Shooting for perfection is like hunting for a unicorn. It is an exercise in futility. We all strive and push and pray for that perfect performance. However, to become the athlete (and person) we want to become, we should strive for progress, not perfection.
Perfection is a destination. Progress is a journey. When we demand perfection, our mandate gets in the way of progress. Desire for instant success often leads to shortcuts. And shortcuts cause us to miss out on laying a solid foundation for greater achievements.
There is an old saying in the running world that we are never as good as our PRs. Our PRs occurred during races when good fortune smiled upon us and allowed us to perform beyond what we have done before. Our PRs are not our “everyday self.” We often forget that in order to be our “PR,” we must first gut through our “everyday self,” one step at a time.
Those who expect perfection are easily put off by failures. All too often, they use these failures as excuses to give up. But the reality is the most successful people did not succeed because they never failed, but because they failed more times than everyone else and simply refused to quit. More than that, they learned from their failures. As Thomas J Watson put it, "If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate." Plus, the failures we meet while seeking progress offer several opportunities.
When goal oriented people fail in a path aimed towards progress, they are motivated to do better the next time around. Our successes and failures can take us to fascinating places and expand our experiences. Knowing what does not work can be almost as important as finding out what does work. It means that we can avoid these wrong paths in the future. Continually working towards progress can be viewed as a test. Those who really want to achieve something will persist through the trials and tribulations.
There are other benefits to focusing on progress rather than perfection. Progress is always achievable, no matter your starting point. Aiming for perfection often leaves us frustrated and disappointed; we are always falling short. However, as we observe that we are making progress, we are encouraged to keep going. When we focus on progress, we don’t have to wait to enjoy what we have accomplished. We get to appreciate what we have at this moment rather than waiting for some perfect day that may never come.
No one is perfect, but we can all improve. So set yourself up for success. Whether it be race day, your training, your life—whatever—by continually striving to progress, we can go places we never would have gone by shooting for perfection. As the old saying goes, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. You’ll be amazed where that single step takes you.
Good Luck and Happy Racing!