Progress Not Perfection

Self-Awareness 101 Episode 44: Progress Not Perfection

In this episode Willard discusses the need to measure the progress we make in our lives by comparing our growth to where we have come from, not to where we desire to be. Often our vision of where we are going is a vision of "perfection" and we easily miss the amazing distinctions along the way when we are not measuring the progress.

< EP 43: Being A Humble Observer                              EP 45: Perfectionism > 

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Today we’re going to discuss the idea of progress not perfection.

One of the things that I have had to constantly remind myself over the past 20 years that I have been on my journey of personal development and self-awareness is that this journey is about progress, not perfection. Even having studied some of these skills and strategies for over 20 years I still make mistakes, I still backslide, I still screw it up.

Very early in my journey I had someone say to me, “Will, you have to remember that this is about progress not perfection. “ Because of my perspective at the time, I wasn’t clear on what they were telling me. To help me understand, they pointed out that at that point in my life, the person I had been in the past had lived a very specific way. Because of the way I lived, I had very specific belief systems about myself and the world around me which affected the way that I looked at the world. Because of the way I looked at the world, I had a specific way that I communicated with people and dealt with anger. Through all of this conditioning, this way of living had become second nature to me. I was living my life based on conditioned habits.

After living this way for years, all of a sudden I came to this point in my life where I decided, “I’m going to make a change. I’m going to become a new person. I’m going to clean up this part of my life.” And I would start out with total enthusiasm focused on how great the “new me” would be. And then life wouldn’t change, at least not as dramatically and quickly as I had expected it to and I would beat myself up thinking that I would never be able to change.

As an example, I was about a year into recovery and I was complaining to a dear friend about how my finances were still a mess, my relationships were still a mess and it didn’t seem that anything in my life had changed. I had been doing everything I was told and I expected everything to be perfect. My friend said, “Will, it took over 11 years for you to make this mess. You can’t expect to have 11 years worth of growth after one year of working on yourself.” He continued by saying, “You need to take a look at the progress that you have made, rather than the expectations you haven’t lived up to yet of how your life was going to be. Just because you decided to do the right thing, it doesn’t mean that everything will be perfect instantly. Acknowledge the progress that you have made, because who you are now… is a lot different than who you were one year ago.”

That was a huge distinction for me. Compare yourself to where you came from, not to where you think you should be. Another phrase that you may have heard me talk about is, “It’s about the journey, not the destination.”

The journey of self-awareness that you have embarked on is an ongoing process. As I mentioned, I have been doing this for over twenty years and there are always new areas that I find to work on. That is something that excites me and keeps me moving forward. But also there are areas that I’ve focused on for years that I will still make mistakes, which can be very frustrating. It is sometimes like I am taking two steps forward, then one step back, and sometimes I feel like it is two steps forward and three steps back. But as I have shared before, that is how we learn. We learn when we make mistakes. I think the challenge for a lot of us, is that we have been so conditioned to beat ourselves up when we make a mistake that we focus on the step backwards, rather than focusing on the progress that we’ve made.

Maybe you’ve decided that you’re going to deal with your anger in a better way. And you went for two weeks of being very restrained and actually very peaceful based on some of the skills that you have applied. And then something happened where you had an outburst like you used to in the past. And like most people do in that situation, you beat yourself up for another two weeks because you had one outburst.

What I invite you to do is to take a step back and look at the two weeks that you had previous to that outburst. Look at the progress and look at the skills that you used that helped you be more restrained and more peaceful. Look at the situations that happened where you could have responded in anger, but you reigned yourself in and handled it in a healthier way. Measure yourself by progress not perfection.

Look at things that way in any area of your life. Maybe it’s in the progress in changing your belief systems. Maybe it’s in your desire to meditate or take time for yourself. If you set your standard at perfection, you will constantly be falling short. Progress not perfection. Based on progress, you can always improve.

I am sharing this because I’m getting ready to embark on a major lifestyle change for myself. I’ve actually already started on it, three days ago and I wrote an article and have it posted in the Article Archive section of YourDailyLifeCoach.

For years, my eating habits have been terrible. I normally only eat once or twice a day, and I don’t eat much. It’s not like I sit down and gorge myself until I can’t eat any more. I have a sandwich or a salad for lunch, then I have another sandwich for dinner. And that’s many times all I eat for the day. I can get so caught up in wanting to do so many things, that I basically forget to eat. Along with not feeding myself, I’m not feeding myself good, nutritious food.

I’m approaching my 45th birthday and my health has really started to change in noticeable ways and I realize that a big part of it is because I’m not giving my body what it needs. So I’ve committed to this new approach to eating more nutritious food and eating six times a day, or every two and a half to three hours.

I know from my past experiences, that I can make the commitment and I will start out on fire and focused. Then a couple of weeks into the program if I make the mistake and slip on my commitment, sometimes rather than just taking me off course me for the day, I would let it derail me for a month. Or even worse I would completely stop the program and say, “See, I knew I couldn’t do it.”

So, I have to prepare myself to focus on the progress not perfection aspects of this new health regimen because I truly know that any change that I make is going to be a tremendous benefit to me. And I also know that in the past, I have used the lack of perfection as an excuse not to finish things. Having this self-awareness will help me stay true to the commitment.

