Progress, Not Perfection
As we make our way towards the end of the year, it’s time to start thinking about our progress, review our goals, and set new ones for the year ahead. It’s easy to get disillusioned, especially if we haven’t checked off all the big goals we set back in January.
We all have goals we’re trying to reach - striving for through each WOD, mobility session or food prep marathon. Sometimes we achieve them easily, other times they take way more work than we first anticipated. And it’s easy to take this to heart, and tell ourselves it’s just not good enough. Like beating ourselves up is a necessary part of progress - that it will somehow spur us on to try harder next time. But it doesn’t work like that, does it?
When we focus on punishing ourselves for our shortcomings, it diminishes all the effort - and the hard work we have put in to push us closer to those big goals. The end result is that we start feeling disillusioned, unmotivated and stuck.
Perfection is alluring. We’d all love the perfect squat, backed up by the perfect numbers, with the perfect engine, and the mindset to match. But nobody is perfect - not even those at the top.
Let’s take Rich Froning - the most successful athlete in the history of the CrossFit Games. Good technique, unrivalled engine - and, apparently, all-round nice guy too. As far as success goes, he’s got it nailed. But is he perfect? Of course he isn’t.
Anyone remember the 2010 CrossFit Games? Rich went into the final ready to win, but failed to anticipate just how tough those rope climbs would be. He came off the rope, and struggled to figure out the best climbing technique.
Skip to 23:10 if you didn't see this back in 2010
The result was a second place finish. Did he beat himself up about those rope climbs? Who knows, probably. But, for his first Games, there’s no denying the achievement and progress he’d made towards his goal.
Instead of dwelling on his downfall, he bought a rope - and made sure this particular weakness wouldn’t hold him back again. He found the gap in his performance, and focused on making progress.
If you want to grow as an athlete - and a person - you need to follow Rich’s lead on this one.
Instead of letting the push for perfection drag you down, shift your focus - and look for opportunities to progress.
Here’s how to get started:
1. Be Proud of How Far You’ve Come
Even if you haven’t quite met those big goals you set at the start of the year, what progress have you made?
You don’t have to focus on the numbers here. If you know your technique has improved, even though you haven’t PB’d for a while, this is still progress you should be proud of. It’s not easy to take a step back from chasing numbers to work on your form - but that doesn’t make it any less important.
2. Figure Out Where Your Weaknesses Lie
When you’re done celebrating your gains - it’s time to find the gaps in your performance. Where do your weaknesses lie? What’s stopping you from reaching your goals?
Try to stay objective - and don’t let your emotions or negative self-talk get in the way. If you find this hard, ask for your coaches guidance.
3. Set Process-Oriented Goals
We often set goals focused on outcomes, such as:
- “Add 10kg to my back squat”
- “Finish on the podium at the Athlete Games”
- “Knock 3 minutes off my 5km time”
Whilst these are all awesome things to strive for, they don’t always help us progress in a helpful way. When you’re chasing an outcome, it can be tempting to cut corners, and find shortcuts to achieve your goals. This often means other areas, such as form or recovery, are neglected.
To avoid this, consider the journey you need to take to reach your big goal, and set some process-oriented goals to help you get there.
- “Dedicate an hour each week to improving my squat mobility”
- “Work with a Sports Psychology coach to improve my competition mindset”
- “Attend a weekly Olympic lifting class to improve my technique”
These goals are hard to fail but - when you commit to them - will help you progress towards those big goals, without cutting corners.
Be Wary of Perfectionism
If you’re always waiting for everything to be perfect, you’ll miss out on all the awesome stuff going on right now.
Perfectionism will make it harder for you to appreciate the small wins. There’s always somewhere else to go. Even the best athletes work hard to get better - that’s the beauty of sport. There’s no magic end goal - it’s a continual process of improvement.
If you’re a perfectionist, give yourself permission to let go a little. Don’t be afraid to fail - it’s the best way to learn. Keep moving forward, and remember to focus on progress, not perfection.