The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good (Walking example)

“I'm going for a walk,” I announced to Kris at about 10:30 Saturday morning. Though it was cool and rainy, I needed some exercise. It's been a while since I made my three-mile stroll through the neighborhood. But before I could get out the door, I decided to change into warmer clothes.

I went upstairs and rummaged around to find the perfect pair of pants. I sorted through my sweatshirts, looking for my favorite. When I couldn't find it, I had to settle for second best. I put it on. Then I decided that the wind would be too cold on the back of my neck (I just had a haircut), so I pulled off my sweatshirt, put on a turtleneck, and then put on the sweatshirt again.

Now that I was dressed, I had to find my shoes. My lawn-mowing sneakers were by the front door, but I couldn't find my walking shoes. I eventually found them in my office. I put them on. I grabbed my iPod from the kitchen table. My gloves were there, too, and I paused for a moment to debate whether I needed them. I decided against them.

“I'm going,” I shouted to Kris as I paused to check my e-mail. The clock on the computer said 10:51. One message needed an immediate reply. I was hungry, so before I wrote back, I went to the fridge to get a snack. I microwaved some leftovers, then sat down to reply to the e-mail.

Finally, at 11:16, I left the house. I started walking downhill and realized I did want my gloves after all. I went back to get them. As I was leaving a second time, Simon came meowing up to me. I went back to let him inside. It was now 11:20. It dawned on me that I was doing everything I possibly could to avoid this walk, so I procrastinated just a little longer. I sat down to write this list.

It took me over an hour to actually leave for my walk. This is dumb. I could have — and should have — simply opened the door, put one foot in front of the other, and walked.

It's the same with your finances.

You can come up with all sorts of reasons to put off establishing an emergency fund, learning about money market accounts and cd rates, and to put off cutting up your credit cards, to put off saving for retirement. Stop it. Stop making excuses. Your best choice is to start now. You should compare interest rates, but you shouldn't completely obsess – who cares if you don't find the absolute best interest rate? Who cares if you don't find the best mutual fund? You've found some good ones, right? Pick one. Get in the game. Just start. Starting plays a larger role in your success than any other factor.

The perfect is the enemy of the good. When you spend so much time looking for the “best” choice that you never actually do anything, you are sabotaging yourself.

Open the door, put one foot in front of the other, and go.

More about...Psychology

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Sam
Sam
13 years ago

Great example of a common problem which is certainly applicable to finances, exercise, cleaning/organizing that closet/drawer, etc.

I like this from the Tao Te Ching: Confront the difficult while it is still easy; accomplish the great task by a series of small acts.

finance girl
finance girl
13 years ago

You so hit the nail on the head here. Indeed, stop worrying about “but is this the best time to buy?” or “what if…?” and just have the confidence to do it. You’ll never know what the market will do tomorrow or the next day or the day after that. Just look at the fundamentals, make sure you understand them and buy.

Nathania Johnson
Nathania Johnson
13 years ago

There’s a line in the lyrics of the song “All at Once” by The Fray that say “Perfection will not come.”

IT’s SO True! Perfection never comes yet we can waste so much time trying to find the perfect ___________.

A note about the exercise – after trying to get in the habit of walking, I’ve realized I’d rather exercise inside – jumping jacks, arm circles, crunches, pilates, etc.

So sometimes the pursuit of perfection might be the avoidance of something we can change.

Maria
Maria
13 years ago

Thank You so much for this!! In January, I bought a daytimer/journal so I could literally keep track of my financial progress – my actions – and therefore eliminate the possibility of tricking myself into thinking I was on track. Well, there is no getting around the previous month of blank pages – or the financial slump that ensued. I just pulled it out and am getting everything back in order RIGHT NOW!! And just as an extra precaution, I have printed out your entry and am posting it next to my computer!

