Today’s topic is about the gift of good enough. Now before all the perfectionists drop off in frustration, I’ll mention that there is science to support this theory.
But first let me start with a little magic. In 1956, Harvard psychologist George Miller published a paper on short-term memory and the limits on our capacity for processing information. He called it the Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two.
He proposed that most people can hold around 5 to 9 pieces of information in their short-term memory at any one time, the middle of that becomes the magical number 7. Now, of course, capacity can be affected by a variety of factors but the general framing is that our brain can juggle a small amount of information at any given moment.
Let’s pause there for a second.
In looking at your day ahead, I’m guessing you have more than 7 things to do in just the next hour. So, how does your brain sort and filter all the need-to’s from the now’s?
The Bottom Line on Top of this episode is that the real magic comes from the philosophy of good-enough instead of the painful pursuit of perfection.
But, wait, in our digital, demanding days, very few things likely feel perfect.
In the middle of the pandemic, I remember seeing this quote that said: You did not wake up today to feel mediocre
And, yet, toggling through the things at the end of the day that didn’t get attention or completion can feel pretty much mediocre.
So let’s go back to the magic of memory. There are three stages to how memory solidifies in our brain. The first is encoding, which is how we initially process information coming through our senses. The second stage is storage where that information gets filtered and filed into either sensory memory (which takes a matter of seconds), short-term memory (which can last up to a minute), or long-term memory which can last for days or weeks or months or years.
By its scientific nature, short-term memory is temporary. In order for it to move to longer-term, it needs to be repeated or rehearsed.
This is all well and good and we no longer live in the 1950s. Our cognitive capacity has been on overload for decades. The digital demands on our day are a whole other level of sensory. Modern research shows that distraction interrupts the encoding and storage process.
So we’re now trying to capture and catalog as best we can, which might explain why we are constantly jotting down lists, or opening browser tabs, sending ourselves messages, or why we walk into another room and forget what we’re going to do when we got there.
So this is where the gift of good enough plays a critical role. Our desire to polish and perfect can be acknowledged but it cannot have a full-time role – or even a part-time role. We do not have the time and our brains simply do not have the extended ability to push extra effort on top of all the extra.
Instead of trying to make better systems to track and monitor all of our things, you’d better serve your brain by allowing average to be the highest bar for the majority of those things. Now, I know that hurts some of y’alls hearts to hear the word ‘average.’ But let’s try this out in practice for a moment.
What if instead of editing that email one more time, you sent it with a note at the top that said: Here are some early thoughts on this topic
Or we show a draft of what we’re working on to someone and say just that: Hey, this is still a work-in-progress but I welcome your thoughts and ideas and also want to make sure we’re on the same page
Or instead of trying to research a better gift or a better way to say something, we simply offer it to someone like this: I’d love to have this be meaningful for you. Can we talk about what that looks like?
Here’s why good-enough matters to your momentum. When you leave a task unfinished, it’s like writing with a Sharpie marker on your short-term memory. An uncompleted task creates cognitive tension that will keep itching your brain. It’s part of why you remember things when you’re driving, or in the shower, or exercising and as you’re trying to fall asleep. It’s your brain’s way of repeating the item so it stays in your memory because you haven’t gotten it done.
And the longer you put it off by procrastination or perfectionism, the longer the loop will run. It’s only in the doing that the loop gets stopped.
We can start by embracing the art of average. When we release the expectation of doing it all, and doing it well, we invite in imagination. What if we got out of our own way and just got started? No one is waiting to grade your effort – they’re too busy grading their own.
So, for today, find the magic of good-enough for the items your memory is grasping right now. With the gift of good enough, you might just have some energy left over to enjoy the feeling of accomplishment.
This is a gift only you can give yourself and it’s one more way to take care to take good-enough care.