Have you ever heard the phrase “progress not perfection” and wondered exactly what it meant? Do you consider yourself a perfectionist? 

After all, it’s only natural to want to do things as perfectly as possible and to the best of your ability. 

But, often, striving for perfection prevents you from making progress at all. 

Let’s take a look at why and what to do instead. 

Who said it’s about progress, not perfection?

The quote progress not perfection was made famous by Ben Phillips, author of the book Body For Life. He actually said, “Focus on progress, not perfection.”

Dr. David Perlmutter also said, “Strive for Progress, Not Perfection.”

Now that we know who said it’s about progress, not perfection, what does it actually mean?

What does it mean progress over perfection?

To understand what progress over perfection means, let’s first check the meaning of each:

Progress: Progress is moving towards an end goal or making things better or more advanced.

Perfection: Perfection is the action or process of improving something until it is faultless or as faultless as possible.

Progress over perfection means to continue to move forward with your goals, work, or dreams, step by step. You should be proud of any improvements you make, even if it is incremental. 

While perfection is focused on only making something perfect rather than continuing to make progress towards your ultimate goal or dream.

Making small steps towards a larger goal will make you more successful than trying to perfect everything you do but never continue to make any progress.

You should be happy with how far you have come and think positive thoughts about how you are improving yourself, even if it isn’t perfect. 

What Perfectionism Looks Like

It took me at least 6 months to consciously shift to focus on progress rather than perfection. 

Luckily, there are easier ways to do it, and you can make progress much faster than I did. 

But, before you can focus on progress, you need first to understand what perfectionism is and the mindset associated with it.

Do any of the following statements sound familiar to you?

  • If it isn’t perfect, I am a loser and a failure.
  • I need to make this better than everyone else’s work.
  • If I don’t succeed with this, I will never try again.
  • I won’t put this out into the world until it is perfect.
  • I will be so embarrassed/ashamed if it isn’t perfect.
  • I need to redo it just one more time, then it will be perfect.
  • My self-worth depends on whether people like this.

If you have similar thoughts, don’t worry; you’re not alone. It is only natural to want to do your best for everything you try, especially if it means a lot to you. 

But, to focus on progress, not perfection, you need to first acknowledge these thoughts, then disprove them by focusing on statements that focus on making progress instead.

Some examples include:

  • I’ll keep on trying and learn from every mistake. The more I try, the better I will become.
  • It isn’t about how many times you fail. It is about how many times you get back up.
  • This is good enough for now. I can continually improve it over time.
  • I’m proud of how far I have come, even though it isn’t perfect.
  • Finishing something is better than trying to make it perfect.
  • I’ll start small now, then evolve and grow over time.
  • Constructive criticism helps me to improve.

See the difference when you shift your mindset to progress? Suddenly everything is more positive and encouraging, and it is about taking small steps to achieve significant results.

man looking at a whiteboard thinking about progress not perfection

Progress Is How To Turn Your Dreams Into Reality

If you want to turn your dreams into reality and be successful, then progress over perfection is the only way.

My goal is to become a full-time blogger and make a successful income just from blogging instead of having to also do freelance writing work. 

Creating a new blog in 2022 is overwhelming, especially considering how much competition there is. 

But, instead of trying to make everything perfect and comparing myself to others, I have just started and broken everything into smaller tasks. 

My site doesn’t come close to other sites at the moment.

But, every day, step by step, I am slowly making progress towards a bigger goal.

To keep focusing on progress not perfection, here are seven methods and strategies to try to keep you on track. 

Skyler’s Story Of Progress Not Perfection

A few years ago, I traveled as a Digital Nomad while working online as a freelance writer.

At the time, I was in Georgetown, Penang in Malaysia, and decided to go to a co-working space for a few days. 
There were framed motivational quotes everywhere

But, there was one that caught my eye. It read ‘Progress Not Perfection.’ 

It was the first time I had ever heard the phrase. 

As soon as I saw it, it changed my perspective of everything and has stuck with me ever since. 

Before that, I used to try and make everything perfect, even if it killed my productivity. 

It wasn’t uncommon for me to spend 2 or 3 days working on my freelance writing website just to adjust colors and fonts and never be happy with the result. 

As well as this, I used to make music and would never release any of it because it wasn’t ‘perfect.’

