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You Couldn’t’ve Done Better (and Satisficing)

Giving Up on Perfectionism

Goal and Audience

I conduct my work according to two principles: that of You Couldn’t’ve Done Better, and Satisficing. What follows is an attempt to explain those principles so that you might better understand my decision-making systems.

This piece might be relevant if:

  1. you’re looking to learn more about how I conduct my work,
  2. you’re a perfectionist,
  3. or you have questions about how I make decisions.

You Couldn’t’ve Done Better

Years ago I was complaining to one of my teachers that I had not done as much as I could’ve on a particular project. I said something along the lines of “I could’ve tried a little harder.” To which my history teacher (Barry Treseler) responded: no you couldn’t have. You did exactly as well as you possibly could’ve, in that situation. The reasoning being that in any situation, you can only put in as much effort as you have the capacity to, given the circumstances. If you’re sleep deprived and can only get two hours of work done, then there is no world in which you could push out three more hours of work while being sleep deprived.

The converse also holds: in any situation, you do exactly as little as is possible for you to do given those circumstances. There’s a lot of self-forgiveness involved here.


In simple terms, satisficing is the practice of accepting any satisfactory outcome. You can contrast this with maximizing. Suppose you’re selling art. A maximal goal might be to make as much money as is possible. I might instead opt to be happy with any outcome that leaves me with at least $20. Satisfying is anti-perfectionism.

Satisficing is nice because the resources I have (including time) are finite. Maximizing is often an infinite-resource-consuming pursuit.

Examples from my life include:

  1. Publishing tools that don’t have everything I wish it could, in favor of getting something in front of people: see the Electricity Strategy Game, Startup: Pallet Materials, Startup: Ours, this website, CS300 Snake, etc. (Satisficing: publish when it’s good enough for people to use/good enough to test what needs to be tested.)
  2. Getting grades that are not perfect. (Satisficing: any outcome where I’m happy with my learning, regardless of grades.)
  3. Not doing all of the activities I might enjoy, including but not limited to: research, music, languages, drumming groups, teaching, etc. (Satisficing: any set of activities where I’m happy with how I spend my time.)
  4. Limiting my social engagements to a manageable set. (Satisficing: any schedule that leaves me feeling happy and fulfilled, even if I don’t get to befriend everyone I wish I could.)

I want to try to think of more but I also know that that’s enough for now. This should be enough to illustrate how this affects my life. (Ha.)

But of course deep down I still strive for nothing short of ideal.


Learn about me / my values / my experiences. Comments are always welcome; feedback is a gift. I'm always looking for more reviewers, so let me know if you'd like to read my unreleased drafts.

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