Optimal Illusions

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Don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good.

While this aphorism represents some good advice for those seeking balance in their lives, it hasn’t ever really been a challenge for me to heed, because I’m not naturally inclined to perfectionism. I like things to be nice and tidy, of course, but I’m fond of shortcuts and simplification. So generally I’m perfectly fine making peace with “good enough.”optimal-illusions_rose-focht.jpg

Where I do struggle in setting goals and boundaries, though, is in knowing when I’ve hit “good enough.” It often seems that a better way is just over the horizon, and I find myself searching for it like an optimistic prospector who suspects that a lode of gold is just beyond the next hill. I may not be driven by the need to strike it rich, but I figure that any scope for improvement is surely a goal worth striving for.

For instance, some of the ways I see this mindset at work in everyday life include the following:

  • Thinking I can effortlessly incorporate one more thing into our morning routine. Maybe it’s going fine—but couldn’t it be even better, especially considering the advice of that article I just read?
  • Planning my route for maximum efficiency, and working so hard to streamline my errands—collecting all the library books, waiting until the laundry is ready to advance, etc.—that I end up running out of time to accomplish everything.
  • Devising a good meal plan, and then thinking of an extra side dish to use up some seasonal veggies, and then deciding to whip up some biscuits while I’m at it. . . . Also known as the “Diogenes’ Robe Syndrome” applied to menu planning, this one is tantalizing because each step along the way is a simple one, but the final result can end up being more stressful than anticipated.

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“Surely we can do better!” Does this pattern resonate with you? Do you ever find yourself allured, not by the siren call of unattainable perfection, but by the seemingly practical notion of just making a few improvements?

In some ways, there seems to be a scriptural basis for this attitude. The Apostle Paul writes about “pressing onward toward the mark,” and we are encouraged to be diligent, long-suffering, and persevering. However, as in many things, moderation is key, and setting boundaries is a must if we are to curb our impulses to be always tinkering on a better way.

In my case, I’ve found it helpful to run through a quick checklist when my mind starts spinning with dazzling ideas for nifty upgrades and easy improvements:

  • Who’s asking? Is this something I need to do (state reporting requirements) or just something that would be nice to try (a fun idea I saw on a blog post)?
  • What is my commitment level? If this doesn’t work out as planned, can I easily drop the idea and return to our status quo with no harm done?
  • When will I know if this isn’t working out? It helps to know up front how long I intend to slog resolutely through the misery if things don’t immediately turn out as sunshiny as I project they will (daily doses of cod liver oil being but one example).
  • Where will the time/energy/resources for this come from? For every new thing we add in, will we have to give up something else?
  • How much do I really want this? Maybe give it a day or two and see if this is still a good idea, or whether it turns out to be a passing whim. (I can’t count how many times I’ve resisted the urge to water the garden, only to have it rain later on, thus vindicating my decision to wait.)

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I do jest about that last bit, of course. I’m not advocating for slacking off or avoiding responsibility. The goal is moderation and manageability, not mediocrity. Sometimes a little goes a long way, and it’s well worth the effort to go the extra mile. But sometimes, enough is as good as a feast.

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Photo Credit: Header image from iStock. Following images courtesy of author. 

2 Comments on “Optimal Illusions”

  1. Lara Galea
    June 22, 2018 at 7:51 pm #

    I know exactly what you mean! I go through phases of thinking more should be added to our homeschool only to be reminded that ‘relaxed’ is our motto and there is only so much they can handle! Love your blog.

    Like

  2. Emily
    July 10, 2018 at 6:34 pm #

    😂 cod liver oil. I went through that phase too. Until this article I thought I was a perfectionist. Thank you for clarifying that I’m simply a seeker of a bit improved. Love it. This is totally me.

    Like

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