I also used to spend days editing blog posts before I would publish them on my blog – SkylerBenson.com.
Then, once I did, no one read them anyway because my blog was new, and I still didn’t have any traffic. 
It would have been much better to publish the blog post and then use that extra time to promote my blog, grow my personal brand, and find readers. 

I could have also created even more content.

Now, I have the approach good enough and move on. 

Instead, I’d prefer to focus on making progress and working towards my goals. 

If something is about 80% complete, will spending all that extra time to achieve perfectionism actually impact your business

Or could you better spend your time writing more content or marketing to grow your business instead?

It wasn’t easy to change my mindset, though.

7 Ways To Focus On Progress Instead of Perfectionism 

Here are 7 different ways to overcome perfectionism and focus on making progress instead.

1. Take Small Steps And Stop Allowing Yourself To Get Overwhelmed

woman taking small steps on the beach

Perfectionism doesn’t want you to take small steps. Instead, it likes to whisper sweet nothings in your ear, “you can’t move onto the next step while this still isn’t 100% perfect.” 

It will do anything it can to keep you from making progress or for your dreams to come true. 

Perhaps this is why most people fail and give up on their dreams.

It may be a cliché, but looking at Mt. Everest from the ground, it seems almost impossible to climb. 

However, what if you break the trek up into smaller goals? Such as reaching a base camp or walking a certain distance in a day and focusing only on one smaller goal at a time? Suddenly, it seems more manageable.

The same is true with everything in life, including an online business. 

Define the goal you wish to achieve, then break it down into smaller steps. Perhaps week by week, or project by project, and set realistic timelines for everything. 

If you focus on completing just that one step at a time, it makes everything more manageable.

You may find that some tasks take longer than expected, and some are much quicker. 

That is why you should regularly review your progress and adjust your timelines accordingly.

2. Stop Comparing Yourself To Others

woman looking in the mirror comparing herself to herself

This was the thing I found the hardest to stop doing. All my life, I used to compare myself to other people and think that I was a failure or that I wasn’t good enough.

But, everyone is at different stages in their lives.

The people you look up to were one day previously in the same position as you.

It is good to have role models that inspire you, but you should only compare yourself to yourself – not anyone else.

Have you improved and made progress compared to where you were yesterday? How about last week? Or last month? Or last year?

That goes for starting an online business, weight loss, financial security, love – or anything in life. 

Stop comparing yourself to others and trying to be perfect right away.

Instead, celebrate how far you have come and your progress towards your dreams becoming a reality.

3. Plan Ahead For Any Problems

“If You Fail to Plan, You Are Planning to Fail” — Benjamin Franklin.

Ah, the quote I have heard so many times but hated. 

I had always done things without a plan, based on ‘feeling’ or ‘inspiration.’

But I soon realized that problems are inevitable and will happen when you least expect them.

A couple of months ago, my MacBook Air M1 screen was suddenly damaged with lines of death.

Skyler's broken MacBook Air screen

I was in a small town in Costa Rica and took it to an Apple Certified Dealer and repair store about 30 minutes away.

They advised me I would need to replace the screen, and it was going to cost $600. But, to make matters worse, there was a delay in manufacturing and shipping the screen from China. It could take 1-2 MONTHS to arrive, and I’d have to leave my MacBook in the store the entire time.

The next day I went to another store, and they told me the same thing.

I freaked out. 

I decided not to repair it. 

There are only 5 things I need to work online while I travel – my passport, my backpack, my wallet, my iPhone, and my Macbook! OUCH.

For the next few days, I was deeply depressed and felt like quitting and giving up on everything

Then, I found a solution. I could buy a cheap tablet and mirror my MacBook screen with an app called Duet Display. Then I could order a replacement 3rd party MacBook screen from Amazon and have it shipped for less than half the price. 

So I went to a mall, bought an Amazon Fire HD 8 tablet, and hooked that up to my MacBook. 

The screen was ridiculously small and so difficult to use.

But it worked.

Skylers solution for broken MacBook Air screen

I ordered the replacement screen and received it about 3 weeks later. 

Now I see it is better to set aside an emergency fund in case something goes wrong.

The same goes for everything related to an online business. 

Creating a plan will help you deal with any unexpected problems that arise. 

