Practice makes perfect is an old proverb traced back to the 1550s. Its purpose was to encourage someone to persist in achieving a skill, behavior or goal. I wonder how often we put the emphasis on perfection rather than practicing progress?
I started going to Yoga classes at our local rec center, with the intent to strengthen my core. During the first class, I remember feeling so out of my element. I didn’t know the terminology, my body was resistant to what my mind was telling it to do, and I felt so self-conscious about what other people in the class must have been thinking about me. Then the yogi ended with these simple words: “Yoga is a practice in progress — Thank you for practicing with me today.”
I thought: Wait…What? A practice in progress? Isn’t it about perfection? About having the flawless ability not only to understand how to make each move flow but a body who’s also willing to comply?
It was an aha moment for me. How often did I approach life with the same thought process?
Does your progress get stuck because you don’t know how to do something? Are you resistant to do what your mind might be telling you to do? Or are you paralyzed by comparison?
As I’ve contemplated the concept of life being like my first yoga class, I’ve realized how profound those words from my yoga instructor are. Life is a practice in progress.
It ISN’T About Perfection
Believe me; I know how easy it is to get caught up in perfectionism. After all, didn’t Jesus say: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect”(Matthew 5:48)?
Have you ever considered, maybe we aren’t here to be perfect but to become perfect? I believe Christ is encouraging us to try and then try again. He is there, waiting to make up the difference.
I love the way Russell M. Nelson explains perfection: “The term perfect was translated from the Greek teleios, which means ‘complete.’ The infinitive form of the verb is teleiono, which means ‘to reach a distant end, to be fully developed, to consummate, or to finish.’ Please note that the word does not imply ‘freedom from error’; it implies ‘achieving a distant objective’…We need not be dismayed if our earnest efforts toward perfection now seem so arduous and endless. Perfection is pending.”
If we apply this principle to the way we think, it will change the way we live our life.
Are you resistant?
I’m not always the first one in line when it comes to change. In fact, I’ve been known to be somewhat of a resistant learner, much like my muscles who didn’t always like to bend and stretch with those new yoga moves. But the more I practiced, the more those muscles realized they could become more limber, they recognized they had the ability to move in new ways.
Sticking to what we know and understand is comfortable. It is only natural to feel resistant to change because the unknown can be a little scary. But pushing against the resistance, leaning in to feel the discomfort helps us grow and become stronger.
So if you’re feeling a little resistant, it’s okay. Don’t put on the blinders and ignore it, but think about where it’s coming from and why you might be feeling it. Step back for a minute and look at your resistance from a different perspective. Does it look or feel different? Is it helping or hurting your progress to be on the resistant path?
Paralyzed with Comparison?
One of my first recollections of comparing was in third grade. Each week we took our spelling test, and Mrs. Peitz would remind us: “Keep your eyes on your own paper.”
Back then, our answers were supposed to be the same. It was always tempting to compare my answers with my neighbors’ because I wanted them to be right. What I didn’t understand was my neighbors’ answers weren’t always correct, and so comparing didn’t always guarantee a good score.
Don’t compare your inside to someone else’s outside!”
For most of us, third grade was a while ago. We’ve grown up and are now uniquely different individuals, with answers (or lives) that should be different as well. Yet we still feel drawn to compare our choices against what our neighbor might be choosing.
Theodore Roosevelt had it right when he said: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” When we spend our time comparing, we miss out on the joy of being “me.” And in the end, isn’t life really about learning to find joy?
Rather than allowing perfectionism to paralyze you, why not try focusing on your progress instead?
Instead of comparing, resisting, or getting stuck on perfectionism, we can learn a few things from a baby. Child development experts, Adolph and Robinson, examined all of the different variables (weight, height, brain development, etc.) that might influence how well a baby walks. The most significant difference was simply how much time a baby spent trying to walk. It was all about their practice.
I’ve watched this process with a new understanding as my grandsons have learned to crawl, talk, and walk. We praise and encourage him for each new attempt and improvement. He usually beams with pride and eagerly tries again, practicing the new skill, trying to get better.
Is this how you encourage yourself when you are learning something new? Or do you berate yourself when you fall, make it harder to learn because you tell yourself you are stupid or clumsy or a failure?
What if you thought of life as practicing progress?
What Keeps You Motivated?
Criticism is an effective deterrent to motivation. I’m less likely to try harder if my inner voice is finding fault with what I’m doing wrong. If I only hear negative words of self hate vibrating around in my head, how will I ever get enough motivation to change?
What if you tried a little self-love and encouragement? Simple words of affirmation can feel a bit awkward at first, but they have power in changing what we believe about our self.
Give it a try. Stop in front of the mirror and look yourself in the eye.
Tell yourself, “I love you.”
Say: “You’re doing a great job at life!”
When the critical voices try to make themselves heard, redirect them with words of compassion. Look for what you are doing well and tell yourself, “Good Job!”
Have you ever paid attention to the way you treat someone you love? How do they KNOW you love them? They believe those three little words because of how you speak to them and the way your actions reflect what you say. So treat yourself the way you treat someone you love. Let the voice in your head become one of encouragement and praise because that is what you would say to someone you love.
Baby steps are the royal road to skill.”
The key to practicing progress is making small baby steps each day. Which steps will help the most varies for each of us. Those steps are unique to our circumstances, so you may need to practice a few different combinations before coming up with what works best for you.
Progress is a natural result of staying focused on the process of doing anything.”
— Thomas Sterner, The Practicing Mind
Focus on self-compassion, encouragement, and progress. Instead of seeing where you might be falling short, notice what you are doing right. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. The only way to climb a mountain is one step at a time.
What is one way you can start practicing progress today? Share your ideas in the comments below.
A few more ideas about practicing progress
- Dare NOT to Compare
- Feeling overwhelmed? Here is why your focus is so important
- How your reluctance might be a barrier to growth.
- The uncomfortable truth about growing pains
Nelson, Russell M. “Perfection Pending,” Address given October 1995
Adolph, K. E. & Robinson, S. R. (in press). “The road to walking: What learning to walk tells us about development.” In P. Zelazo (Ed.) Oxford handbook of developmental psychology. NY: Oxford University Press. (2011).