Focus on progress instead of perfection

Have you ever set yourself up for a goal, not achieved it and felt like a failure? Some people stop setting goals because of this issue, and that is a tragedy indeed.

I think it’s safe to assume that we all know setting goals is important. There have been countless studies showing that people in university or high school that set goals were found to be far more successful than those who never set any goals, when they were studied and compared later in life. I talked about goals a while back in the article titled ‘The risk of big goals’, and I wanted to expand upon that a bit. Goals need to make sense. And in my experience, there need to be goals along the way, and a range of goals at the end and after as well. This allows many things to occur, and among the most important, is the opportunity to focus on progress, instead of perfection.

If you set a goal to drop 40 pounds, and all you focus on, is that one single goal, you are in for a tough ride. Let’s imagine that you gave yourself six months to drop the weight, assuming you don’t watch television fat loss shows and have a ‘Hollywood’ expectation of dropping 10 pounds a week for four weeks (because you realize that those shows are not entirely real and that living without a job in a mansion, with a chef, a personal trainer, a private gym, a physiotherapist, a doctor, a massage therapist and cleaning staff – is not likely your reality). If you are totally focused on that goal of 40 pounds, and that is your only goal, you are missing a few things.

First off, what happens when you do reach your goal of 40 pounds dropped? Do you celebrate and have a feeding binge? And gain 10 pounds back, then get depressed and gain another 10? Which leads to more depression, self abuse and gaining another 10? And another? Do you arrive at 40 pounds dropped and think you should have set a bigger goal? (The ‘never good enough’ issue).

As a better option, what if you set lots of little goals, one big goal and then some follow up goals?

As the title of this article suggests, one opportunity of goal setting is around focusing on progress – all the little things along the way to your goal. You start eating healthier and working with a trainer on the way to your big goal. If your focus is on progress, you may notice that you are getting stronger, your clothes are fitting differently, you have more energy, you are sleeping more, napping less, getting sick less, and feeling better in general. If you are only focusing on the one big goal – you might miss all of that, because “I haven’t dropped 40 pounds yet”. That would be tragic, and yet I see it all the time.

Apollo 11, the first manned spacecraft to land on the moon, was only on course for 3% of the time. Yes, that means they were off course 97% of the trip, and they made it to the moon. If they had focused only on perfection, they never would have made it!

Remember the article on the success formula: Action, Feedback, Correction, Never Give Up. The same goes for you and your fitness and health goals: Focus on progress. Off track? No problem! Adjust and get back on track and keep going.

I spoke to a client today that was upset because he only dropped one pound this past week. That’s one pound in a week I reminded him. Look ahead to spring – now that one to two pounds a week becomes 20 pounds, or 30. Look at the change in your life – you are more active, healthier, have more energy, all good things. All progress. Perfection rarely exists, so if your goals all require perfection, perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate.

Here’s a homework assignment for you: Every night for a month, write out 10 successes from the day in a journal. Having a tough day? Write down that you brushed your teeth, or got out of bed. There are no limitations, expectations or rules on what you define as a success. At the end of a month, read through your successes. I will guess you will be amazed.

We, as human beings, tend to way over estimate what we can do in a day (and then beat ourselves up for failing), but we totally underestimate what we can do in a month or a year. All you have to do, is focus on progress, instead of perfection and you.

Scott McDermott is a personal trainer and owner of Best Body Fitness in Sylvan Lake. He can be reached at 403-887-7667 or check out for more information.

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