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Improvement Means Progress

“Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection.” – Mark Twain

If you’re waiting for everything to be right, you’ll find that you never get anything done. Of course, you want the result for any undertaking to be the best it can be, but striving for perfection will only delay completion. If you give it everything you’ve got, however, you won’t have anything to feel sorry about.

Perfection defined

What is perfection, anyway? Is it a single state, or does the concept change from one person to the next?  There are various definitions of perfection, each of which have some reference to flawlessness, a quality or trait of the highest excellence, or the utmost in proficiency, skill or excellence. One perfection definition even refers to “the quality or state of being saintly.”

Even a cursory examination of such narrow parameters winnows most of our chances at achieving perfection.

An alternative to striving for perfection

Consider the goal of achieving the most sales in your department at work. You work hard, giving up sleep, racking your brain for ways to increase your sales total and think you’ve got a shot at the top. Then you learn that the guy in the next cubicle snagged the title. Do you feel dejected that you didn’t achieve perfection, aka the most sales? Or are you somewhat comforted by the knowledge that you broke your own record and thus made a great deal of progress?

In this case, both are winners. The employee who earned the most sales won, naturally, but so did you for exceeding your previous mark. If you’re only aiming for perfection, you’ll have a long wait. But taking pride in continuous improvement? That’s not only more readily achievable, it’s preferable.

What about a homemaker striving for perfection in keeping a tidy home? Is it wrong to want things to be perfect, especially when you’re going to entertain loved ones and family members and want everyone to marvel at your exceptionally turned-out home? Here it’s a matter of emotion driving your efforts, not the result. You can do your best, employ all your talents and still run out of time or materials, maybe even energy to get it all done.

Still, when you put your heart and soul into the effort, you should be proud of your outcome, whatever that turns out to be. If others notice a speck of dust or remark that the drapes look a little dowdy, that just shows their insensitivity. Some people just like to pick things apart. It has nothing to do with you. Be proud of what you’ve accomplished. After all, you put all of you into it.

Feeling good about what you do

Whether it’s a project at work, school or home, an activity or goal that means a lot to you and you put a lot into, instead of believing that only a perfect result will count, take satisfaction in the continuous improvement you’re making. If you’re having trouble navigating this change of attitude, here are some suggestions that may help:

  • Create flexible goals that allow for changes on-the-fly, make room for newly discovered interests and opportunity for new initiatives. Not being wedded to only one outcome or goal is broadly reassuring and empowering.
  • Enlist the assistance of others to jump-start the work, quickly tackle a challenging project or finish on or before a deadline. Many hands do indeed make light work. They also help remove the weight of stress brought on by worrying about not being able to get a project done on time.
  • Keep track of successes. While others may tout how great their own or others’ efforts are, you know that you have several things you’ve accomplished as well. Key to minimizing the tendency to strive for perfection is the knowledge that you can do what you say you’ll do, do it to the best of your ability, and ultimately feel good about what you’ve achieved.
  • Strike the word perfection from your vocabulary. It’s self-limiting and demoralizing and you don’t need that standing in your way of enjoying life, being productive and realizing the fruits of your labors.

Besides, if you’re perfect you really have nowhere to go. On the other hand, when you’re always making improvement, you’re always moving ahead. And you can see your interim accomplishments now, rather than waiting for some far-off time when perfection might be achieved.

Improvement Means Progress

Suzanne Kane

Suzanne Kane is a Los Angeles-based writer, blogger and editor. Passionate about helping others live a vibrant and purposeful life, she writes daily for her website, She is a regular contributor to Psych Central. You can reach her at

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APA Reference
Kane, S. (2018). Improvement Means Progress. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 16 May 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.