Hopefully, it will never happen, but if it does, you will know how to fix them. 

4. Be Ready For Self-Doubt & Dealing With Imposter Syndrome

Woman dealing with imposter syndrome when thinking about progress not perfection

At first, you’ll most likely be excited about the new idea or thing you want to pursue. 

But within a few days, chances are that euphoric feeling will come to an end.

Instead, you’ll have many doubts and wonder if you are good enough to accomplish your goal. Or maybe you will question if it is impossible and you shouldn’t even try. 

What will happen if you fail?

What about if you succeed? 

Are you prepared for success? 

Unfortunately, many people fear success and do anything they can to self-sabotage, so they never experience it. 

I’m not calling anyone out. I used to do this for a very long time. Breaking this habit is essential to making progress.

Will your friends and family be supportive of you? Will your friends be jealous of you? 

While it is only natural to have these thoughts, it is how you react to them that will determine if you reach your goals or not.

I heard a quote a long time ago that has stuck with me:

“80 percent of success is showing up” – Woody Allen.

Most people end up talking themselves out of doing something new and overwhelming before they even try. 

Or they give up right before they are about to reach the next level.

Suddenly, you are no longer competing against everyone. 

You’re only competing against yourself. Keep showing up, and you’re 80% of the way there. 

Everything you have ever wanted is just outside of your comfort zone.

If things were easy, everyone would do them. 

Block out any noise and self-doubt, and keep taking small steps. For best results, take small steps daily, rather than trying to do too much once per week that it seems impossible.

Focus on your dream and your daily progress towards making it happen. There are no tricks or hacks, just consistently showing up and putting in the work. 

You don’t have to make massive changes overnight. Instead, form new habits one by one, and make gradual progress and change to get tremendous results

5. Be Kind To Yourself When Starting Something New

Woman practicing self love and being kind to yourself and progress not perfection

The truth is, most people suck when they try something new for the first time.

As kids, we constantly tried new things no matter what they were or how bad we were at them. 

However, as adults, we’re not anywhere near as open to trying new experiences.

It leaves us feeling vulnerable and can also lead to an incredibly uncomfortable situation. 

Think about any of these scenarios you’ve previously experienced:

  • Starting a new job
  • First day at University
  • Starting a new hobby
  • Trying a workshop/class
  • Going on a first date
  • Relocating to a new city
  • Making new friends

Any of these situations are highly stressful. 

You shouldn’t be too hard on yourself if you make mistakes or things don’t go exactly as you planned. 

What is important is that you take the first step to try something new and strive for progress toward your goal or dream.  

Congratulate yourself for that; many people don’t even get that far

6. Quit When You Need To – Not Everything Has To Be Finished

I quit note on a keyboard with crumpled paper

While it may seem like quitting is not an option or is for the weak, there are certain things that you need to quit and walk away from. 

Maybe they have an unrealistic outcome and are doing more damage than good.

I used to dream of being a rockstar, and I played in failed local band after failed local band. Year after year, for the better part of a decade.

It made me totally miserable and depressed, and I hated myself. I felt like a total failure, a joke, and pathetic.

Then, I decided to quit making music and try other things. I let go of my dream. 

Briefly, I became interested in photography. But then I decided to become a writer – something I had wanted to do since High School and told myself that I would ‘one day.’

I then realized I wanted to be a musician because I dreamed of traveling the world. And at the time, I thought going on tour would be the only way I would be able to travel for an extended time.

But now, I am a freelance writer. I can work from anywhere in the world (as long as there is a Wi-Fi connection). 

I’ve traveled to spectacular places I would never have been able to visit. I am writing this blog post from an Airbnb cabin in the jungle in Costa Rica, with howler monkeys in trees 200 feet away!

I still know local musicians back home, many years later, doing the same thing they used to, and have never made any progress. They are depressed and bitter about everything in life.

Quitting doesn’t mean that you are giving up or a failure. Instead, it means that you have re-evaluated your goals. 

Maybe they are no longer as important to you as they once were. Maybe they were unrealistic. Perhaps they no longer bring you joy. 

Just because you have a goal doesn’t mean that you need to complete it. Ask yourself, is it worth your time and energy? Does it really matter to you? Is it important to you?

