Cultivate What Matters Core Truths: Goals Grow When We Pursue Progress, Not Perfection

Cultivate What Matters Core Truths: Goals Grow When We Pursue Progress, Not Perfection

by: Emily Thomas

One of our favorite 2023 additions to the PowerSheets® goal planner is the core truths sprinkled throughout. These core truths—15 guiding phrases to ground your goal setting—summarize our "what-matters-most" approach to achieving more of what matters to you in a life-giving and joyful way.

Because it's one thing to have heard a truth like "any day can be a fresh start" or "naming what matters changes everything" and another to actually remember and believe it—and it's only when we move to this next level that our actions will follow. When life throws us a curveball or goal setting gets discouraging, we need to be reminded of what's true.

Enter: the core truths! As you work through the pages of your PowerSheets, you'll be reminded of what you love about this community and its approach to goal setting with every turn of the page. You'll be reminded of what's true.

Of course, we only had so much room in the PowerSheets—and so here on the blog, we're giving each core truth its moment to shine. One at a time, we'll unpack what each core truth means, how it applies to goal setting, and how you can make the most of it.

Up next: goals grow when we pursue progress, not perfection.

PowerSheets core truths

What does “progress, not perfection” mean?

From the beginning, Cultivate What Matters and the PowerSheets were built on gardening metaphors. Our founder Lara wanted to tend to what mattered, not achieve it. Just like in a garden, the aim was beauty and fruitfulness, not clinical precision. The aim was finding joy and abundant life in little-by-little progress, not overnight success. 

In a garden, we know there will be bugs, and weeds, and faded flowers, and, well, dirt. It’s the same with our goals. As a community, we recognize right from the start that there will be setbacks and skipped days and missed milestones. 

When we aim for perfection, we fail. When we aim for progress, we finish.

How does the pursuit of perfection hurt goal setting?

Some of us know we’re perfectionists. Others wouldn’t claim that title, but are still susceptible to its allure. Whether you realize it or not, here are three ways perfectionism might be hurting your goals.

If we aim for perfect, we quit at the first failure.

If the goal is an unbroken streak, the first missed day is a failure. If we fumble a step in a perfectly-crafted plan, it’s a failure. And when we fail, many of us will give up altogether. 

But how much progress have we missed out on if we let a skip on day 15 keep us from picking back up on day 16? If we had just kept going, after a month, we could have hit 96%but instead we stopped at 46%. 

We must reject the idea that anything less than perfect means we’ve failed. No ma’am! We get to try again, and again, and again, and thank goodness for that. 

When you embrace progress over perfection, inconsistency eventually gives way to consistency. When you chase perfection, purpose gives way to guilt, shame, and inaction. 

If we aim for perfect, we lose a lot of the joy.

Think about how you feel when you’re around an uptight relative or a stick-in-the-mud boss. You’re walking on pins and needles, afraid to say or do the wrong thing. You move carefully, you speak hesitantlyyou might even breathe shallowly! You don’t want to step a toe out of line, and when you’re finally out of their sight, you breathe a huge sigh of relief. 

For many of us, this is how it can feel to work on our goals. For months, we live on edge, afraid every day that we’ll slip up or forget something, and that when we do, everything we’ve been working on will come crashing down. Every moment, every action carries the weight of the end result.

Friend, that is an exhaustingand very much NOT fun nor joyfulway to live. And it doesn’t have to be that way! The journey of accomplishing a goal might feel weighty and important and challenging, but it doesn’t have to feel soul-crushing and anxiety-producing. Goals can still grow when they’re not completed perfectly in fact, it’s the only way they will.

If we aim for perfect, we might never start.

Many of us would rather record a zero than a sixty when it comes to our goals. Getting a D on our goal?! No, thank you, says the typical high-achieving, intentional gal in this community. I’d rather sit on the sidelines.

If your goal is perfection, or anywhere close to it, you’ll never start, because a tiny voice inside knows that perfection is not possible.

Friend, your goal will not be perfect. We can say that with confidence right at the outset. You will 100% fail along the way maybe often! Maybe daily! But how many life-changing, beautiful things will you miss out on if you only accept perfection? “Developing tolerance for imperfection is the key factor in turning chronic starters into consistent finishers,” says Jon Acuff in his book Finish. Developing tolerance for imperfection is also what can make those sitting on the sidelines jump into the action.

How can I embrace progress over perfection in my goal setting?

Alright, we’ve convinced you :) You’re on the progress train! But how can you shift your mindset to focusing on progress instead of perfection? Here are two powerful ways.

Focus on your why.

When you know that any one goal is not what matters most, it’s easier to ditch perfection and embrace progress. A strong why will help you pick yourself up each time you fall downbecause you know that imperfect progress is worth it in the big picture! You can’t and you won’t give up on your ultimate destinationa close relationship with your kids, a flourishing faith, a strong bodybecause it matters too much in the big pictureno matter how many times you fail along the way.

Track your progress.

“Data is a gift from yesterday that you receive today to make tomorrow better,” says Jon. Yes! This is why the PowerSheets goal planner and our goal-setting tools have such an emphasis on tracking your habits and actions and regularly reflecting. Datawhether it looks like number of minutes spent on a project, number of miles run, number of dollars saved, number of books read, number of blog posts written, or number of proposals sentwill “quiet perfectionism’s claims that you’re not getting anywhere and help you celebrate your achievements.” It will help you remember that little by little adds up.

When we look back thoughtfully and analytically at where we've been and what we've done, we can harness the power of the past to change the future. Instead of feeling regret over decisions and actions we wish we'd handled differently, we can feel empowered to make better decisions in the future.

Every goal in the history of the world has been achieved through imperfect progress. This is true, and you can start acting like it today. You’ll find life is free, fun, and fruitful on the other side! :)

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Some really important life lessons covered. We’re so afraid of not “measuring up” that we can’t even start. But not starting is the biggest failure.

Leslie Galloway

Oh how my heart needed to read this after feeling like I just failed a goal. Maybe I didn’t fail at all, but rather I didn’t focus on progress.

Loved this post! Thank you!

Sarah Roberts

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Emily Thomas

Emily Thomas

Emily Thomas

Emily Thomas is Cultivate What Matters' Content Strategist and Writer. With over a decade at Cultivate, Emily loves helping women uncover what matters, set good goals, and live them out with joy. Her free time is spent with her high-school-sweetheart husband and three young kiddos.

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