Greetings, readers! We’ve just concluded our initial exposure to Effective Living. I will now begin exploring a variety of self-contained posts that follow as consequences of what we have already discovered.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions regarding my content, so please share in the comments section below!
Who are you?
Big Idea: Perfect is an individualized concept based on comparison and interpretation.
Basically: What you consider to be perfect will be different than others.
There are two types of people in this world. Those who believe in perfection and those who do not.
But is perfection possible?
To start, we must be clear on the definition of perfect. Having a discussion about whether something is possible or not is wasted time if there isn’t an agreement as to what the thing means.
The Oxford Dictionary defines “perfect” as something that is “as good as it is possible to be”. This seems accurate, but it is pretty general.
I hear the term “perfect” be used in several contexts. These can be categorized as either perfection of physical appearance or perfection of function.
Perfect is often regarded as an ideal that spans all members of a group. For example, a perfect pie is a pie that is perfect in all of its properties as compared to all pies who share similar properties. It is a pie that is perfect as we see it. We are even ready to defend our view point due to how overwhelmingly obvious it is to us. We may be baffled by how others don’t see the same beauty as we do.
Properties to Address
So we see that the concept of perfect is based on both a comparison and an interpretation.
This is an important finding as it reveals some properties that we can work with. First off, it suggests that a change in perspective is enough to change the very thing we are looking at.
Image from The Power of Perspective
Additionally, the idea of comparison suggests a property of categorization and experience. This is where things get a bit hazy.
How someone would categorize something is fully dependent on their experience. Our experiences are similar enough to those within our culture that we can communicate ideas in a mostly effective manner. But if you have ever traversed the cultural boundaries then you may understand the difference that experience can make on how we interpret reality.
How we perceive something is incredibly fragile. This is because our very perspective is contaminated by our experience. How we view the world depends on how we have experienced the world in the past. Each new experience compounds to adjust the filter through which we see (and experience) the world.
Even our interactions with others is just a fragile act of communicating an idea. For communication to be effective the underlying meaning of what we are saying needs to be internalized as closely to how it was intended as possible. Due to the variation of our experiences, it is impossible for the same words, body language, and other factors being communicated to result in the same idea being perceived across all people receiving it.
Words are only tools for communicating ideas. We utilize body language, props, analogies, and other tools as means for doing the same thing. Using slang or a thumbs up gesture in America may be understood with a particular meaning but if that was used in some other country, the interpretation would be different. Different cultures produces different ways to interpret the world this is due to shared experiences between members of that culture. Each member themself will have variations of those experiences resulting in their own unique interpretations.
I’ve gone much deeper on this idea in my post on Meaning.
What Does this Mean?
Okay, existential rant aside, what does this all mean for perfection?
From a global, objective, level, perfect can not exist. It is a fantasy. For something to be objectively perfect it would have to transcend all cultural boundaries and all experience barriers. This means that it would have to be something that is so fundamentally baked into the essence of reality that we as living organisms are hardwired to admire it. If this were to ever be true, then that thing ought to be studied in great depth, because it would suggest a lot of interesting properties of the universe and consciousness.
Something so fundamental that its beauty is recognized regardless of the experience obtained after conception would be worthy of high praise, awe, and love. This could even suggest what religions try to capture with the concept of a “God”. But, as we see with the large variation between religions, this attempt has failed to highlight anything objectively “perfect”.
This argument could be taken a step further by considering nature. If nature was truly perfect then it wouldn’t be evolving, there would be no need. This goes back to the Principle of Adaptation that I’ve discussed in the series on Effective Living.
Nature optimizes for the whole, not the individual. It is the good of the species that is preferred over the good of the individual. It is the good of life that is preferred over the good of a species. Hence why one animal killing another for food is not “sad” but beautiful, in the objective sense. It is a representation of the preservation of life. It is suggestive of a property of life itself, and therefore it is closer to any objective sense of “perfect” than would be if you tried to apply your own, contaminated, experience.
