Progress Not Perfection

If you’ve ever worked closely with a Personal Trainer, teacher or coach of any kind you may well have heard the saying ‘Progress not Perfection’ as a way of encouraging you to stay consistent in the pursuit of your goals. Despite understanding the clear difference between these two words, however, many of us expect perfection from ourselves when working towards something, whereas progress is undoubtedly the only way to get there. Unlike perfection (does it even exist?!), progress isn’t ‘all or nothing’ – it’s quite often very gradual and it certainly isn’t linear. In a world that encourages us to pursue instant results with minimal effort (next day delivery, diet pills and injections, miracle cures and treatments etc.), many people find the highs and lows of progress so disheartening that they quit before they reach their goal. In a year that has knocked most of us right off track with our goals (many of us more than once), it’s important to remind ourselves that this certainly does not mean we have ‘failed’ and is definitely not a reason to give up. Read on to find out the common reasons why progress may stall and how to overcome these and continue to reach for your goals.

1) The Issue = Life changes – No matter what your goal is, one thing we all have in common is that our lives are completely changeable and don’t stop presenting us with obstacles just because we’ve set our mind to achieving a goal. Quite the opposite in fact, as it can often feel like as soon as we become determined to achieve something the world presents us with every obstacle we could imagine! Including anything from moving house, changing jobs, having a new baby or getting a new pet, major life changes happen naturally and can completely divert our attention. Whilst these changes are often planned and desired, they can still make it frustratingly difficult to focus on anything else including attending the gym and cooking homemade meals.
The Solution= During these times, it’s important to be flexible with your plan of how you’ll reach your goal, for example cooking once a week and freezing some or reducing the frequency or duration of workouts. Sometimes, it may be useful to accept that it may take us a little longer to achieve our goal than it would in ideal circumstances and it’s also important to keep a longer-term picture in mind so that any days/weeks/months where you’re not going full throttle towards your goal don’t feel so ‘final’. Your reason for improving your fitness, losing weight, progressing in your career or whatever else you desire will quite often have a longer-term motivation such as being able to play with your children/grandchildren, to remain active and healthy with age or to save up to buy a bigger house and so on, and in these cases a few days/weeks/months of slower progress make little difference in the long run.

2) The Issue = Unexpected events – Another universal truth that can affect our pursuit of our goals is that life is completely unpredictable. You can be the most committed person in the world with no big life changes on the horizon and there will always be unexpected events waiting to derail you. Think injuries, childcare issues, staying late at work, unexpected meals out/takeaways, global pandemics that mean all gyms are shut for months on end – you know the usual…
The Solution = As with life changes, it’s important to allow for some flexibility in your plan to achieve your goals. It may be necessary to switch your rest days, change the type of exercise you do for a while or workout from home instead. Both life changes and unexpected events can be either shorter or longer term obstacles. If your goal is to lose weight, for example, a birthday or holiday may be a temporary obstacle whilst a change in working hours or a new pet may be longer term. You can still progress around all of the above, however it’s unlikely you will achieve ‘perfection’ in your planned schedule. Flexibility really is key here and maintaining a positive mental attitude by reminding yourself that even the smallest steps done consistently can add up to huge changes over time.

3) The Issue = Your priorities change – This is linked to the above points but is more of a choice as opposed to life imposing it’s terms on us. It may be, for example, that we’ve been pursuing a fitness or health goal for some time and seen progress but suddenly we decide to go for a promotion at work and have to focus more on our career. Naturally, as a result, we may become less focused on our health and fitness and so progress may halt.
The Solution= You can’t see progress in all areas of life at all times, so progress in one area may stall whilst you prioritise something else. In a society that tries to tell us that we should be prioritising and pursuing perfection in all areas of life at all times (career progress, body goals, family life etc), it’s up to us to decide what’s most important at any given moment and to focus our time and energy accordingly. If you’re not seeing as much progress as you’d like in a particular area, you may wish to consider if you can adjust your priorities to focus on it more. Alternatively, it may be that you’re being unrealistic and expecting high standards of yourself in all areas whereas you may need to just not be so hard on yourself!

4) The Issue = What you’re doing isn’t working – This is a commonly overlooked reason why progress may be slow or none existent and quite often we blame ourselves and presume we’re not committed or motivated enough, or that we have some innate biological mechanisms working against us and holding us back from our goals. The truth is, achieving goals is a lot like doing a jigsaw – usually you have to try the pieces a few different ways before they fit together and you get that perfect picture.
The Solution = Again, a shift in mindset can be useful here. If you’re trying to achieve a goal in a way that doesn’t appear to be working, remember that there are often several different routes to get to a certain place. Even gold medal Olympians have got their training or nutrition wrong at times and have had to change the way they do things to achieve their ultimate success. It could be that you need to change something in your diet/training/time management etc. by seeking professional advice or changing things up to suit you and your lifestyle better. If you hit a roadblock, you can always use another road 😊

5) The Issue = Your criteria for measuring progress is too narrow – An example of this would be someone with a fat loss goal who measures progress purely by their weight on a bathroom scale (see previous blog ‘Is it time to ditch the scales?). This may be disheartening as weight fluctuates with many factors other than just body fat.
The Solution = Consider different ways to monitor your progress. With the example above, it’s important to also take body measurements and body fat scores too. If you have a strength goal but are struggling to lift heavier weights, maybe think about how quickly you’re recovering after sessions or if your form has improved resulting in more effective lifts. Similarly, if you’re pursuing a career goal but haven’t had the promotion you wanted just yet, have you met fellow professionals who may provide a valuable network in future or have you acquired new skills or knowledge that may be useful on the way to your big goal? The truth is, all big goals involve a series of smaller triumphs along the way and we must celebrate these small wins to keep us motivated.

The key point to remember when pursuing a goal is that quite often they’re a marathon not a sprint. The goals we set ourselves are by their very nature, challenging, otherwise they wouldn’t be a goal because we’d have achieved them already! Challenges aren’t meant to be easy and so it’s not only okay to experience highs and lows in your progression towards a goal, but completely natural and to be expected. Hopefully some of the solutions above will help you to persevere when faced with issues on your journey and to get back on track as soon as possible. Remember, it’s fine to slip off track, just don’t unpack and live there! Let us know if you found this blog useful and if there’s any other topics you’d like us to cover. Until next time 😊

Bev Meakin – Personal Trainer/Exercise Referral Officer and Complementary Therapist.

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