Don’t Let Perfect Be The Enemy Of Better

I really like browsing the blog Formerly called “Juicing for Men,” it was started by a weightlifting enthusiast who took up juicing after watching the documentary “Fat Sick and Nearly Dead.”

He specifically felt that juicing needed a re-branding in order to be evangelized to gruff and masculine but health-conscious men like him, as juicing had been culturally monopolized by feminine and new-age sensibilities. It worked on me: I juice daily now and I feel great.

Regular debates – with both haters and reasonable challengers – broke out about various aspects of the craft, such as juicing versus smoothies (with regard to the retained fiber content), which recipes offer the most health, and how long you can wait to drink a fresh juice before oxidation consumes the nutrients.

His response to these debates, either in word or in frame, has always been “don’t let perfect be the enemy of better.” If you want to use juice to improve your health, the most important move is…to be juicing regularly. That might mean modifying a “standard” juice recipe to be more to your taste, and making it a little less healthy. That might mean making all your juice on Sunday night, taking frozen bottles to work daily instead of getting literally fresh-from-the-blade product. Whatever it is, getting too caught up in the orthodox way you are “supposed” to be doing things more often than not will simply burn you out and prevent you from getting any benefits from the project at all. If you are worried about “oxidation” and don’t juice at all, you are replacing your food and fluid intake with something else that’s almost certainly not as good.

It’s a bit like the idea that the best workout plan is one that you know you can stick to, and purism and orthodoxy can be reasonably sacrificed if the alternative is not doing it period. People complain “I don’t have enough time to work out today,” but those who are good at keeping their fitness up know to do just the push-ups and the sit-ups, or the five minutes with the foam rollers, if that’s all they have time for that day.


I’ve noticed in my own life and in others’ that appeals to purity and perfectionism can sometimes be a subconsciously intentional self-defeat mechanism, occasionally including a shame or fear-of-failure factor. We humans are very good at straw-manning ourselves out of doing things, and providing a self-deprecating script is a classic way we do it.

It’s like when you talk yourself out of approaching a girl because “she’s probably a bitch, and she’s not that hot anyway, and…” You’re projecting your approach anxiety onto other factors to avoid facing your own lack of courage and action.

Likewise a friend told me she didn’t want to try my lunchtime juice because “I heard that it loses half its nutrients if you don’t drink it within 10 minutes of making it.” Partially-oxidized juice isn’t as good as the fresh stuff, but it still beats juice out of a store-shelf bottle, and certainly beats no juice at all (replaced in the diet with nutrient-free water or negative-nutrition sodas and sugared juice cocktails). This was a sensible, health-conscious woman who Crossfits on the regular, but was going to allow an illogical syllogism stop her from supplementing her health.

I touched on self-sabotage last week with a post on “I’m not allowed to do X until I am better at Y” being a cop-out, an instance of self-improvement as self-limitation (quote abridged):

…you don’t need to reach some arbitrary goal before you can feel good about yourself. Some guys get into a frame of “I can do X once I am finished with Y” and then it’s only a slight shift to start moving the goalposts to avoid taking the next step…you’ve leveraged one self-improvement project to block the execution of another.

Sometimes we fear success more than failure, for the unfamiliar expectations it can bring. Athol Kay had a great post on this called “When You Don’t Think You’re Allowed to Win, You Find a Way to Lose.” He’s noticed a trend of his readers and customers sabotaging themselves right on the brink of major success, such as not taking that last college requirement, or not billing out your invoices so you get paid for self-employed work you’ve already done, or not finishing off a home project. (A long-form read of his blog suggests that he may have suffered this himself at some point; I can say from experience it’s not uncommon for a writer, as we tend to have mild inferiority and compulsivity complexes about endlessly editing our works.)

This is one instance where you could say these folks have bad “inner game.” They can’t really conceive of themselves as truly successful, so instead of becoming successful in action and thus entering a new personality frame, they mentally “bank” the 90% success as a “better than a good try” and can’t internalize the things they need to get done to cash in on success for real.

The man speaks…

The core of the problem is that you’re experiencing a low energy state and lack feeling entitled to succeed, to win, or to simply have things go right. So you sabotage yourself to align your level of success, love and happiness to the same level of your current energy set. This is why you can’t have nice things.


Back to the point: you don’t want to skimp on quality in your life by going half-assed in something. But if that half-step is better than what you’ve got going right now and gets you moving towards improvement, then go halfsies.


I invite the readership to list life items they’ve talked themselves out of, and how they’ve convinced themselves to go for “better” instead of “perfect.


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9 responses to “Don’t Let Perfect Be The Enemy Of Better

  1. Great topic. The juicing show was great. I’m 57 and up until a couple years ago still had some bad habits, nutrition wise. Started juicing. “The green mean!” That led to cutting out bread, all wheat products, all sugars.

    Been maxing out on pushups for the last 4 months, every sunday night. I’m up to 1600. Good, chest to the floor, full extension marine pushups.

    Going for the big 2000 on super bowl sunday.

    Sometimes a gym workout just has to be adequate, not great.

    As a friend says….it was just a C plus effort. (but he’s a strong bastard) A lot of c plus efforts add up.

  2. solid fucking post badger. my motorcycle accident on friday was a drastic reminder that life is too short to be worried about crossing your T’s and dotting every I. just do it, the details will take care of themselves later.

  3. mrthehermit

    Baby steps out of the office… Baby steps into the elevator…

    This is definitely an easy trap to fall into and something that can really sabotage self improvement. Declaring that X can’t happen until Y happens or setting unrealistic metrics for success are just easy excuses towards self sabotage. I’ve enjoyed your last few posts addressing this.

  4. deti

    Good post, Badger.

  5. brilliant.

    i still have issues with my photography. i take great pictures but then talk myself out of applying for exhibitions because “i’m not ready yet” to show my work. but then i go to galleries and my work is just as good, but then i still do nothing.

    i’m just deathly scared of getting rejected for something so personal to me.

  6. Pingback: Purism masks fear | Rivelino's Diary

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  8. Riv,

    “i’m just deathly scared of getting rejected for something so personal to me.”

    I’ve known about this ever since Back To The Future, when Marty McFly won’t send in his demo tape because “I don’t think I could take that kind of a rejection,” then hears his father young George McFly repeat the same phrase in 1955 about his writing. I dated a woman who didn’t want to go into an artistic/creative field because she was afraid it wouldn’t be fun anymore if she had to make it into a business. We really put our egos on the line in creative efforts.

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