Interpreting an event of one animal killing another as “sad” is contaminating reality with your own prejudices from culture and romantic fairy tales that you wish to believe to make your conscious existence seem less tragic. Being conscious puts us all at risk of being selfish, thinking we are special for some reason, which only leads to acting against the very nature of reality. Nature doesn’t optimize for the individual, it optimizes for the whole.
So, perfection doesn’t seem possible on the global level. How about the individual level?
This is where hope for perfection comes in. It is entirely possible for you to call someone perfect and truly mean it. Since the main properties of what is considered perfect, as it is considered from an individual level, are comparison and interpretation, then it entirely possible for an individual to truly find something to be perfect. Their series of past experiences and their beliefs about the world has come together in such a way that the thing they are perceiving seems as good as it could possibly be. But another issue comes up.
Since our perception during any given moment is entirely based on our past experience, then what we consider to be “perfect” is only based on that experience. This means that something even more “perfect” to us could exist, but we are ignorant due the limitation of our experience. In that current moment of perception, it seems like the pie is the best pie that there could ever be. We haven’t yet had the future experience of a better pie to truly understand how the pie could be even better. We don’t know what we don’t know.
As a last “gotcha”, perfection is fragile, it is based on emotions. Someone may consider something perfect in one moment due to the overwhelm of how they are feeling about it. The utterance of “perfect” is only an attempt at communicating how they feel about that pie.
The word could just be the best representation of the feelings they’re experiencing that they can grab from their vocabulary in that moment. After all, words are just a tool for communicating an idea. Our understanding of how to use a word is entirely based on our experience with it, such as how we’ve seen others use it.
This has an interesting consequence, as now you uttering the word “perfect” gives whoever is listening another instance of the use of “perfect”. They interpret how you used the word based on their past experience and update their understanding of the word ever so slightly based on this new instance. If it is wildly out of context, such as saying you’re going to “watch perfect on TV”, then cognitive dissonance will take over in the other person leading them to be more likely to disregard this use due to their overwhelming past experience. In effect, you are contributing to the pile of experiences that the other individual has of this word.
But, the more past experience (or instances) you have of the word “perfect” being used, the stronger your position on what it means. This means that the less likely that an anomaly, such as “watching perfect on TV”, would have on your understanding of the word “perfect”. Perhaps your experience of “watching TV” is enough to interpret the meaning as “perfect” being a TV show. But perhaps you’re reading these words and your experience of the English language suggests nouns such as TV shows should be capitalized, and “perfect” isn’t, more cognitive dissonance results. This idea relates strongly to the Principle of Initial Conditions.
A bunch of other existential questions can fall out of this discussion. I go into some depth regarding them in my post on Connection.
Consequences of Striving for Perfection
Alright, so we’ve seen the following ideas regarding the word “perfect”
- It is highly individualized as it is based on comparison and interpretation.
- Objective perfection is likely not possible, but individualized perfection is.
- Individualized perfection is fragile, depending on past experience and emotions.
But, what does this all mean for you?
My claim is to eliminate the word “perfect” from you vocabulary, as it has likely built up a connotation that is anxiety provoking. The more you use and think about the word the stronger the meaning it will carry when you hear the word.
Striving for perfection can get people into trouble in several ways.
Due to our remarkable ability to be imaginative and create a fantasy world in our mind, we can easily construct an event or an expectation with all of the good and none of the bad. We can almost picture that perfect looking house we want, but it is just fuzzy enough that we can’t be sure that we’ve found it or not. We hold on to the feeling that this imagery produces more than the actual image itself, this feeling contains all the pleasures and non of the discomfort.
But reality is full of trade-offs, there will be pros and cons no matter what. Even if you found the “perfect house”, you will soon adapt to it and that will be your new standard of living. But you still have to pay the bills, clean it, and all the other responsibilities that come along with a house. The ownership of this “perfect house” would promote identification with form, which strengthens the ego and makes you more likely to be resentful, impatient, and easily thrown off center when something minor happens.
