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Progress versus perfection and why progress makes sense

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 versus perfection and why progress makes sense

Scott Miker

Years ago I shifted my frame of reference on goals from having a desire for perfection to being keenly focused on making progress. Instead of wanting everything to fall into place, I was more concerned about the fact that I was growing and improving.

This gave me a new perspective on life. It allowed me to change in order to ultimately improve beyond the level I found myself at the time.

The first thing that happened is that I started to be less anxious about the world. Because I knew there would be imperfection and attaining perfection wasn’t the goal, I was more calm during times of chaos.

I could be in a situation where something felt unjust without that infuriating me. Being born just before the millennial generation, I grew up with a certain sense of entitlement.

This got in the way of my improvement many times because one aspect would become imperfect and I would suddenly get emotionally worked up and it would impact my decisions, often in a negative way.

For example, I would be working at a job and the annual increase wouldn’t be very good. I would take that as a slap in the face and look to move on from that role. But I didn’t do a good job of looking at the full scope of the opportunity to see that this was just one imperfect aspect. It felt like at times I cut off my nose to spite my face.

Once I shifted to focus on progress (and also systems thinking around the same time) I got better at evaluating opportunities to see the full picture. This allowed me to slowly become more appreciative and significantly less entitled.

The second major advantage to looking at progress instead of perfection is that it always allows you to keep moving up. If you are constantly striving to get better you can take negative feedback and ask yourself how you can use that information to ultimately improve.

It will require a change. This means that when we use perfection as the measuring stick, this is looked at as a failure. We failed to be perfect.

But when we are looking for progress, this becomes just another factor to take into account and use to keep moving forward. Then we can slowly take feedback and use it to adjust aspects of our approach so we can keep moving up and growing.

As soon as we get too complacent we start to lose traction and tend to regress. When perfection is the measuring stick we tend to fall into complacency because when we actively do something, there is the risk that we will fail.

So we don’t move forward and instead live in a state where we don’t feel we make mistakes. We judge our self as perfect and others as flawed. We become complacent and refuse to risk that perfection in order to improve.

Therefore we should start to change from focusing on perfection to being solely interested in making progress. Are we getting better or worse? Is the overall situation better than it was or worse than it was?

By changing to this approach we can start to become content. We can start to calmly attack our goals and chase our dreams. We will certainly hit roadblocks and fail at times but will keep getting back to use that failure as a way to adjust and ultimately keep going, instead of using it tell us we are imperfect and therefore shouldn’t keep taking any risks.