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Strive for progress and continuous improvement and ignore 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.  

Strive for progress and continuous improvement and ignore perfection

Scott Miker

One thing that can quickly trip someone up who is trying to reach a goal is to focus on perfection to soon.  They expect perfection and anything less just isn’t good enough.

It might seem like a great strategy to work as hard as we can.  But it actually causes an attitude of procrastination.  It becomes safer for us to not take action than risk failure.

We start to do everything to avoid mistakes.  Therefore we don’t take any risks towards our goals.  We don’t start slow and continue long enough to build new habits because we will see the shortcomings and drive us towards perfection or quitting with nothing in between. 

But when we are starting out on a new endeavor, we have to realize that we aren’t perfect to start.  We tend to start out clumsy, inexperienced, and sloppy.  We don’t start out with a perfectly fine-tuned approach. 

I remember when I was in high school and wanted to learn the guitar.  I wanted to be able to play it flawlessly.  But when I first started I was awkward and clumsy.  I took too long to place my hands in the proper form to play the right chord.  I had to think about every single move I made.

If someone starts to learn a musical instrument with the idea that only perfection is acceptable, they won’t keep going.  They won’t work through the clumsiness to polish their playing.  They will quit and instead look for something else to be perfect at. 

I did this a lot in my life and didn’t realize what I was doing.  I would try different things and when they didn’t provide instant perfection, I would quit and do something else.   

Finally I realized what I was doing.  I was searching for perfection and the more I looked at an area the more I saw flaws.  It wasn’t until I stopped searching for perfection that I finally started to improve.

Years ago, as I was just started out with a new nutritious eating habit, I was telling a friend about my healthy lunches.  I explained that I used to eat fast food every day for lunch and now I was making a much healthier lunch every day. 

To my surprise, my friend criticized my routine and said it wasn’t enough.  She said that it could be healthier and explained that what I was doing was the same as eating fast food every day. 

I was a little shocked but came to realize that they don’t see improvement in the same way as I do.  They see two extremes.  We either do it perfectly, at the highest level, with zero mistakes, or we are a complete failure.

There was nothing in between.  But before Michael Jordan became the greatest basketball player of his time, he had to work through every step before that.  In fact, he was even cut from the high school basketball team.  But he kept going and going.  He found a way to keep moving slowly towards that perfect extreme and away from failure. 

Therefore we should adjust our mindset around improvement.  Since looking at the two extremes as the only option is missing too much of the “in-between” that is important to slowly move closer and closer to our goals, we should shift to focus on that slow, gradual improvement.   

We should strive for continuous improvement.  We should evaluate based on progress.  Are we making progress towards our goals?  Are we slowly improving many parts of our routines and habits until we can reach our highest goals?

Making this shift can be the difference between constant failure and success.  All it takes is the attitude that we will slowly improve and get better.  Mistakes and failures will be a part of the process but we can overcome those with constant improvement.

It is evident that Kim Collins understood this.  He was the World Champion track star.  He says, “Strive for continuous improvement, instead of perfection.”

The only way to break away from too strict a goal of perfection is to slow down and allow yourself to clumsily work through the process getting better and better each time you do it.