Why The ‘Practice Makes Perfect’ Mantra Is Suicide to Your Progress And Achievement

There is an age old saying that “Practice Makes Perfect”, some may even say “Perfect Practice Makes Perfect”. This is one of those sayings that sounds good in theory and on stage, but can actually work against you in sticking with and achieving your goals. Here’s what REALLY works: “Practice makes BETTER…better makes progress…Consistent progress leads to Results…consistency in results leads to an amazing life”.

How the “Practice Makes Perfect” Ideology Works Against You

How many times have you thought about a particular goal you wanted to accomplish or skill you wanted to develop, but didn’t think you were good enough to accomplish or develop it? Your first thought was “I need to read and get as much information as possible. Plan as much as possible, think as much as possible, pray as much as possible, before I can get started”.
Here’s the problem with that approach:
  • You start to believe you’re not good enough so you have to become good FIRST before you can get started
  • You start to think you need to have everything perfect (all the resources, money, skills, personnel, connections, and time) before you can get started
  • You start to think that your execution has to be perfect, and you have to avoid failure at all cost, but because you know you’ll fail anyway you never get started
See the problem here?
The challenge is because you have the misconception of perfection in your mind, you never get started. This means you never achieve the goal, develop the skill, or create the life you desire. Then what do you think happens? You become disappointed with yourself, beat yourself up, which further affects your self-image and self-esteem.
I can recall one day my daughter came home from school with homework. She was about 4 at the time and was just learning how to form her letters and write words. While helping her do the homework I kept noticing she would write one letter, then erase it, write it again, then erase it, then write it again, then erase it, then…I’m not exaggerating! This is literally how many times she wrote and erased not one word, but ONE LETTER! Finally, after being annoyed long enough I said to her “Sweety it doesn’t have to be perfect, you just have to get better at it each time”. Her response was “Teacher told me it has to be perfect, so I have to write it perfect” (good thing we have unchallenged social norms right?).
The problem was I could see the frustration building up inside her because as perfectly as she was trying to write the letter, the letter just couldn’t be written perfectly. What should have taken maybe 15 minutes the most ended up taking almost one hour! Just imagine my frustration of having to sit through ‘perfection writing’ for almost 1 hour! *SIGH!* I was this close to just taking the book from her and writing it in myself (but I held my cool).
Note: To this day we still debate over the argument of Perfect or not to Perfect.
I laugh because I know I too am a bit of a Perfectionist (like daddy like daughter). However, I have gotten to a place where I know how to manage my perfectionism in a way that is healthy and productive, and not a hindrance to my progress. For instance when writing an article I won’t stress over if it’s great, or if I have all the SEO keywords perfect. If I have all the elements of a great article in place, or trying to write it perfectly in the first go (writers understand this struggle). However, because I want to ensure that whatever I write will truly be helpful and useful to those reading it, and actually help to make a change, I’ll allow my perfectionist nature to take over just for a bit to accomplish that. In other words, I focus on just getting it done (no matter how imperfect it may be), while simultaneously ensuring it is beneficial to you.
What I’ve realized is the pursuit of Perfection many times kept me from achieving ANYTHING whatsoever in my life. In trying to have the perfect strategy, the perfect plan, and the perfect execution, the perfect timing, I often found myself achieving nothing ‘perfectly’, and it kept me stuck for a VERY long time…until I learned.
The irony of it is the moments when you are the least interested in perfection and only focus on taking action are the moments you will experience the greatest results.

To Achieve Your Goals Shift from Perfection to Progression

How many times have you let perfectionism hold you back from moving ahead? Trying to do it perfectly, but you kept failing at it, and end up giving up on your goal out of frustration or fear of failure? I know it has happened for me many times. What I had to do, and I recommend you do this too, was shift my representation and meaning of perfection. What I had to learn, and this is VERY important so pay attention, was:
  1. There is no such thing as Perfection. This idea gives the impression that something can never be improved upon once it gets to a peak…which is not true. There is always room for improvement and growth
  2. You DON’T have to be perfect, you just have to get better each time.
  3. You have to accept that avoidance of failing doesn’t mean success, but the process of failing is necessary to succeed. Identify what works and what doesn’t and continuously improve, which ultimately leads to success
This shift in my mindset and belief system is how I ultimately started not only progressing with my goals, but learned how to overcome the fear of failing, criticism, and feeling like I needed to become good before I could even get started.
Once you can make these shifts in your thinking, then you will find that the overwhelming obligation to perfection no longer paralyzes you in moving towards your goals. What you want to do is progressively work towards your goals in small steps.

One of the best books I’ve ever read that helped me make the shift from perfection to progression, and also taught how to remain patient with myself throughout the entire process was The Practicing Mind. There are many golden nuggets. In it Thomas M. Sterner introduces a concept called D.O.C. (Do Observe Correct). This is simply a variation to the Plan Do Review concept. Simply what Thomas is suggesting is don’t try to be perfect or get to mastery overnight. Simply develop the mindset of Deliberate Practice and be patient through the process.
The simple act of using this method will not only help you to progress towards your goals, but will also help you become better skilled in your execution. Even if you choose not to get the book, at least adopt Thomas concept of D.O.C. This alone will help you start seeing small improvements in your life, which then leads to big changes!
Remember, don’t look for perfection, focus on progression. Change your mindset that there is no such thing as perfection, you just have to get better each time, and failing is simply a part of the process of getting better. With this approach you will find yourself getting more things done and achieving A LOT more.

Next Action Step

Change your belief that being perfect is what leads to success

  1. Affirm to yourself “I don’t need to be perfect, I just have to get better at it each time. I may not be great at it now, but I can learn, I can grow, and with each action I will become better” (keep repeating it until you feel a sense of calm come over you). Each time you start to feel anxious because you think everything has to be perfect just repeat these words until you feel a sense of calm
  2. Take a small, and very simple action step. Consistently take INTENTIONAL action towards your goals, whether you believe everything (or you) is perfect or not (remember the goal is Progress, NOT perfection)
  3. Celebrate and congratulate yourself for taking action
  4. Reinforce the new belief system by affirming the exact statement above, but now in second person. So repeat “You truly are someone who doesn’t wait to be perfect to take action! You took action and with each action you’re becoming better, and progressing towards your goals”
  5. Finally repeat the process, with the focus on progressively getting better. Do this by paying attention to what seems to be working for you and what isn’t, and document what works, and throw away what isn’t. Then make corrections to improve your approach
  6. Repeat the process for a minimum of 30 days to start the process of recreating the new belief system, and proving it to yourself through your actions

Quick Tip!

When taking action using the D.O.C. process make every effort to execute with as much capability as your CURRENT skill level. What I mean by that is you don’t have to be a master at it now (and don’t try to be). However, what you want to do is consistently challenge yourself to push slightly (emphasis on slightly) beyond your current limit each time. Focus on executing to the best of your current skillset. What this will do is train your brain to always execute at the highest quality possible at your current level maximizing skill development, and it will help you to more readily identify what works best for you, thereby knowing what you can focus on implementing and improving for future.
Emphasis once again on the word slightly.
To your success my friend!

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