Strive for Progress, Not Perfection


The Best Fitness Gift for the New Year:


It’s been said that striving to be perfect rather than continuous improvement is the highest form of self-abuse. That oppressive voice that screams misconceptions in your head like, “You aren’t good enough unless or until you…” will derail you from achieving your goals. What’s worse, setting unrealistic, unattainable, impossible goals leaves the perfectionist guilt ridden, disillusioned, and believing s/he can and will never be successful.


When it comes to one’s career, relationships, finances, academics and even sports, this type of thinking can be seriously harmful. Those who are preoccupied with attaining perfection instead of incremental improvement undermine their own performance and foster a sense of continuous dissatisfaction with life. When it comes to one’s fitness and health, this type of erroneous thinking can be downright toxic.


Pursue excellence with a will to improve. That’s healthy. Pursue perfection and you’ll set yourself up for frustration, misery, and very likely poor health. “I’m going to give my workout today the best I have,” is one health promoting belief. “I may as well not even try today because I know I can’t do it right,” is a belief that will keep you from even trying.


Stop for a moment, and read these questions, answering them honestly to yourself:


  • Are you ever satisfied with yourself?
  • Are you someone who believes that it’s unacceptable to make a mistake or you are a loser if you cannot be perfect?
  • Are you someone who must be THE best, not simply YOUR best?
  • Are you someone who’s confused what you have and do, with your self-worth?
  • Are you someone who’s constantly demanding, insisting and expecting (D.I.E.) nothing less than flawlessness in your life to prove your value?
  • Are you someone who persists in looking at the thorns on the rose bush rather than the roses on the thorn bush?
  • Just how good does your performance have to be before you execute?


Maybe it’s time to do some re-thinking. It’s certainly time to give yourself the gift of process thinking instead of project thinking. I’ve coached some who are so fearful of not completing a job assignment—or physical workout—faultlessly, with precision and exactness, that they actually dread even getting started, and don’t.


Simply telling yourself to stop thinking like this won’t work. But here are some tools that will promote advancement, progress, and freer forward movement in the office, at home, in the gym and on the playing field, and help you make progress to improve your life:


  • Forgive yourself for your shortcomings
  • Question the validity of your thinking
  • Separate the results you achieve from judgments about your self-worth
  • Realize that right or wrong answers are often opinions not facts
  • Equip yourself with rational self-talk such as, “All I can do is my best,” or “Making an error doesn’t mean I’m a failure”
  • Take the perspective of a good friend who looks at progress versus perfection differently than you do
  • Focus on the longer-term picture – ask yourself if your performance will really, truly, matter in year or two from now.
  • Do a rep or two less than the person next to you and observe what really happens. Uh, notice nothing happens.
  • Focus on moderation in your life by setting progress, not perfection, as the goal. Did you do better today than you did yesterday? That’s progress. Incremental, gradual, never-ending, advancement will lead to success.


And always remember: the tortoise won.

Dr. Michael Mantell

Michael R. Mantell, Ph.D. has been providing psychological and coaching services for nearly 5 decades and continues to empower positive change among his global clients to enhance life in every way. He is a highly sought-after healthcare professional coach, an executive and team building consultant, and a longtime specialist in cognitive behavioral coaching.

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