It’s Not Going to Be Perfect
Letting It Fly
Posted May 12, 2018
This blog post is not going to be perfect. In fact, this whole ongoing blog—which I’ve entitled “Commit”—is going to be sorely lacking in perfection. Saying it isn’t going to be perfect may not be an auspicious way to introduce my blog, and it may even seem a bit like excuse-making … but I’m committing to writing about how to apply behavioral science to enhance well-being. Because the topic is important to me, I have to grant myself the leeway to make errors. Making a commitment—and keeping one—requires giving yourself permission to learn from your own mistakes.
There’s an old adage credited to the philosopher Voltaire: “Perfect is the enemy of good.” If we want “good” in our life, striving for “perfect” can become a significant obstacle. There is nothing wrong with continuous improvement and aspiring to make things better. Without attempting to exceed our expectations, we’ll be tied down to low achievement or likely become unsatisfied with our situation. This adage is not suggesting that people stop reaching for their goals, but that they realize that attempting to attain perfection often stops them from attaining anything at all.
Our parenting styles won’t be perfect. Our relationship with our partners won’t be perfect. Our meditation practice, exercise routine, diet plan, and actions during the next day on the job or in class will not be perfect. It can’t be, because perfect is unattainable.
As the definition says, “perfect” things have all the desirable elements, and are as good as possible. But we can dream up infinite possibilities, and having all of the desirable elements—ALL OF THEM—is folly because we can always want for more.
The reason I’m suggesting that perfection is unattainable is because “perfect” is simply a human construct created by language. We talk about perfection, but that is just a distant fantasy to which we compare our present reality. In the song, Whoops by Blues Traveler, John Popper sings: “We can imagine the straightest line, but our fingers can’t control the pen.” You see, human language—which is obviously incredibly advantageous for our species—helps us describe and evaluate the world around us and then categorize things as “bad” and “good.” We then use our language to problem-solve how to get more "good" and less “bad” stuff in our life. And that is helpful…
And then we can even go further to evaluate things as “good,” “better,” or “best” and engage in behavior to get the “best” (or most reinforcing) stuff to more effectively help our survival or well-being. The problem with the language we use is that we can sometimes construct things outside of attainment. We can go from “good,” to “better,” to “best,” and then have our language move to “perfect.” As the definition says, “perfect” things have all the desirable elements, and are as good as possible. With so many human desires and endless possibilities, getting things done perfectly is impossible in reality. But because of the way we categorize our world, and the way we’d aim for “better” over “good,” and “best” over “better,” it is no wonder that we’d aim for “perfect” above all else.
This is where committing to engaging in valuable actions outdoes aiming for perfection. A commitment requires action, while perfection is just an aim. Think about what happens when you aim at a target in archery. You use your time and efforts stepping into your stance, focusing on what you want to hit, drawing the bowstring back to the anchor point, and directing the tip of the arrow to that bull’s-eye.
But until you commit to releasing that arrow, to have an effect on the outside world, your aim has no valuable or measurable effect. This is not to say that aiming is a waste of time, but it can be if you simply never let it fly. “Letting it fly” is committing. When that arrow soars, it might actually not hit the bull’s-eye. Heck, it might not even hit the target if it is a new action for you. But once you let it fly, you can see the valuable effect it has on the world, and the first time you hit the target, you can call it “good.” The next time you are closer to the bull’s-eye, you can call it “better.” And when you actually hit the bull’s-eye, you can call it the “best” shot you can make. But was it perfect? Couldn’t a bull’s-eye shot still be critically evaluated as not having all the desirable elements that perfection requires? For example, a person could say “I didn’t hit it 10 times in a row, and it wasn’t as if it was in an Olympic match where I won the gold medal!” Stopping ourselves from letting it fly because it isn’t going to be perfect is the enemy of doing something well.
If archery is important to you, you have to grant yourself the leeway to make errors. Making a commitment—and keeping one—requires you give yourself permission to learn from every time you let it fly, because it won’t be perfect. Because helping people apply behavioral science to their own well-being is important to me, and because I am trying to spread certain helpful ideas to more and more people through this medium, I have to grant myself the leeway to make errors when I write this blog, Making a commitment—and keeping one—requires me to give myself permission to learn from my mistakes. I’d value your feedback if you think I've missed the mark!
"Let it fly. It might not be perfect, but it might be good!"