Ponz
Ponz
13 years ago

I do a lot of DIY projects around the house, and I tend to go overboard and get overly fussy. Lamenting this at work one day, a coworker gave me a bit of advice that was so good that I made a sign and hung it up in my workshop:

“PERFECTION IS THE ENEMY OF COMPLETION”

dimes
dimes
13 years ago

So did you actually get around to the walk or not? 🙂
This is the reason my finance files are a mess. I haven’t decided exactly *how* to organize everything, so I haven’t. Which is why part of my house looks like a Cathy cartoon. The finances themselves? Organized. The paper trail? No.

samerwriter
samerwriter
13 years ago

Awesome post. I find myself doing the same thing at work. There’s something I *need* to get done, and there’s a lot of little things that I can choose to do instead.

A week later, the thing that needs to get done, still isn’t done.

John Bodoni
John Bodoni
13 years ago

Then I decided that the wind would be too cold on the back of my neck (I just had a haircut)

Seems like a good reason to start saving money on haircuts… 😉

Ziptar
Ziptar
13 years ago

BAM!!!
That is like the best thing I have read in years.

As one starting out saving for retirement and with little knowledge of where to start… just getting started is good enough for now.

Lazy Man and Money
Lazy Man and Money
13 years ago

I found this is especially true in the case of entrepreneurism. It stops me time and time again.

rob
rob
13 years ago

From Hagakure – the book of the samurai:
“In the words of the ancients, one should make his decisions within the space of seven breaths. When your mind is going hither and thither, discrimination will never be brought to a conclusion. With an intense, fresh and undelaying spirit, one will make his judgments within the space of seven breaths. It is a matter of being determined and having the spirit to break right through to the other side.”

Lynn
Lynn
12 years ago

I understand completely the art of procrastination when it comes to walking! This is how I fixed it: I start my walk each evening at 9pm. I have no distractions and my day is winding down, all the piddling around is done. I have shoes that I use mostly for walking and I keep them by my door, underneath the jacket that I wear for walking……the jacket is a HUGE old oversized cotton jacket that is FRIGHTFUL, but I love it cuz it keeps me warm, it is very roomy and my mp3 player can sit right in the pocket!… Read more »

Jen
Jen
11 years ago

Thanks, J.D. I was reading this while tinkering with the first 3 pages of what is supposed to be a 20 page paper. I’d never heard that quote before, but it describes what I’ve been doing. You saved my day today!

Susan
Susan
10 years ago

Like Im doing right now? Reading this vs getting any work done. ha
I enjoyed it, thank you.

Oleg Mokhov
Oleg Mokhov
10 years ago

“Invention is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.” -Thomas Edison Hey J.D., If you want to do something, the best time to start is now. The sooner you start the faster you’ll accomplish your goal. There will never be a perfect moment where everything is aligned. It doesn’t exist, so stop waiting and just do it (link to an article I wrote – hope it isn’t spammy, just thought it’s relevant to the topic). Choose the most important task to get your goal done (get dressed to go outside), then just start (step outside that door and walk). What are you waiting… Read more »

Dollars Not Debt
Dollars Not Debt
10 years ago

Just do it now. Do everything now. When show you invest money….now. Don’t wait for the perfect time. Trying to time things is a loser’s game. Be an automatic investor. Sink money into a fund every month regardless of where the market is. Twenty years later you will be one happy camper.

Mrs. G
Mrs. G
10 years ago

“When you spend so much time looking for the “best” choice that you never actually do anything, you are sabotaging yourself.”

Could this also apply to relationships? 🙂

janeyjane
janeyjane
9 years ago

I am in a mess but inspired to take action – thank you for a great article. Perfection seems to have always been my enemy – time to say goodbye to it I think…in all areas of life.

Susan
Susan
9 years ago

Trying to find perfection is just another form of procrastination. In putting it off, we are finding a way to avoid situations that we find painful or unpleasant. “Analysis paralysis” will destroy your plans if you let it.

Tim
Tim
6 years ago

i would go as far as saying the perfect is the enemy of success.

nothing can ever be perfect. perfect is always subjective. do others see that it’s perfect? no, there will be always people who say that it’s too small, big, long, short…

the extra energy/time to get from 98% or even 80% to 100% perfect is just a waste that could have been spent way better.

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