I Finally Get What “Progress Not Perfection” Actually Means

“Progress, not perfection.”


I’d see people write lengthy fake deep captions around this theme, and it never really did anything for me. I usually read it as one of two polar opposites depending on the messenger. It either struck me as something that type A overachievers would tell themselves to avoid mental breakdowns, or something that lazy, undisciplined people would tell themselves to rationalize their lack of self control. It was either like, “I’ve only completed 16 out of the 19 goals in my postgrad 5 year plan but #progressnotperfection” or “I have done one productive thing for my life in the last 6 weeks but #progressnotperfection” with little in between. But I think I finally get it.


For the first time in my adult life, I’ve gotten serious about my fitness — and stayed consistent. I started off trying to go to the gym 3 times/week, and then got to a point where I was going 4-6 days a week. But it still didn’t feel like enough, so I decided that my new goal was to do an hour of strength training and an hour of cardio almost every day. And it was a tough adjustment, but I was doing it, and I was proud of myself. I honestly couldn’t believe I’d reached a point in my life where I was making time for exercise — but it felt NECESSARY. Like, I actually felt like my day was put off balance if I didn’t have time to run or go to the gym.


But I started looking further into it, and all of my research showed that if you were going to do strength training and cardio the same day, you should strength train BEFORE cardio. I’d been doing the opposite. I would get home, change into my athletic gear, run for an hour or so, go straight to the gym for an hour or so, and head home. And while it might not seem like switching these things out wouldn’t be a huge deal, it really threw my routine out of whack.


I hate, hate, hate going to the gym before 8. It’s way too crowded. And since I created this goal for myself at the tail end of summer, it was getting darker earlier, and I run on unlit trails. Not to mention I get off of work at 5:30, and it takes me between 45 minutes and an hour to get from my job in the suburbs to my apartment in Arlington.


So I told myself that if I was going to do things the right way, I had to wake up at the crack of dawn so that I could do free weights and machines for an hour in the morning, shower, and get ready and make it to work on time. Then I would have time to run before it got dark when I went home.


But that’s not what happened. I hit snooze again, and again, and again in the mornings. And in the evenings I would tell myself that I had to wait until tomorrow to get my routine right. So I went two whole weeks where I worked out maybe four times, because I was so focused on doing things the “right” way.


My goal is still to start waking up early and going to the gym in the mornings so that I can run in the evenings, and ultimately, get to a point where I’m consistently doing it the right way. But it doesn’t take a personal trainer to figure out that working out twice a day in the wrong order beats sitting on my ass hoping to get it right tomorrow. So until I can train myself to get out of bed and go to the gym before the sun is up, I’ll keep going with my less than optimized evening routine.


And this applies to so many things. I’ve put off adding a video component to my blog for literal years now because I’m lazy and video filming and editing is so much more time consuming, but also because I’ve been so concerned with minor details that probably don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. I know people sitting on all these grand plans and ideas, letting them collect dust in the back of their minds because they’re so focused on doing things under perfect circumstances that they refuse to actually DO anything. They research, and plan, and make vision boards, and color code — while refusing to ever execute. It’s like they buy all of the ingredients for a cake but refuse to make it until they find the perfect garnish.


“Progress not perfection” isn’t necessarily reserved for two extremes of the productivity spectrum. It’s about using what you have, and doing what you can right here, right now to achieve whatever it is that you want. 


There’s nothing wrong with wanting to do things the right way. But if you can’t do something 100% right on your first try, you should learn when to take the 80% you can get and work your way up.




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