The Enemy of Progress is Perfection

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Healthy habits are actually not that hard to adopt. You might already be starting to yell at your screen in protest, but hear me out. They really are not that hard to adopt. The reason that healthy habits escape us time and time again is often because we are seeking perfection.

Does this sound familiar: “I can’t do X because I’m not thin enough, I don’t have the right clothes, I don’t have the hour I said I would devote to my workout so I’m just not going to do it at all today.” Well, this, this right here, is the enemy because every day we’re looking for perfection; the perfect time, scenario, or feeling to start our healthy habits. And when any little thing gets in the way or throws a wrench into our perfectly laid out plan, we get frustrated or discouraged and decide to, “try again on Monday.” How many times have you played that script in your head?

As a coach and endurance athlete, I can tell you that progress beats perfection, EVERY. TIME. Read that again. Progress beats perfection, every single time.

The perfect day, the perfect mindset, the perfect circumstance is so very rare. I’ve had maybe 20 perfect runs in my life, but I have had thousands of runs. Most days, the weather (too hot, too cold, too windy, too humid), my clothing (too tight, too loose, it’s falling down, it’s rubbing weird, it’s itchy), my mood (I’m sluggish, I’m tired, I didn’t sleep enough, maybe I overslept) and my meals (ate too much, not enough, drank too much coffee, not enough water) could have provided some reason to not run, but I did it anyways.

It’s your choice and healthy habits are really just the result of repetition. Consistently going to bed and waking up at the same time, doing your meditation or reflection, journaling, taking a walk, whatever the habit is that you want to implement you just have to do it and keep doing it day in and day out. Because most days it won’t be the perfect scenario you’re hoping for, but it’s the accumulation of a little bit at a time that will get you ahead in the long run.

When you skip the activity because it wasn’t the perfect scenario, the only person that loses out is YOU. Let that sink in. If you don’t do your exercise or your meditation or whatever else it is that you had planned, the only person who is missing out on that experience to improve is you.

The daily habits, even little ones, are progress and with them you win every time. You might not have had time to do a full yoga practice that you planned for but you did 10 minutes and that is great. You might not have had a full salad for lunch but you were able to include a side of broccoli. These are all little decisions that move you forward towards bigger impact.

In the book Atomic Habits by James Clear there is a wonderful quote, “One of the most satisfying feelings is the feeling of making progress.” And isn’t that so true? Whenever we make progress towards our goals we always feel better. In finance they talk about how you win by putting $50 a month in your savings account, even if you wish you could put $100. You’re still ahead and it’s cumulative and at the end of the year you may not have $1,200 but you do have $600 and that’s better than $0. It’s the same thing for the health bank account. Make the deposits, no matter how big or small, into your health bank account daily and watch those benefits accumulate the same way.

So how can we get rid of the disease of perfection?

Here are my top three tips:

1. Be specific.

What exactly is the habit you’re trying to implement or change? For example, saying “I’m going to exercise more” is not specific enough and can very easily be ignored or pushed to “tomorrow.” A specific habit would be, “At 5:00 I will change into my workout clothes and do 30 minutes of cardio.” You need to be very clear about what it is you want to do. Vague words produce vague results.

2. Challenge your status quo.

The idea of you is not necessarily true. What does that mean? There are a lot of stories that we tell ourselves, such as, I have to have five coffees a day to make it through, I’m not a morning person, I can’t cook, etc. I recommend challenging yourself to stick to your habit rather than succumbing to these stories. Recognize the patterns you have created and the stories you tell yourself and challenge them. Are you really not a morning person or is this a bad habit you’ve gotten into of going to bed too late? Recognize what is fact from fiction and work to change those habits.

3. Be clear about your purpose. 

Know your why, and be clear about what it is and why you want it. For example, I want to be active because I want to be able to feel strong and be independent and enjoy my life well into old age. It’s not about other people and seeking their approval because that is the weaker motivation and won’t stick. To truly change you need to dig a little deeper and find the intrinsic reason for wanting to change, something that will make you happy, feel better or bring you joy. Intrinsic reasons are very powerful and are rooted in very deep emotions, you just have to take the time to think about them and remember them every time you feel like giving up. Motivation will let you down but your why will never fail you.

So let go of the idea of perfection and let’s focus that beautiful energy on progress and moving forward, even a little bit, every single day. You’ll be amazed at the results!