breaking point. Literally.
Various studies have shown that perfectionism is a common trait among people who kill themselves.
The unhealthy side to perfectionism is something that has surprised New York Times bestselling author and research professor, Brene Brown.
Having studied perfectionism for more than a decade, she has concluded that there is a big difference between healthy striving (“good enough”) and perfectionism (“the best“).
Good enough is internal and satisfying, perfectionism is external and related to what will other people think, she says.
“Perfectionism is a way of thinking that says this: if I look perfect, do it perfect, work perfect and I live perfect I can avoid or minimise criticism, blame and ridicule,” Brown explains.
It’s unsustainable and unhappy, Brown argues.
A far cry from being passive or “settling”, going for good enough is about taking the pressure off ourselves and others to be perfect, and instead focusing on what we really care about and what feels good.
Good enough allows acceptance of ourselves and others in all our messy humanity while still striving to reach our potential and see what we are capable of.
And, in this, there is perfection of a more satisfying kind.
This article first appeared on ‘Brisbane Times’ on 6 July 2015.