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Progress, Not Perfection

“Progress, not perfection” is a phrase you will hear often in AA. It is a pocket version of this passage from the Big Book: “No one among us has been able to maintain anything like perfect adherence to these principles. We are not saints. The point is, that we are willing to grow along spiritual lines. The principles we have set down are guides to progress. We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection.”

It’s a powerful idea for many reasons. First, holding yourself to an unreasonable standard is the best way to always feel like a failure. If perfection is your goal, anything can ruin it. Just accept that perfection is unattainable and focus on improvement instead.

Second, aiming for perfection keeps us from taking action. We want some assurance that we know what we’re doing, and that what we try will work. That may take the form of endless research and preparation, or just good, old fashioned procrastination. Maybe you really want to go to a meeting, but the dishes really need to be done now. The truth is that you get no such assurance. You’ll probably make some mistakes. You won’t know exactly what to do.

On the other hand, you probably know something you can do. The magic of “progress, not perfection” is that any progress will do, no matter how small. If you’re working up to the one thing that will solve all your problems, you’ll be waiting forever. If you think about it, there is probably something you can do right this minute to improve your life, even if it’s something as small as finding your nearest AA meeting or detox center.

“Progress, not perfection” is especially helpful to remember when you do mess up. I mistake can feel like a major disaster if you’re already feeling a bit depressed. Even a minor slip can make you say, “Screw it!” In that case, you may be expecting perfection when you should be looking for progress. Everyone has ups and downs. If you step back, you’ll probably see your mistake was only a blip. You can do better tomorrow, if only a little better.

Sometimes just recognizing a screw up is, itself, progress. When you become more self-aware, you might start to notice things you don’t like. You may have spent years not even realizing how bad you were screwing up, but now that you’re sober and taking stock, you notice when you hurt someone or let someone down. Just add it to the list of things to work on.

Studies have shown that improvement goals are more effective than mastery goals. That is, if you start something new with the idea of being great at it, you are likely to get discouraged, but if you start something new with the idea of getting a little better every day, you will stick with it longer and make faster progress.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, Gardens Wellness Center can help you detox safely and decide on a treatment strategy. Call us today at 844-325-9168 or email us at to learn more.