Seek Progress, Not Perfection



"I still bother with runners I call hamburgers. They're never going to run any record times. But they can fulfill their own potential." - Bill Bowerman, University of Oregon Track Coach and Co-Founder of Nike

For whatever reason, I think that the rules that govern the Universe don't apply to me. This seems to manifest itself most of all in the work place. In my mind I believe that I should be able to go about my job and deal with each and every challenge effortlessly. I continually expect perfection from myself and when I don't get this, I become upset. Upset is not the word. I become physically pained from errors that I make.

Sometimes I can't even help it. Yesterday, during my workout, I did some things that I haven't done in quite a while. I now know why I don't do them anymore. I re-injured my back. Thank God it is only a minor flare up, but still it has set me back a smidge nonetheless- hopefully just this weekend's training. After I felt the "pop", as I have in the past unfortunately a couple times too many, I thought to myself some things I probably shouldn't have, but in the moment they were to me real. For whatever reason, I said out loud, "You are never going to be perfect. Life is not about perfection or being perfect. Life is about progress." This is HUGE lesson for me.

Anyway, I wanted to put some stuff down on the blog that I have learned over the past year, which help to mitigate the effects of the "over achiever" syndrome that plagues me every day of my life.

Number One: Set Reasonable and Attainable Goals

Ultimately, goals should be something that force one to grow, but also create solid skill sets. As the adage goes, "Rome wasn't built in a day." The funny thing about this quote is that the Romans didn't try to build their great city in one day. Roman architects and engineers worked slowly, and methodically. They didn't build cities in days, but rather would build part of a wall or 1/10th of a mile of a road a day.

With this in mind, try to find ways to work on pieces of long-term goals each day. Randy Couture, one of the greatest mixed martial arts athletes to ever step foot in the UFC octagon, once said: "Strive to progress at least 1% every day. It doesn't sound like much, but it adds up real fast."

Mike Munson, one of my buddy's and Kettlebell training clients, is very similar to me in the struggle for perfection... errr, I mean focus on progress mindset. One of his goals is to be a corporate controller at his current place of employment. In order to get to that position, he will need to have mastery over fixed asset accounting--his current position within the company. In one day he can learn a new piece of fixed asset accounting--like how to set up a capital lease and draft the corresponding memo. This is realistic. Expecting to understand how ALL of fixed assets works in one day is a fantastic way to make himself go crazy.

To make his job sustainable and enjoyable on a daily basis, he will have to realize that this is the nature of the beast. The flip side of the equation is pretty nasty. For example, his first swim coach once told him, "In the past the goals I set for myself were often time so unrealistic that I could rarely achieve them." It was because of his unreasonable goals for himself that he took a ten year hiatus from competitive swimming. A devastating personal event forced him to confront his unrealistic goals, the emotional damage that was caused by this habit, and return to the world of competitive swimming. He now currently competes in the FINA World Championships.

Number Two: Find Ways to Feel Good

Each night after work, I make a list of what I want to achieve the next day. I used to have a Crackberry and now I love my MyTouch3G Android phone. It syncs with my Google Calendar so my list goes right from my online calendar to my phone and vice versa. Some times I will be able to finish that list, hit the snooze on the phone reminder, add items I pushed off onto the next day's list and will start another-- one which is usually more auspicious than the prior. At the end of the day, I'll look at the second list and go, "Gosh, I didn't get anything done," and go home feeling a little bit upset.

The aforementioned behavior is a bad habit. I've procrastinated my entire life and no matter how many reminders I set for myself or ways I try to prioritize my to do lists somehow I still have leftovers that continually plague me for weeks and even longer. The only way to have long-term, sustained success is to feel good about what you are doing each day. After completing my first list, I should have gotten a cup of coffee with a friend, enjoyed a few minutes outside, and then made an additional list called "Gravy," or "Superstar." If I consistently acknowledge and let myself feel the good work that is being produced, I will be more likely to produce more good work. Ultimately I believe that long term goals are almost unnecessary. There are so many variables at stake that anything can change the desired outcome of a given goal even on a daily basis. Short term goals of a certain chunk of hours, 3 days, 3 weeks, 3 months are more realistic and can easily be shifted to what your schedule throws at you.

Number Three: Embrace Falling Down

My same buddy Mike Munson has always struggled with inversions, or hand stands, in yoga. It's not the balance or the strength that he lacks, especially due to his consistent, unwaivering, and ongoing kettlebell practice, but his unwillingness to fall down and potentially crash into the person practicing next to him. After a two month hiatus, he was finally able to confidently get to a yoga class. During inversion time the instructor said, "There is nothing wrong with falling down when you work on inversions. Falling down is part of the process." No truer words have ever been spoken.

In any field of study, the people who go on to do truly great things are the ones who are not afraid to "fall down." When they fall down, they pick themselves up and go, "Oh, I'll do it a little bit differently next time." Having that willingness to fall down in front of others and embarass yourself from time to time will ultimately lead to mastery of an area as well as the respect and trust of colleagues. Nobody likes going to a boss who is a "know-it-all" with questions or issues. Most people I know do really enjoy talking to colleagues who are willing to put together the pieces as a team member. I'm teaching my son Brayden that whenever we fall we get right back up. It's okay to fall. In fact the only place to go when we're down is up. That's as positive as it gets.


"One of the important lessons in life is to learn to keep out of ruts. Everyone is bound to strike them at times. But they should be gotten out of- immediately. Keep your eyes Open and your Mind Awake." -George Matthew Adams


Collaborated together: Michael Munson and Bob Garon