Practice makes progress, not perfection

Have you used the phrase, “practice makes perfect” before? I know I have. Sometimes the things we say are almost automatic, repeating things we’ve heard.

Perfection is this holy grail concept of finally being without those pesky flaws or mistakes we may experience.

As doctors, we often hold ourselves to very high standards, and perfection may be our top agenda.

Many of us do very well in almost all aspects of our lives. Academically, sporting, social, career and financial. To get into medical school it can feel like perfection is the bar they hold us to. Hammering out any possible faults and shining up our exterior can get us through. Into med school, into our jobs, through training programs and beyond…

Or does it?

What is perfection?

Perfection is defined as a flawless state, with all the required qualities and characteristics met. Everything is complete.

This is when things get more abstract. What does a perfect life look like? What does a perfect person look like?

How about your perfect day, partner, medical procedure, job?

Maybe in school we could quantify perfection as 100%. Not one mark lost. But how does this translate to life?

Where do we lose marks? What is lacking?

Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

The trouble with striving for perfection

Though perfection has been encouraged and rewarded for many of us throughout our lives, there’s a problem with it.

Trying to live the perfect existence often has us feeling anything but complete.

Here are five reasons why perfection is the barrier to us living our fulfilled lives.

  1. Perfection is unattainable
    We may feel like we get very close to perfection, but there’s always something more. It could always be better. There is no stationary goal of perfection we can reach one day and then be able to stop striving, it doesn’t exist.
  2. Perfection distracts us from appreciating how far we’ve come
    Focusing on the perfect idea in the distance keeps us from appreciating what we’ve done right now. Look at where you are and think about how you were five years ago. There’s been immense progress. Perfection can stop us from noticing this.
  3. Perfection condemns our mistakes and failures
    With this mindset, deviating from perfect can eat us up. Mistakes and failures are not welcome, and often punished. Yet, how can a child learn to walk if they’re not allowed to fall down?
  4. Perfection can paralyse us from trying
    The mere idea of needing to be perfect can paralyse us from starting. Holding ourselves to such a high standard means we may feel like there’s no point in even trying.
  5. Perfection is static and not about growth
    Perfection is this shiny threshold in the distance, maybe if we try hard enough we can cross it. Yet life isn’t like that. Think of a musician, they start off barely playing a song, and then begin to master their craft. However, they never reach perfect, instead they grow and improve. They reach new heights of music and explore. If they focused on being perfect, it wouldn’t encourage growth or building on skills.

Practice makes progress instead

Here are five reasons why I believe “practice makes progress” is a much better phrase for us to say.

  1. Progress moves us towards our goals
    Progress is an onward movement. Designing our ideal life involves moving towards what we want and what serves us. Progress understands it’s a journey to fulfilment.
  2. Progress celebrates failure as learning
    Mistakes and failures happen. It’s unavoidable as we are all human beings. Progress celebrates them. Yes, I know, celebrates them. Why? Because, progress knows that these setbacks are all part of teaching us what we need to move forward. When did you learn the most in your life? Chances are it was a moment when you made a mistake, not when you did things ‘just right’.
  3. Progress allows us to be present and feel more gratitude
    Progress draws our attention from the future to the present. How have you improved? What new skills do you have today? Instead of focusing on a lofty goal ahead, progress is about what we can do now, and it’s also about feeling gratitude for how far we’ve come already.
  4. Progress keeps us growing and moving
    Progress is in motion. We are always in a state of progress. Whether that’s towards or away from where you want to go. It’s moving. We learn new skills, make new connections and build on this to grow into who we want to be. Progress is based on curiosity and truly serves our personal growth.
  5. Progress gives us permission to try
    Instead of expecting nothing less than perfect, progress gives us the permission to try. To give it with what we’ve got this moment, no matter the outcome. We often won’t know how things will eventuate, but never trying often leads to the same result – nothing changes.

Practice makes progress

From now on, I’m going to say, “practice makes progress”. How about you?

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