Choose Progress Over Perfection

Choose Progress Over Perfection
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Do you have a tendency to focus on what you haven’t done instead of what you’ve accomplished? Are you obsessed with how you’ve fallen short of your aspirations, but rarely reflect on the progress you’ve made? If so, you are not alone.


Whether or not you are on track toward your goals, it’s a good time to evaluate. What’s working? What’s not working? Why?


The goal is not perfection. The goal is progress. It’s good to set benchmarks, but do not determine success or failure based on what remains on your to-do list. Rather, as the co-authors of The Gap and the Gain* suggest, measure backward: Your starting point is ground zero.


Where you end up is what you have accomplished – the “gain.” The space between where you are now and your ideal is the “gap.” All too often we lament the gap, when we should be celebrating the gain.  


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We do this to ourselves all the time. For example, my highly active, independent, 83-year-old mother will, without fail and regardless of the time, always say, “I haven’t gotten anything done today!”


Most days, she’s up before 6 a.m. By 10 a.m., she’s taken a walk (weather permitting), brought in the newspaper and read it, fed the cats, cleaned out the litter, emptied the dishwasher, started a load of wash, taken care of administrative tasks, and so on.


She is fiercely focused on what else needs to be done (which is admittedly daunting, as my dad’s caregiver). Nonetheless, she would benefit from at least acknowledging what she has accomplished.  


If you see yourself in this example, listen to The Gap and the Gain narrated by co-author Dr. Benjamin Hardy – he does a fantastic job! You won’t regret your investment in time or resources.


10 Ways to Progress Toward a Better You

Looking to move forward on your goals? Consider trying out some (not all!) of the following practices for overall health, fitness, and self-improvement:

  • Be five minutes early for everything. Use those precious few minutes to just be present.
  • Commit to more movement. The benefits of walking and stretching are infinite.
  • Work your muscles. Do some type of resistance exercise at least three times a week to build strength – a critical step to maintaining our independence and self-care for as long as possible.
  • Eat smarter. Choose whole foods, consume less processed food, and reduce added sugars in your diet.
  • Hydrate with quality electrolytes that contain salt. Sometimes when we feel hunger, it’s due to dehydration.
  • Consume less (or no) alcohol. Observe how your mood and/or your sleep improves over time.
  • Reduce screen time. Pick up a book and read!
  • Establish healthy sleep hygiene. Stop looking at your phone at least an hour before you go to sleep, turn off your alerts, and set an actual alarm clock instead of using your phone’s alarm.
  • Volunteer. Helping others releases serotonin, the feel-good hormone.
  • Journal. At the end of the day, write down at least three things for which you are grateful and three priorities for the next day. In the morning, take a few minutes to reflect on what you will accomplish, what is weighing you down, and why. Be aware of your self-talk and mindset.


[RELATED: Timeless Transition Tips: 5 Ways to Master Your Career Path]


Just (Try To) Do It!

Pick one thing upon which you want to improve over the coming month. At the end of the month, measure backward and at least acknowledge (or celebrate) your progress – whatever it is. Then decide if you want to continue that practice or shift focus to something else. You might want to change things up each month, or focus on what could become newly instilled habits. It’s up to you: You own your journey.


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As for me, I am going to focus on being five minutes (or more) early for everything, strength training, clean eating, and restorative sleep. It won’t be perfect – and I am OK with that – but if I approach these things with an all-or-nothing mindset, I will end up worse off than I am today.


I will aim for progress, not perfection, and give myself the space and grace I need when I need it. I will not sit in self-deprecation or beat myself up. I will simply try again another day so that I can live my best life as independently as possible for as long as possible!


* MOAA is an Amazon Associate and earns money from qualifying purchases, with the revenue supporting The MOAA Foundation.


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About the Author

Cmdr. Erin Cardinal, USN (Ret), ACC, CPC
Cmdr. Erin Cardinal, USN (Ret), ACC, CPC

Cardinal is MOAA's Program Director, Transition Services & Family Programs. She is a Certified Professional Coach (CPC) and has extensive experience in coaching servicemembers through their transition from active duty to the civilian sector.