Practice makes perfect. You may think this is part and parcel of the wisdom of the crowd, and whoever saying it to you is trying to help you. Reminding you that hard work counts, and that perfection is the goal.

But is perfection the reason for anyone practicing? Is that why you practice creating your signature cakes? Or reciting your presentations?

 

Perfection is subjective. The day is perfect. Whose day? Yours. The trip was perfect. Whose trip? Definitely not everybody’s. We don’t describe anything objectively using the word. Try this out: The research results are perfect. Sounds weird? Perfection is objectively unattainable.

In fact, focusing on perfection has led many to failures. The more you cognitively associate what you are doing with perfection, the more likely you will make mistakes. Even when practicing, too much focus on the details derails you from the bigger picture and can easily demotivate the whole process. If practice is all we need to get better, then why don’t everybody just practice for their own good?

Practice makes perfect. But then another voice in your head chimes in: “but no one is perfect therefore there is no need to practice. Yay!”

Wrong.

Practice makes progress. What can you say now to that?

It’s much more useful because it’s hard to refute and don’t let the nuance deceive you. A small change in wording leads to a massive shift in the mindset.

Small incremental progress, is the underrated sister of innovation. Similar to how the interest of your bank account works, progress compounds. It even has a name, called The Kaizen Effect. This blog post describes it well:

“Try to do just 1% better than the day before. Start small and make your increases gradual. Avoid the temptation to get impatient and start rushing forward and taking bigger leaps. Take it slow, steady, and consistent.”

Through this lens, doing 1% better is virtually the opposite of striving for perfection. It’s just a tad better, and that’s enough to practice just one more time. Practice that song for one more minute or run just 100 meters more. The act of practicing becomes that much easier. After all, you’re not striving for perfection, are you?

Aristotle, umm err actually, Will Durant famously said “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” You can choose to make a habit out of practice, and that’s enough. Some even go as far as saying, do your worst. And doing your worst does count for progress.

Progress leads to change and change leads to growth. Catch yourself desperately trying to attain perfection, and refocus your effort to simply create 1% progress for today.

So what are you waiting for?