Is it still worth doing? Perhaps it is time to re-evaluate your goals and create new ones which better align with your current vision. 

7. Be Patient

Hourglass ticking reflecting to focus on progress not perfection

These days everyone expects to see instant results. People seem to appear from nowhere and achieve instant success overnight.

However, what most people don’t see is the years of hard work and thousands of hours of dedication that go on behind the scenes to reach an elite level of success.

You may have been working on your online business for what seems forever and still haven’t made any progress. 

It is common to wonder if it will ever happen or if you aren’t good enough or a failure. 

There is no set time for success and no shortcut. 

Success takes as long as it takes. 

However, most people give up after days, weeks, or even months – quite often just before they are about to see real measurable results. 

You may need to keep your day job or take up a side hustle while you patiently work on your business until it reaches the stage where you can replace your full-time income.

I’m still working as a freelance writer on the side to pay the bills. Although I’ve cut down on the number of hours I work on it per week to dedicate more time to my blog.

My Three Step Plan

I had a 3 step plan for what I wanted to do:

  1. Quit my job and work online to allow me to travel the world.
  2. Create my own blog to create passive income streams to let me stop trading time for money.
  3. Focus on things I am passionate about, such as writing a fiction novel or a screenplay.

At the moment, I’m on phase 2 after launching my blog in January 2022. 

While there have been times when it seemed hopeless and I was ready to give up, I’ve managed to keep going and do whatever it takes to be successful. 

There have been many ups and downs. But patience is key. 

While everyone dreams of creating a full-time income from their passion, at least initially, it is not always possible. 

But, if you stick at it, you can turn your dream into a reality over time.

It may be pretty challenging – especially in a world of instant gratification.

But, that also means that there is less competition since most people will give up if they don’t see near immediate results.

Try to make a long-term plan. It may be 6 or 12 months or even longer of non-stop hard work and grinding before you even start to see any results.

As Joel Embiid would say, Trust The Process.

Sometimes life will get in the way, and you’ll need to put your plans on hold. Don’t be too hard on yourself if that happens. 

Even if you need to take a break for weeks or months, the most important thing is that you keep going when you can.

Why Perfectionism Is Actually Bad For You

Trying to strive for perfection can actually prevent you from ever making progress or achieving your goals and making your dreams come true. 

It can constantly feel like you aren’t good enough and always make the wrong choices. You’ll feel underwhelmed with everything you do if it doesn’t live up to your high standards. 

It also will eliminate any joy you have, and it will feel like a chore to work on your goal. If you’re always trying to do things perfectly, you may not take action at all.

You may be thinking that if something doesn’t reach your impossible standards, then you can’t keep going until it does, right?

Worst of all is that you may think you aren’t good enough or don’t deserve success or to be happy. So you subconsciously sabotage yourself and everything that you do. At least, that used to be my experience.

FAQS – Progress Not Perfection

What does progress not perfection mean?

Progress not perfection means breaking things down into smaller pieces. Then, focus on achievements for small steps rather than only concentrating on the end goal. You’ll then be able to enjoy things more even without them being perfect. You should try to change your mindset to focus on your progress and not be so critical of yourself.

How do you strive for progress and not perfection?

To strive for progress and not perfection, you need to take pride in your work and accomplishments. Celebrate how far you have come from when you first started. Don’t focus on how things could be better or it isn’t exactly what you want. Instead, concentrate on taking small steps towards your goals, moving forward, and making progress and improvement each day.

Final Thoughts

Many people want to be a perfectionist with everything they do. But, it is only when you focus on the progress that you can start working towards turning your goals and dreams into reality. 

Instead of focusing on the big picture, break things up into smaller steps and stop comparing yourself to others. 

Don’t give into your self-doubt, and be kind to yourself when starting something new. Remember that there are no shortcuts to success and that you need to be patient and keep working towards your goals little by little.

Progress not perfection is the way to achieve success in everything you do in business and life. Good luck!

Skyler Benson
Skyler Benson

Skyler Benson is a full-time blogger. Join Skyler on SkylerBenson.com and learn how to start an online business and create a life of freedom. Before starting this blog, Skyler worked online as a freelance content writer. He worked with digital marketing agencies and B2B companies for four years. Skyler reviews the best software for your online business and teaches you how to write better and start your freelancing career.