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Strive for progress not perfection

How many times have you made a big goal, felt motivated for a few days, then bam! - right back to doing the things you swore you would no longer do? We’ve all been there and know how we feel after. Once again, a failure, no willpower, weak-willed. We are good at coming up with all those negative labels as to what is wrong with us that we didn’t accomplish our goal.

What if it had nothing to do with you? Really, nothing to do with you!

Rather what if it was the way we went about changing? There is plenty of research showing that human beings rarely change by going straight from A to Z. Instead, we do best if we make small incremental changes toward the outcome we aspire.

Let’s look at physical activity as an example:

Our desired outcome is to run a 5K race - great! However, perhaps we’ve never run 1K let alone 5K. And actually, our reality is that we are sitting for more than 8 hours/day at the computer and we rarely even fit in a short walk. But we aim high…

Our game plan:

  • sign up for a Couch to 5K training program

  • start running most days of the week (regardless of the challenges of time, weather, lack of ability, etc.)

Executing the plan:

  • Day 1 - success (although nothing about it was enjoyable)

  • Day 2 - success again (still not liking it)

  • Day 3 - cold and wet (I’ll do it tomorrow)

  • Day 4 - still cold and wet and my knees are hurting (may I should wait until better weather, then start)

  • Day 5 - back to the couch

Alternate plan that leads to success:

  • stand for 10 minutes every other hour during the work day

  • repeat daily on work days

  • give yourself a big star every time you stand for 10 minutes

  • Were you able to do this? How many stars did you accumulate?

  • If so - keep it up for the next week and perhaps increase to 12 minutes

  • If not - scale it back to 5 minutes every other hour and see how you do

This approach follows the models that if we make a behavior toward our outcome small, easy, and achievable AND we reward ourself when we do the behavior, we feel good in the process, not bad. By repeating and gradually challenging ourself to the next step, we will get to our ultimate outcome!

Everyone can be successful if following a ‘progress not perfection’ approach.

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