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Progress not perfection

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

Progress not perfection

Scott Miker

In the systems and habits approach to improvement we shift our focus from being perfect to being on making progress. 

Making progress allows us to move forward without being overly concerned with mistakes along the way.  Instead we take those mistakes and learn from them, rather than doing everything possible to avoid the mistake. 

Too often, with people not working to improve, they point to perfection as the goal.  They want to be flawless and the only way to do that is to never even start.  Who has more interceptions at the NFL level, a professional quarterback or a critic?  If we want to be flawless, aka perfect, it would seem the critic is the way to go since they have less mistakes.

Years ago I was involved in the startup of a fitness franchise.  One of the factors that we worked to overcome was to create an environment where the beginner felt comfortable. 

Many times beginners would avoid joining a gym because they felt that had to already be in great shape to be there.  But in order to get to their goals they had to start where they were and work through feeling a little out-of-place.  But they couldn’t skip that step.  In essence they had to give up their idea that they had to be perfect just to start.

Even artists work though this idea of focusing on progress instead of perfection.  An artist seeking perfection becomes blocked because nothing seems good enough.  The writer can’t seem to get anything they like on paper.  The musician who wants to write a perfect song usually finds they can’t come up with anything unique and creative. 

It is even worse when we are just starting out.  Having high standards and striving for perfection can work when you are at an elite level.  This can help you keep pushing yourself to get better.  But you still have to realize mistakes will happen and you have work through them to improve.  You can’t just avoid any situation that might result in a mistake.

But starting out it is even more crucial to focus solely on making progress and ignore the desire for perfection. 

In The Artist’s Way author Julia Cameron says, “Judging your early artistic efforts is artist abuse.  This happens in any number of ways: beginning work is measured against the masterworks of other artists; beginning work is exposed to premature criticism, shown to overly critical friends.”

Cameron offers advice to move past being blocked by trying to be too perfect, “In recovering from our creative blocks, it is necessary to go gently and slowly.  What we are after here is the healing of old wounds – not the creation of new ones.  No high jumping, please!  Mistakes are necessary!  Stumbles are normal.  These are baby steps.  Progress, not perfection, is what we should be asking of ourselves.”

Give yourself a great chance to succeed and improve by removing perfection from your vocabulary.  Being perfect isn’t possible in the beginning.  Instead put all of your focus on making progress.  Work slowly over time and learn from the mistakes and you will continue to grow and improve.  Put too much emphasis on perfection and you will sabotage your own efforts.