One of the guiding principles of the many 12 step programs is “Progress Not Perfection”. This is a vital concept to recovery for several reasons and when you employ it you will immediately benefit from the change of focus.
Perfection is a false standard. I’m not “perfect”, You’re not “perfect”, life is rarely “perfect” and because perfection has little to do with objective reality it is useless, in fact it can be harmful to use as a measuring stick for human beings.
Perfectionism goes hand in hand with procrastination. The result is that nothing gets done and nothing changes. Nothing changes unless something changes, right? Procrastination and perfectionism are the opposites sides of the same coin and they both get you the same thing, nothing. They both keep us stuck because action is the key.
Recovery of any kind takes action and lots of it! Recovery, and a productive life in general takes action. For many who have suffered with Substance Use Disorder, taking action can feel overwhelming and many of us get paralyzed by fear and confusion. Sometimes we get stuck in close minded thinking. That’s when we believe we already know the outcome, so why try. It’s contempt prior to investigation. At other times we get stuck in the “I’ll do it when I’m better, or when the time is perfect, or when the situation is perfect. Perfect never comes.
The ideas that “when it’s perfect, I will be ready” or “I will do it when the time feels perfect”, are fundamentally flawed. Here is a clue, if “perfect” hasn’t showed up by now, it probably won’t in the future. If you haven’t become “perfect” enough yet, waiting doesn’t usually get you there, but action does.
Here’s the trick I use, it helped me get sober and it’s a tool I still use today in life. After I pray, meditate and journal on the big picture outcome, situation or problem that is in front of me, I take my focus off of the intended outcome and I just start asking myself “what’s the next right thing I could do now?”
It is very easy to get bogged down but if I just focus on the next right simple action and nothing else until I have completed that action, I move forward. I believe life is made up of mostly baby steps and then every once in a while, a big decision. When we learn to live one day at a time, one step at a time, one idea, one decision, one lesson, one blessing, one moment, one breath at a time, that is when the overwhelm leaves and the progress happens.
When I take simple actions, the thinking, the know-how, the understanding, the feelings and the motivation comes. This happens primarily after the action and not before. This process forms momentum and momentum is how we accomplish a life worth living. We’ve all heard that it’s the journey not the destination, well I think it’s both. On the journey there are stopping points if we choose to notice them. This is where we stop, turn around and recognize how far we’ve come. It’s progress that “juices” our lives.
Progress happens because we’re willing to take imperfect action. We learn to “act our way into right thinking”, and our thinking changes for the better. Our lives get bigger and bolder and deeper and more meaningful. This is how we grow into our perfectly imperfect best self, our recovered self.