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Satisfaction v. Perfection

From a very young age, children are taught to strive to be the best. Not the best versions of themselves but the best. Period. As they get older, teachers, parents, and society puts immense pressure on individuals to get straight As, excel at standardized testing, participate in extra-curricular activities, volunteer, and then, just maybe you’ll get into a good college. Once in college the pressure starts again. Get straight As, find great summer internships, participate in a research lab, become president of SGA or Greek life, have a part time job, form relationships with faculty for recommendation letters, and then, just maybe you’ll get into a good graduate program or be offered a good job.

Children, adolescents, and adults alike strive to live a good and fulfilling life. The definition of this life varies from person to person but we all continue to work towards the goal set of us when we were younger. We want to be the best. We want to be perfect.

The irony of striving for perfection is it likely causes individuals to take longer to accomplish their tasks and goals than if they were striving for satisfaction. By picking apart every decision one makes it prevents the individual from actually moving towards and completing their goal. By going over all your choices, analyzing them, discussing them with others, attempting to rationalize or dispute the decision, one causes themselves and immense amount of stress and delays result of their final outcome or decision.

For example, if you’re assigned a project at work that requires creating a presentation, it’s likely a lot of time and thought will go into the final project. However, once the presentation has been finished, if you continue to go through every bullet point of every slide, trying to ensure it’s perfect, it’s not unlikely you may miss your deadline altogether. In reality, a missed coma or the wrong use of an image will not prevent you from achieving the goal of creating a presentation. However, if you continue to pick apart the presentation and miss your deadline, you will have prevented yourself from reaching your goal.

Dr. Alex Lickerman, in an article on Psychology Today wrote, “At some point, we must remind ourselves, any changes we make to a creation no longer make it better but just different (and sometimes worse)”. This concept is very difficult to understand and learn, but it is necessary for our overall peace of mind and success. In ___ New York Times article, he discusses the difference between maximizers and satisficers, which he names M.F.D or mostly fine decision. Maximizers are individuals who spend a significant period of time researching in order to ensure they have the “perfect” outcome. Satisficers are those who make decisions quickly with less information. M.F.D, the happy medium between maximizers and satisficers, is an outcome of a decision, project, etc., you’d be fine with or happy with instead of an outcome that would be perfect.

Despite what we may be inclined to believe, research has shown individuals that function as satisficers are more satisfied with the decisions they make than maximizers are. This concept may be confusing as maximizers put more thought into their decisions than satisficers do. To put in more simple terms, getting the necessary work done will leave you more satisfied than if you spend a substantial amount of time going over your work and analyzing every detail. Pursuing perfection does not lead to satisfaction.

In Dr. Alex Lickerman’s article he provides two strategies for pursing satisfaction instead of perfection. The first strategy is break up big decisions or projects into many smaller steps or choices. After doing this tackle one small thing at a time until you’ve completed the overall task. This will allow you to accomplish things along the way to your bigger goal, reducing stress and increasing positive reinforcement. The second strategy is changing the way you view the task at hand. Instead of simply looking towards the destination, focus more on the process and steps needed to get there. As cliché as it may sound, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. Viewing decisions or tasks in this way will make the process of working towards goals much more enjoyable.

In the end, although it may not be what we were taught growing up, work towards satisfaction, not perfection.

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