The Curse of Perfectionism

I’ve been reading The Paradox of Choice again. It’s one of those books that has actually caused me to try and change the way I live my life and so far it’s turned out for the better.

The argument put forward is that when faced with too much choice people will often choose nothing at all rather than go to the effort of objectively weighing up the options and trying to come to a decision. I find this tends to stand up to my daily observations the most recent of which was a trip to the supermarket where my girlfriend asked me to choose some crisps and; faced with an entire aisle of choice, my brain completely shut down and refused to even try.

The book splits the world into two groups: Satisficers and Maximisers. Maximisers want to be sure that their decisions are the best they can possibly make even to the point of comparing them to imagined possbilities that don’t or can’t exist in reality. Satisficers have standards but don’t worry about whether or not they got the best deal just that their most important criteria have been met.

Satisficers tend to live a happier more fulfilled life because they spend less time worrying about things they can’t control while Maximisers tend to be more depressed and filled with buyers remorse.

This is similar to Perfectionism. Perfectionists strive for an unattainable ideal often at the expense of everything else. Perfectionism is in fact very bad for you unless you have some outside force that is willing to intervene when you get carried away.

Duke Nukem Forever suffered immensely from this. In an effort to create a “Perfect” videogame 3D Realms ditched a perfectly good game they believed wasn’t good enough and started over. Ultimately they never released anything. Perfectionists are doomed to be depressed and to hate the very things they help create because they will only ever focus on what is wrong with things. It is in fact a very pessimistic outlook on life and yet for some reason a trait that many claim to desire in the people they hire.

Well I guess that might be true so long as the person doing the hiring and cracking the whip isn’t themselves a perfectionist and has the guts to stand in front of a room full of perfectionists and tell them that what they have made is “Good Enough”  (There is no bigger insult to a perfectionist than being told what you have created is only “good enough”).

I’m a recovering perfectionist. I’m trying to get comfortable with the idea of letting things go in cases where changing them any more isn’t going to result in any significant gain or benefit. This doesn’t mean I won’t make something as good as I can possibly make it but it does mean that I’m more likely to recognise when further work is futile and instead take pride in what I have done rather than dwell on what I haven’t.

This is also by way of apologising for not posting any updates on my game. I had a perfectionist moment and decided to rewrite the entire code base so that it did everything it used to do but in a nicer way that nobody but me will ever care about.

Sorry. That would be the curse of perfectionism right there.

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One Comment

  1. Earendil
    Posted February 24, 2010 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    Boy, I can totally identify with this post! Thanks for sharing. I’ll have to check out that book.

    I’m just trying to get to a point where I can say “Yeah, I >>PLAYED AROUND FOR A FEW HOURS<< and made a game." 😀 Can't even figure out how to get the camera oriented like you did.

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  1. […] the latter chose to simplify what it felt was unnecessary in order to retain overall quality. As a fellow blogger noted,  such sacrifices must be made, lest a developer in clinging to perfectionism create (and […]

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