The best is the enemy of the good

Adithyan Ilangovan 3 min read

I am reading a book and I recently come across this quote :

“The best is the enemy of the good”.

It was in the context of building new productive habits.

At first, that made me go “Wait that cannot be right!“. I want to do things to the best of my capabilities. But, after thinking about it and experimenting with this approach for the last 30 days. I STRONGLY vouch for it.

I will share what I learned. If you wanted to form new productive habits (or get rid of old unproductive ones) this one can really help you.

The tale of two groups of students

This is a real story and not a made-up one. This psychology experiment happened at the University of Florida.


Every year, a professor taught a beginner-photography class for incoming students. This time around, he decided to do it slightly differently and run an experiment.

He divided his incoming students into two groups:

  • Quantity Group 
  • Quality Group

Both of the groups will attend the same classes and learn the same things. But he announced that at the end of the semester that the groups will be graded differently.

For Quantity Group, he said they would be graded base on the number of photos they produced during the semester.

  • Submission of at-least 100 photos would be rated an A,
  • Submission of at-least 90 photos would be rated a B,
  • Submission of at-least 80 photos would be rated a C,
  • and so on.

For Quality Group, he said they would need to submit only one photo and they will be graded based on the excellence of this one particular photo.

  • To get an A, this photo had to be a nearly perfect image.


At the end of the semester, he went through the photos and was surprised to find all the best photos were produced by students in the Quantity group. Furthermore, when tested for the skills acquired and learned, the Quantity group ranked far higher than the Quality Group.

The professor investigated further to find the root cause of this phenomenon. He found that :

  • The Quantity group students were busy taking photos throughout the semester. They went out experimented, learned from their mistakes, and iteratively honed their skills. By actually doing it.
  • Whereas, the Quality Group just sat around speculating about perfection. They did not go out and click as many as pictures as the other group did. In the end, they had little to show other than their unverified theory about how things should look like.

Is it really true?

Although, focussing on quantity rather than quality can seem counter-intuitive. But its a really powerful idea and it works. Similar experiments have been reported and repeated 4.

When you are trying to start something, it is really easy to get tied down by trying to find the “best” way to do it. Examples :

  • Want to make running a habit?
    • You start planning about the best shoes, the best route, the best technique, the best this, and the best that.
    • And eventually, you get distracted by this planning that you never actually start running!
    • It’s far better just to start running and put in those miles.
    • Run regularly. 1 mile or 5 mins does not matter. Start slow, put those miles in. And the rest will figure itself out eventually.
  • Want to start blogging as a habit?
    • You could easily get distracted by trying to come up with the most perfect topic, with the perfect hosting, and gazillion other things that don’t really matter for the actual blog.
    • Having outlines of 20 perfect articles in your mind is not really useful.
    • Writing 1 article in a regular weekly cadence, and clicking that “PUBLISH” button is a far better approach.
    • You will develop a habit. Learn what clicks with your audience, and “how to blog” quickly this way.

Lessons learned

Just thinking about doing something perfectly gives us a false sense of growth. It allows you to feel like you are making progress. It makes you feel like you are getting things done, when in fact you are not!

I was quite surprised to find I have fallen prey to this pattern of thinking repeatedly. Now, I try not to focus on the “perfect” plan but rather I try to get the habit done. Whether I like the outcome or not, I focus on the quantity and just do it. And eventually, like the Quantity group, I am also getting better at the skill in itself.

Maybe there are some things in your life that you are trying to come up with a perfect plan for.

  • Finding the “perfect” way of being frugal and start saving?
  • Finding the “perfect” idea for a side hustle?
  • Finding the “perfect” way to lose weight”?
  • Finding the “perfect” way to start eating healthy?
  • Finding the “perfect” way to start a productive habit?

Reevaluate if this “perfect” plan is what is stopping you in the first place to getting it done.


“If you want to master a new habit the key is to start with repetition, not perfection”.

You don’t need to figure every little thing to start a new habit. Just practice the habit regularly. Get your reps in!


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