Overthinking and Perfectionism

Sometimes people get stuck overthinking things when writing or making decisions. This can be caused by perfectionism. People may keep trying to make their writing or plan more and more perfect.

CF and Theory of Constraints (TOC) ideas about goals, variance, limiting factors and excess capacity can help with perfectionism. If you focus your optimization only on bottlenecks, and you believe that optimizing a non-bottleneck is pointless, that can reduce problems with perfectionism. Similarly, trying to get “good enough” outcomes – which are a margin of error past a breakpoint and avoid failing at any secondary issues – could avoid perfectionism. You can read about TOC in Eli Goldratt’s books like The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement.

Perfectionism can be related to non-decisive thinking. In CF, we come up with criteria for success and failure, then try to succeed rather than fail. In mainstream thinking, people evaluate how good ideas and outcomes are, or how much something succeeds, so it’s basically always possible to make things slightly better, which encourages perfectionism.

According to CF, perfection basically consists of avoiding all decisive failures. Non-refuted is the best status for an idea. But in mainstream epistemology, there are degrees of success or degrees of goodness of ideas, and you can always try for better. In the mainstream view, optimizing any factor (not just bottlenecks) is considered an improvement, which causes a lot of trouble for perfectionists. In CF, most factors are recognized as already being more than good enough to achieve your goals, so improving them a little more is pointless, not a way to get closer to perfection.

CF uses specific goals and once you succeed at a goal, you’re done (and you can move on a new goal). CF evaluates ideas and goals together in pairs (or triples with the context too). Mainstream epistemology separates the evaluation of ideas from success at any specific goal, so there’s no finish line.

The self-help book How to Be an Imperfectionist has a section titled “The Binary Mindset”. While trying to help perfectionists, Stephen Guise independently came up with some ideas similar to CF’s binary evaluation of success or failure. Guise points out that, if you evaluate on binary scale of 1 or 0 with no other values possible (including no fractions or decimals), then perfection becomes achievable. You can actually get a perfect score (1) and often will, so this can satisfy perfectionists. Binary evaluation of success or failure means perfectionists don’t have to keep optimizing non-bottlenecks trying to get slightly higher scores that never reach perfection.