For Sleep, Don’t Let the Perfect Be The Enemy Of The Good

On June 13th, Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Zack Greinke didn’t allow a single Washington National player to reach base — until the seventh inning.

If he had kept every opposing player off the bases until the ninth inning, it would have been what’s known as a “perfect game.” 

The seventh inning is about 3/4ths of the way through the game. 

That’s a lot of time being perfect.

There have only been 23 perfect games in the history of major league baseball. When you think about the over 400,000 games that have been played since 1876, that’s a lot of games.

Perfection is rare.

It’s special.

For many people, it’s a constant goal.

After National player Trea Turner broke it his bid for perfection, Greinke said he was glad. “It’d probably be more of a hassle than anything. . . a bunch of nonsense comes with it.”

The nonsense would be a distraction from what he says that he’s there to do: help the Arizona Diamondbacks win games.

This year Greinke is 8-2. He’s winning a lot of games. If he tried to be perfect, he’d be distracted and then he wouldn’t win so many games.

Winning games is what’s important to his team, not keeping all runners off of base. Worrying about that is a distraction.

It’s a bonus, sure. But the bonus shouldn’t come at the expense of winning.

They tell us to try to be the best we can be

People are conditioned from an early age to want to get an “A” in everything we do. 

We’re perfectionists. If we’re not, they try to make us that way. Perfection is always better than non-perfection, we come to believe. 

If we don’t start out believing perfection is always better, parents, family members, schoolteachers, and “concerned adults” try to make us that way. They tell us to get serious.

Society sets “perfection” as the default desirable mode. Yet it doesn’t make sense to pursue perfection all of the time. Sometimes it’s better to focus on ease and speed. 

When it comes to learning a skill, adopting a better habit, or changing to a better way of being making the change faster and easier would be better.

Also, perfection is boring sometimes. It’s too perfect.

If you want to create anything new, too, trying to reach perfection kills creativity. 

All of this calls for making a lot of mistakes. It calls for reveling in mistakes by breaking them down and figuring out what went wrong. 

Not everything has to be perfect. 

If we’re honest, a lot of that impulse comes from looking to the left and to the right and comparing ourselves to other people. If we’re competitive, that can be a good thing, but usually, it’s not. We should be trying to meet our goals based on our abilities, knowledge, and interest. 

Yet we’ll spend a lot of time and effort in trying to meet some arbitrary standard.  

If we’re learning Spanish, for example, we’re going to take note of the fact sentences are supposed to begin with an upside-down question mark. We’ll dutifully begin all of our questions that way. (I’m referring to learning Spanish for self-improvement. The goal is being able to communicate with people who only speak Spanish, not because we’re trying to pass some kind of Spanish class in school. In that case, all bets are off. You’re trying to pass a class, after all. You have to do what they say is important to learn. Perfectionism is a way of having criteria in place in order to sign you a grade.) 

If we’re trying to lose weight, we might try to count every single calorie. We might note every single minute of exercise. Then we’ll try to find the right exercise and the right foods to help us get to our goal. We’ll note this in a spiral notebook or in an app. 

When we do this, we spend a lot of time recording things. Wouldn’t it be better to spend that time in burning a few extra calories or preparing some healthy meals ahead of time? 

We’re going to avidly read things to help ourselves out in areas that mean a lot to us, areas we want to excel in. 

Computers encourage this “dot the I” and “cross the t” type of mentality. They’re all about data collection. 

On some level, this is a good impulse. It’s a good thing to want to be all you can be. 

Yet this impulse can be carried too far and often is. 

Perfectionism Hinders The Person Who Is Trying To Sleep Better

It can especially work against the person who’s trying to help him or herself sleep.

When they go to bed, they need to turn off the impulse. There’s a time and place for everything. Bedtime isn’t the time for perfectionism. 

There’s no one recipe to a good night’s sleep. You’ll never do it perfectly because there’s too many variables every day. Each day brings new challenges, troubles, events and, consequently, worries. The best you can do is get the big things right. Things like avoid worry, try to go to bed at the same time, or do the things that you’ve identified that tend to lead you to a good night of sleep. 

