Focus on Progress, Not Perfection
How to set goals that make you happy instead of perfect.
Making changes to any health, fitness or wellness routine can be hard. Oftentimes, societal ideals are far too intimidating and can crush the resolve to actually follow through with positive changes before they even begin.
In recent years, I have learned that health is a journey, not a destination. And, can we be honest for a second? When it comes to our health and our bodies, perfection is simply unattainable. You will never be that “perfect” version of yourself because that person doesn’t exist. And why is that? Because you are a human being. Cliché as it may sound, we all have beautiful flaws that make us individually unique. These “imperfections” are actually what make us all better people because without them, we wouldn’t have anywhere (or any reason) to grow as individuals.
Progress is about goals, and goals are healthy. They are powerful. They allow for a pressing reminder that we are capable, that we are on the right track, that we have a purpose, and that our intentions that will positively impact our own lives and likely the lives of others. There are two types of goals: “be good” goals and “get better” goals. Let’s take a deeper look at each type of goal and how it might apply to your health and fitness journey.
This type of goal typically involves a person striving to achieve an ideal concept of “good.” Goals like: Be skinny; Be the strongest; Be the fastest runner; Be this exact weight; Eat only these foods; Eat only this number of calories. You get the idea. Part of the problem with the “be good” type of goal is that it frames the goal in external terms. Be good compared to what? The general standard for success often comes from other people, which is dangerous since you, the individual, are not those other people. You are exclusively you.
The only person you should be comparing yourself to is yourself. In order to attain a “be good” goal, the only possibility for satisfaction is in reaching a specific performance metric. Frustrations and difficulties are more likely to thwart a “be good” goal in its earlier stages, damaging morale and increasing overall anxiety about the specific expectations you have put on yourself. I don’t know about you but to me, this seems awfully draining.
This type of goal is more process based and can better be tailored to you as an individual. Examples include: Eat more vegetables; Drink more water; Drink less caffeine; Develop more muscle tone; Run a bit faster; Run a little farther; Do more push ups; FEEL BETTER; MAKE PROGRESS. This kind of goal is more about the journey toward a greater version of yourself. Incremental progress is seen as a positive thing and you will likely take greater pleasure in the actual work that you are putting in each and every day toward your particular goal.
Not only is this type of goal more tailored to you as an individual person, but it also allows for greater flexibility. The way that our bodies and minds respond to goals can change with great frequency, depending on the curveballs that life throws our way. These frustrations and difficulties can be challenging. “Get better” goals can help us to see the bigger picture in our overall progress, removed from the pressures of numbers, timelines, and unrealistic outside comparisons.
Embrace the Journey
When I first started to evaluate my health and think about exactly how I could make changes, I was absolutely overwhelmed. In college, I distinctly remember purchasing a juicer, bringing it home and proclaiming that I was going to, “Juice myself skinny!” Looking back, I had no idea what I was talking about, and I had no sense of where I wanted to be health-wise. I can tell you now, that juicing regimen lasted all of about 2 days before it was thrown to the wayside. About a year later I graduated and I still don’t know what happened to that juicer.
Fast-forward to the present day and the health transformation that I have made is truly incredible—one that I am SO proud of. I went from suffering from an inexplicable digestive illness to feeling absolutely wonderful, full of vibrant satisfaction with how my body now functions. But it didn’t take place overnight, or even over the course of a few months or even years. It’s still happening. I resolved to make smaller changes to my diet and lifestyle, changes that have evolved into a very enthusiastic but also very balanced approach to food and fitness. I’ve made great improvements in my health already, but just as I am a changing human, so is my progress and so are my goals.
Right now, I’m growing a tiny human inside of my body, and my goals throughout this pregnancy have always been to nourish my cells, nurture this growing baby and stay as strong as my changing body allows. It’s not about how much weight I gain or how much weight I can (or can’t) lift. It’s not about getting frustrated about how I can’t even climb up a flight of stairs anymore without huffing and puffing my way to the top. It’s not about all of the weird aches and pains that keep me from pushing myself like I used to. It’s about adapting to the current situation and truly enjoying every moment of this ride that is MY life.
The Perspective of YOUR Progress
In order to progress, it’s important to embrace openness and flexibility toward your individual goals. Don’t get me wrong, specific goals can be great and for many people they provide a very healthy oomph to progress. For example, you might set out to run a 5K. You might try to drop down to a healthier weight range (key word here: range). You might aim to reduce your sugar intake. You might want to eat more green vegetables. Or you might just want your head to feel clearer and you heart to feel happier.
Your goals and your progress are your own. They are about holistically moving you forward through your life journey toward an optimistic goal of health, wellness and strength, whatever those all mean to YOU. This is a living, breathing, dynamic journey. It’s also a journey that never ends.
Use these simple exercises to eliminate “perfection” out of your vocabulary and instill progress as your truest friend:
- Make changes for the right reasons. If you don’t have a solid starting point, you are more likely to miss the entire point of the changes you are trying to make. Take some time to evaluate where you are now and how you hope to grow and progress in your health journey.
- Set realistic goals. Stop looking toward others as the standard of your expectations. Reflect within yourself and set goals that speak to who you are and where you want to be.
- Create a mantra. “Today is about progress, not perfection.” This is a great place to start. Say this (or something like it) to yourself each day. Journal it. Say it while you make breakfast. Say it when you “mess up.” Say it when you workout. And say it when you don’t.
- Never beat yourself up. It’s so important to applaud the progress that you make rather than getting hung up on where you might fall short. Did you have an off day? Get over it and move on. Wake up the next morning with the aim to regroup as best you can and try again. Don’t scold yourself or think of it as a failure. Instead, see the lesson and make the connection. Use this increased awareness to continue your progress.
- Celebrate every ounce of progress you make. Celebrate all of your achievements, no matter how big or small. Honor every step of this journey and praise yourself along the way. You’ll be amazed at what positive reinforcement can do for the soul.
- Listen to your body and yourself. Even when trying to be realistic, you might progress to find that your body or mind might not be embracing a particular goal as you’d hoped. This is ok. Push yourself, but never so far as to cause physical or emotional damage. If you’re sore, rest and relax. If you’re hungry, eat. If you’re sad, cry. If you’re frustrated, breathe. Allow your body to guide your progress and create a relationship with it that you can trust.
Reject perfection as a way of ever referring to your journey through life. If you can accept that you are a constant work in progress, both mentally and physically, you will be so much happier with how this journey evolves for you. Imperfection is what makes you memorable. It’s what makes you a human being. Some days will pump you up, and others might be a total disaster. Be gentle with yourself. Nudge your intentions in the right direction. Encourage your best try each time. Applaud your progress. Learn from your stumbles. Lighten up and smile as you continue your quest for progress, not perfection.