Why mastering the art of starting-over is more fruitful than the pursuit of unwavering perfection.
Consistency can be laborious. There are so many areas of our lives where we know what path we want to follow; we know the routine, the steps, the benefits, and the direction. Yet, we find ourselves continuously drifting off-course; despite how much we truly value and desire the path. This on-again, off-again pattern shows up in our personal-wellness efforts to implement an exercise routine, eat better, meditate, as well as our desires to communicate more effectively, be kinder, less reactive, more optimistic, less judgmental and so much more. We know when we stay on track, we feel better, we feel happier… so why can’t we seem to get it right?
Well, I have a theory, of sorts. Through my work with clients and via observation of myself when I am at “my best”, there was one particular quality that began to stand out as the governing element; our capacity to start again. Those people that seem to have everything perfectly dialed-in and locked into a routine that never waivers; they don’t. What they do have is incredible awareness and prowess in the arena of “starting over”.
In this theory, we lose nothing by submitting to the possibility that absolute, unyielding perfection is impossible. Let’s take that as a truth and, with it, free ourselves from the pressure, judgment, self-criticism, and frustration that comes from believing that’s the ultimate goal. And we replace that precise, narrow balance beam that we call perfection with a slightly more forgiving range of operation. I like to think of a railroad track running through an open field. Dead-center between the rails represents perfection, yet we can feel great and exist happily anywhere between the two rails; it's when we drift beyond the rails and into the field that we begin to pay a price and may even begin to forget that the track ever existed.
There are four primary competencies at play within the practice of starting again:
1- An understanding of where it is that we want to be.
2- How quickly can we notice when we inevitably drift away.
3- How swiftly do we course correct, once we notice we’ve drifted.
4- What mindset and attitude do we hold in relation to the process.
I would argue that when all 4 competencies are at their strongest, our behavior is virtually indistinguishable from unwavering consistency; even more so when we zoom out and look at the long-term. At its best, this would mean that we have a proper understanding of where we want to be, we notice when we are wavering immediately (possibly during or even before), we take ownership of this drift and nudge ourselves back on course (it's not far when we notice early), and we maintain a constructive, non-judgmental attitude that celebrates our capacity to start again, as opposed to criticizing the lack of perfection. Those people that seem to have everything locked in, I've just described many of them.
So try this for yourself. Let go of perfection as a goal and take genuine pride in becoming incredible at starting again. Start with one thing (eating, exercise, meditation, communication, social media, etc…) and apply the 4 competencies above. Give yourself time, be patient, and start again.
Author: Lucas G. Irwin @Lucas.g.irwin