So what I’d like to invite you to do is use the progress you’ve already made in your life as a resource for the future. Whether you’ve just started on your journey of self-awareness with our series, or whether you started years ago; take a moment right now, get your journal out and compare, who were you when you started this journey and who have you grown to be at this point. Measure your progress so far. You will probably be amazed as you remember those “major obstacles” that are a part of the distant past.

Remember, it is about progress not perfection. It is ultimately your choice in every moment to focus on where you may have fallen short, or to focus on the progress that you’ve made, at this point in your journey.

It is actually a good idea to “check in” regularly and keeping a journal will help you with this. Sit down once a month or once every three months; sit down and really look at the progress you have made. By doing this you will constantly give yourself new references, not only about how far you have come, but for the skills you gained that will carry you even further into who you desire to be.

Have you ever noticed if you have a child and you are around that child every day, you really don’t notice the growth that they’ve had. But if your friend has a child and you don’t see that child for three months, you are amazed the next time you see them at how long their hair has grown, and how tall they are and how they have matured. We need to look at our own progress, and do it and regular intervals so that we can see our own growth.

Now there is another aspect of progress not perfection that we are going to discuss in next week’s video. How setting up expectations of perfection will often either prevent you from taking action, or how it prevents you from finishing the project, or applying everything that we know that we should.

As always I look forward to your feedback on this episode on progress not perfection, I look forward to learning how you’ve marked your progress. Do you journal? Do you share it with friends? Do you blog about it?

I look forward to connecting again soon, take care. 

< EP 43: Being A Humble Observer                               EP 45: Perfectionism >

Choose the next Episode you would like to watch from the list below:

Self-Awareness 101 Series with Transcription Plus

Introduction To Self-Awareness 101:  To Inspire, Educate and Empower
SA 101 Episode 1:  The Importance of Developing Self-Awareness 
SA 101 Episode 2:  How to Truly Learn from Mistakes
SA 101 Episode 3:  To Soar, I Needed To Let Go Of The Past
SA 101 Episode 4:  The Meaning That We Give Things
SA 101 Episode 5:  Kind Words And Good Deeds Are Eternal
SA 101 Episode 6:  Life Begins At The End Of Your Comfort Zone
SA 101 Episode 7:  Two Most Powerful Words You'll Ever Say
SA 101 Episode 8:  Making Time For What's Truly Important
SA 101 Episode 9:  Expectations and Desires About How It Ought To Be
SA 101 Episode 10:  Tap Into The Sources Of The Universe
SA 101 Episode 11:  The Four Agreements
SA 101 Episode 12:  Courage-Being Scared But Saddling Up Anyways
SA 101 Episode 13:  The Power Of Belief Systems
SA 101 Episode 14:  Change Is Inevitable, Growth Is Optional
SA 101 Episode 15:  You Always Have Choices, It's OK To Say No
SA 101 Episode 16:  Encountering External Resistance To Change
SA 101 Episode 17:  Creating A Supportive Environment
SA 101 Episode 18:  Our Decisions Determine Who We Become
SA 101 Episode 19:  Questions To Ask When You Overcome An Obstacle
SA 101 Episode 20:  A List Of Excuses Vs. Results
SA 101 Episode 21:  The Meaning Of Honesty
SA 101 Episode 22:  Living In Gratitude
SA 101 Episode 23:  Repetitive Patterns
SA 101 Episode 24:  Non-Verbal Cues
SA 101 Episode 25:  Be Brave Enough To Accept The Help Of Others
SA 101 Episode 26:  Positive Thoughts And Positive Intentions
SA 101 Episode 27:  Active Listening Skills
SA 101 Episode 28:  How Self-Awareness Relates To Spirituality
SA 101 Episode 29:  Positive Affirmations
SA 101 Episode 30:  Basic Meditation Exercises
SA 101 Episode 31:  Personal Development At Work
SA 101 Episode 32:  Toxic Shame
SA 101 Episode 33:  Eliminating Clutter
SA 101 Episode 34:  How To Forgive Others
SA 101 Episode 35:  Self-Forgiveness
SA 101 Episode 36:  Deepening Self-Awareness
SA 101 Episode 37:  What Is Fear?
SA 101 Episode 38:  How To Overcome Fear
SA 101 Episode 39:  Dealing With Your Anger
SA 101 Episode 40:  How To Find Your Passion
SA 101 Episode 41:  Increasing Your Self-Awareness
SA 101 Episode 42:  How To Feel Deserving
SA 101 Episode 43:  How To Be A Humble Observer
SA 101 Episode 44:  Progress Not Perfection
SA 101 Episode 45:  Expectations And Perfectionism
SA 101 Episode 46:  Dealing With Anger
SA 101 Episode 47:  Taking Responsibility For Yourself
SA 101 Episode 48:  Achieving Higher Consciousness
SA 101 Episode 49:  Trust Life
SA 101 Episode 50:  Being Skeptical
SA 101 Episode 51:  Benefits Of Closure
SA 101 Episode 52:  The Final Episode 

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