Many times, you can make progress on whatever you want to do much faster if you concentrate on the big things. Doing that helps one learn by experience.

Worrying about these less-important details isn’t going to help you get the big rocks in the box. These things are the sand, the things that if you put them into an imaginary box, they’ll crowd out the big things. You’ve got to put the sand in last so that it can filter around the big things. Then you’ll be able to get everything in. Save the sand for “Step 2” or later. Walk first; then run. 

This is especially true if you’re trying to teach someone how to do something.  

If you’re teaching someone, let them know that there is a proper way, a better way, but to get the big points first.  

Making sure to start every question with an inverted question mark isn’t going to be as important to being understood in Spanish as getting the verb conjugations right. Verbs spelled right change the very meaning of sentences. A Spanish speaker is going to be able to understand you if you don’t start out your question with an inverted question mark. In texting, native Spanish speakers leave this punctuation out. It’s primarily used in formal and academic writing.  

The “A” grade is nice. It won’t, however, follow you around like the ability to speak to someone in Spanish and have them understand you. In fact, getting an “A” means little if you can’t speak or understand Spanish. 

Rather than counting every single calorie for a diet, you may make more progress by eliminating high-calorie foods and focusing on eating foods have more fiber.  

Try to get the big strokes of the brush right; get the big rocks in the box. 

Rather than counting the reps of a particular exercise, count the minutes. Have a stopwatch do the counting for you freeing you to better concentrate on the form. 

If you’re teaching someone to do something, start with the big things. Help them walk first. Later, they can run. Give them some criteria and let them check their own understanding. 

Then, when they have these basics down, let them try to meet the advanced steps. 

If they’re trying to learn Spanish, most people aren’t going to be ready to write formal academic papers right out of the gate at first anyway. 

When it comes to sleep, the big rock is how you feel 

Are you falling asleep when you shouldn’t be? 

Do you wake up feeling groggy? 

Do you find yourself getting tired in the middle of the day and have to go and take a nap — and, this is the important part — don’t want to? 

When you’re having these kinds of objective experiences related to sleep, you’re not sleeping well. That matters more than, say, how much deep sleep your sleep tracker says you’re getting. 

Your feeling and experiences matter more than whether your sleep tracker is saying you’re getting enough sleep. 

If you feel fine and your sleep tracker says you aren’t sleeping enough, maybe the thing is broken.

It matters more than having the right mattress covered with the right sheets or anything else related to sleeping. 

That’s a trivial detail that doesn’t mean anything. 

Getting it to give you an “A” isn’t as important as how you feel. 

You’ve just got to have enough trust in your body to believe what it’s telling you. 

Getting it the sleep tracker to say you’ve slept enough isn’t as important as how you feel either. 

This is true even though sleep tracker technology is reasonably accurate.  

A predetermined proper number of hours is a guideline, anyway. An average based on studies of a number of people. You could need more or less than other people depending on your physical circumstances. 

Furthermore, the number of hours you need is prone to change. If you have a day when you work exceptionally hard physically then it stands to reason that you’re going to sleep harder and longer than you usually do. 

There’s No Perfectionism In Dream Journaling 

This tendency to want to do things perfectly can really backfire in dream journaling. 

Even if you go point-by-point down the list of what you’re supposed to do, you’re still going to miss details from some of your dreams. 

Sometimes it’s because you lack the willpower to get up in the middle of the night to make the notes.  

When that happens, that can make a person feel bad. 

When he or she feels bad, they’re tempted to give up on the whole idea of dream journaling. They feel incompetent. 

It’s not realistic to expect yourself to have perfect dream recall.  

The good news is, is that they don’t have to, unless they want to. 

When you have a dream, you can ask yourself what the different aspects of the dream mean, going through the whole PACTREPS acronym.  

If you don’t write the dream down, because you took the time to figure out what it meant, you still can get the benefit of the communication with your subconscious that the Dream Recovery System brings. 

Concentrate on the Big Rocks. Those are the important things. As the Pareto Principle tells us, 20 percent of our actions give us 80 percent of our results. This true when we’re trying to help ourselves and in many other areas.