Breaking Perfectionism Paralysis

Earlier this year, I wrote about how my perfectionism has fueled an aversion to answering e-mails. This was just an example of the “perfectionism paralysis” I often find myself in.

Recently, I’ve added a few personal finance blogs to my daily pile of reading. On one of these, Get Rich Slowly, I’ve found that a recurring is “The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good” — a theme that for obvious reasons (see above) has resonated with me. (In case you’re interested, the original version, “Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien”,  was penned in 1764 by Voltaire in his Dictionnaire Philosophique.)

Applied to personal finance, the lesson JD Roth tries to instill in his readers is that rather than researching all the options of how one could be investing one’s money, it’s best to find an option that’s good enough — and just start.

I don’t know how Lexus feels about it, but Roth does his best to hammer home the point that the pursuit of perfection is an exercise in diminishing returns:


Let me repeat that – the pursuit of perfection is an exercise in diminishing returns. I’ve printed and posted the above graph to remind myself of this. For a perfectionist who self-admittingly struggles with the weight of every decision, this is a liberating concept.

The Paradox of ChoiceFurthermore, Roth recently reviewed Barry Schwartz’s The Paradox of Choice. In the book, Schwartz discusses two types of individuals: Maximizers, who strive to make the best choice possible in every decision they make, and Satisficers, who make decisions once they’ve found a solution that fit the criteria, even if theoretically there might be a better choice available. What Roth found interesting – as do I since it reflects my reality – is that Maximizers are actually less happy than Satisficers. This makes perfect sense to me.

As I’ve mentioned, feeling the weight of every decision — striving to make the best choice possibly while fearing it’ll be the worst — is the way I’m wired.

In his book, Schwartz offers tips for Maximizers like me on how to put less pressure on every decision and consequently live a bit more stress-free. Roth does a nice job of summarizing and presenting about half of those tips. I think I might just have print them and post them next to my “diminishing rate of perfection pursuit” graph.