Progress is better than perfect

How often do you feel stuck while doing something because you don’t have a clear idea on how to do it right? And how many times you feel like you failed on something because your perfect streak was broken? Your diet failed because of that couple of beers you had with your friend. You haven’t opened the book you wanted to read in weeks and your room is a mess since that weekend you got sick.

It is very common for me that I set up goals and start quite well with reaching them, but then something happens and after a single miss all the previous successes are immediately discarded and the whole sense of accomplishment crumbles.

A similar feeling occurs when I have something important to do but I am not completely sure on how to do it. I don’t have an end-to-end plan, therefore it becomes extremely hard to even start doing it. Like a task at work or even to write something. I have an idea, a general goal of what I have to accomplish but I have no clue on how to start. This feeling can last for hours, days or even weeks and it is extremely frustrating as I want to do it but somehow I feel that I can’t even get started.

I think both scenarios are related to some sort of perfectionism. If you want to go to the gym 3 times a week and then you get injured and have to skip leg day, then the whole momentum of those perfect three weeks before your injury seems ruined. It has to be 3 times a week otherwise you have failed.

But why a single miss have such a strong effect in our minds? To be honest I have no idea. But what I know is that after facing this situation many times I have realised a good way to handle it. It all comes down to the following sentence:

Progress is better than perfect.

Yeah. Just that. Go ahead and read it once again.

The thing is, it is extremely naive to thing that for every goal we set we are going to be able to reach it all the times. It is also some sort of self-sabotage to think that every time you want to do something you will nail it immediately.

If you have a long-term goal in your life you must be able to accept that things are going to get into the way, but as long as you are taking steps into the direction that you want you should already be proud of yourself. The length of the steps and their frequency can always be adjusted, but the only way to get anywhere is to move.

Until a couple of weeks ago I thought this reasoning worked only for long-term goals, but recently I have discovered that there is a way to apply it to small daily things that we have to do but that we are not motivated to do. Usually in my case the lack of motivation to do something comes when I don’t know how to start or when I feel overwhelmed by the size of the task and I get stuck by not being able to even imagine the final result.

The reasoning to overcome this paralysis is quite simple. Break whatever you have to do into smaller pieces and instead of facing a huge task you will be facing dozens of very little and insignificant tasks. For every one of this little pieces that you finish there will be a small sense of accomplishment that will help you moving forward.

So if you have to write an essay your first task could be to create a document for the essay. If you get stuck thinking of a title just drop a casual "Change this for a better title" and move on. Not sure what to write on the first section? Try bullet points. Just a few, then move on. In no time you will have a decent boilerplate of your essay and quite a few ideas on what to develop in each part of it. Then you just have to re-iterate over it a few times and after some polishing you will be done! The same reasoning can be applied to coding, drawing and basically every task that can be split into smaller tasks.

For both short and long-term goals I think it is very important to keep a sense of achievement that helps us keep moving towards the goal. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing as there are many steps in between that require time, effort and energy to be done. It is true that the final result it is also important for the morale, but the only way to get there is with small steps through the whole path.

Just keep reminding yourself that whatever progress you have, either on daily tasks or in long-term projects, is worth to be acknowledged. Be kind to yourself when you fail, remember that no journey is perfect and tackle your challenges with small bits at a time and, in no time, you will look back and see how far you have gone.

Most problems can be solved with code or dogs. Definitely dogs — Mobile Developer & Entrepreneur