When Vaguely Right is Good Enough

Too often it is easy to fall into a trap of perfection—many of us experience this challenge from time to time. Simple decisions, such as what to wear or what to eat, can become daunting due to a proliferation of options. But is perfection always required? When is a decision good enough?

Recently I read Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts–Becoming the Person You Want to Be by Marshall Goldsmith. Essentially it is a book about the incredible challenge of personal and organizational change. Goldsmith cited one example that I found quite interesting. Goldsmith coached a senior executive who stated that one thing that would make him happy was to improve his golf game. In his late fifties, he had a lot of demands on his time, was never an accomplished athlete, and disliked practicing. Goldsmith asked, “Why don’t you quit worrying about getting better at playing golf and just enjoy it?” His point was that “marginal motivation produces a marginal outcome,” further elaborating:

“If your motivation for a task or goal is in any way compromised—because you lack the skill or don’t take the task seriously, or think what you’ve done so far is good enough—don’t take it on. Find something else to show the world how much you care, not how little.”

My personal take away is that what is most important is to choose what matters. Where do you really want to strive to be the best and make a difference? In comparison, when does being vaguely right and good enough get the job done? You will be much happier and healthier if you choose carefully where you spend your most valuable and limited resource: motivation.

For more on the topic of decisions and choices, see these earlier posts:

To Choose or Not to Choose?

If you’ve ever had lunch with me, you might have observed my style of ordering. Usually I make a selection quickly, because I probably picked the restaurant, know what is good, and don’t need to seek out “what else they might have” in order to make a solid choice. Frequently, I’ll say “I’ll have whatever he/she is having, ” even if you haven’t ordered yet. Why? Because whatever I get is probably good enough. To me, the meal is more about the experience of who I’m with and why than the food.

Recently I found a post-it note where I wrote “Sheena Iyergar / the power of choice.” I don’t recall why I wrote that at the time, but when I found this quote from her book The Art of Choosing, it struck home:

“There is nothing wrong with saying, ‘I’d like less choice,’ or ‘I’ll have what you’re having,’ or even ‘I choose not to choose.’ In fact, sometimes these are the best things to say. We need to rethink the assumption that every opportunity to choose among options is an opportunity to improve our lot, to inch closer to our dreams. We need to learn that choice is not just the activity of picking X over Y but the responsibility of separating the meaningful from the trivial, the disheartening from the uplifting. Choice is a powerful and motivating idea, but the choice does not solve all our problems or meet all our needs. Sometimes choice isn’t enough, and sometimes choice is too much.”

Which choices are worth making and which ones are just distracting? What is meaningful? Are you consciously choosing when you choose?

Additional readings on choice:

How to make choosing easier

Sheena Iyengar on the Power of Choice — and Why It Doesn’t Always Bring Us What We Want

The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two