For example, since you’ve created such an unrealistic ideal, and due to the Principle of Entropy, maintaining such a high is impractical. Things will go wrong, and when they do anything and everything will seem tragic, simply because you’ve conditioned yourself at the maximum peak of sensation and pleasure. There is only one way that things can go, which is downwards. The slightest change in your physical state, the house, etc. is enough to change your interpretation ever so slightly to then be just below that peak.
Due to the Principle of Balance, things tend towards the mean. Meaning that the average will be what is most often experienced. By definition, perfection is an extreme, one that can not be practically maintained and will only lead to disappointment and suffering. To consider something perfect is to promote attachment, and with attachment comes ego, through ego comes impatience which will make maintaining that state of perfection impossible.
The point is, striving for perfection will lead to anxiety, hence why those who are “perfectionists” are often those who are very anxious. This effect is compounded by the very fact that we are conscious. We can imagine a perfect world, one with all of the pros and none of the cons, and then get slapped by reality when we try to exist within it. This slap is simply a reminder from nature that it does not optimize for the individual, so put your desire to feel special aside, keep your ego in check, and follow the rules of nature.
The idea of perfection violates so many Principles of Life, these are my own discovered rules of life. The very concept of “perfect” violates the idea of Effective Living that I’ve talked about in great depth before.
What does this all mean for how we should act?
Ultimately it is best to remove the word “perfect” from your vocabulary. The less you view the world through this lens of ideal expectation, the better. Instead, aim for progress.
Compare yourself not to where others are, but instead to where you were previously. Hopefully our exploration today gives you yet another reason for this cliche to be taken seriously.
There are so many contradictions that the concept of “perfect” has with the idea of Effective Living that you could just review my presentation of it and have a good set of tools to combat the tendencies that perfectionism promotes.
On a lighthearted note, this could give you some ammo for when you call your girlfriend “perfect” and she shyly says “no one’s perfect”. You could respond stating that perfection on a global level isn’t possible, sure. But, what is considered perfect from your perspective is entirely possible. Your partner may very well be perfect to you, as your past experiences, beliefs, and current emotions suggest.
Big Idea: Focus not on the ideal, but on the incremental improvements over time.
Basically: All life is incremental, you can’t go from 0 to 60 without hitting all in between.
We’ve covered these ideas
- Perfection comes from a place of personal comparison and interpretation.
- Perfect from an individual level does exist, but not in any objective sense.
- What is thought to be perfect is dependent on past experience and emotions.
Perfect is a concept that is entirely dependent on our past experiences, emotions, and the things in our perception that we interpret and compare to. So far, it seems that a truly objective state of perfection has never been experienced. By the Properties of Effective Living, it seems that this is unlikely to ever be the case.
Individualized perfection is closer to realistic, since it satisfies the properties of comparison and interpretation without disagreement. But due to how our perspective is contaminated by our experience, how we perceive something is incredibly fragile, likely to vary from moment to moment.
It is best to eliminate the use of this word altogether. The very definition of the word promotes an idealistic perception of reality that is contaminated by our past experience. This sets us up for a lot of disappointment and anxiety.
What is the next smallest step that you can take? Thinking about an ideal is like trying to leap from 0 miles per hour to 60 without hitting everything in between. This suggests ego is taking control (you can combat ego with Connection).
That ideal is an attractive fantasy that distracts our thoughts from reality, it is often far more comfortable to daydream perfection than to face reality. But this daydream is a distraction that steers you off course such that when you finally come to, you’ll have to face the new reality of even more chaos than before. This is a vicious downward spiral.
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What were your thoughts on perfection before reading this post? How has your concept of perfection changed after reading? I’d love to have some discussion with you over this. Share in the comments section below!
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Don’t put off contemplating what the insights from this article mean, find a quiet location and think deeply about what it might mean for you. Just 10 deliberate minutes can make a large difference, set a timer, do it regularly and you will notice the changes within a few weeks. You improve your ability to think and therefore make effective decisions by spending more time deliberately thinking about the relevant subject. Consider applying journaling and meditation to see more profound changes, these are just more deliberate and concentrated forms of quiet and focused thinking. Slow down, find stillness.
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