Practice Versus Perfection
“Practice makes perfect”.
I’d heard this phrase so many times throughout my life that it seemed completely natural to use it with my kids too. A long time ago I accepted this line as truth even though the meaning has since been lost. It wasn’t until the first time I uttered it to my kids, the words almost got stuck as they left my mouth.
This phrase was sending the wrong message.
Perfection seems like a great motivator, but it is a great destroyer. We are motivated in general to reach that elusive status of perfection when in reality it does not exist. So where does that leave us?
I feel like another worn-out phrase is due here: “Oh what a tangled web we weave”. Perfection is the great deception. We are intensely motivated by something that doesn’t exist and the idea of it is so tempting that we rarely notice how unhappy we become when chasing after the idea of perfection. Imagine that for a second. And because of this, “practice” begins to lose its value and only becomes relevant in terms perfection. Perhaps that means something is only worth practicing if the outcome promises perfection.
When the day comes (and it does) that we realize perfection is unattainable, we are also no longer interested in practice.
What if we were motivated by “practice” itself? What if we practiced motivation? What if we received satisfaction in the process of practice?
That unfortunate day when the words fell from my mouth and I told my kids “Practice makes perfect”, I realized that I was merely trying to drive home the value of practicing. When you pair “practice” with “perfect” though, it devalues practice and those kids begin to expect perfection.
Perfection forces us to focus on unrealistic results so that we want to become our ideal weight instead of simply practice healthy (not perfect) eating habits. Or we want to know WHEN we start feeling or noticing the benefits of meditation- not practicing for a payoff seems to be the key to reaping the rewards and benefits of meditation for many. Or we want to practice writing only if it turns into a bestseller.
When we don’t reach perfect (or our absurd expectations), we get discouraged and even believe all that practice is for nothing. But the practice itself IS growth! If we keep practicing we’d notice random benefits from our practices that may even surprise us. They may lead to what we want. They may lead to something else or something better. We can relearn the value of practice without tying it to some perfect outcome.
We are always practicing:
- A person practices medicine- they’re still “practicing” even as a doctor.
- A person has a meditation practice.
My intention (nor my expectation) wasn’t for my kids to be perfect:
- but to try a little longer at something before giving up
- to enjoy the learning process
- not get so frustrated so early
- to keep going.
- to get better.
Not to be perfect. I think the focus needs to be on the “art of practice”. The journey. The lessons along the way.
To practice is to live and learn.
With practice you are able to say, ‘I am better than yesterday and I can look forward to what today brings’, and that’s really what personal growth is about. When we practice we are opening ourselves up to many more skills than just one that we may have focused on if our goal was perfection.
Peace & Be Well,