Most people want to do the best they can. But when is near enough good enough and perfect too much?

There’s a big difference between striving for excellence and striving for perfection. Striving for excellence can really motivate and inspire you, while striving for perfection can be completely demoralising.

What’s the difference?
‘But I thought perfect was good?’ I hear you say. Not always. The dictionary definition of excellence is ‘to surpass’, it is ‘the quality of being outstanding or extremely good’. So when you strive for excellence you are always looking at where you are and how you get a little bit better.

On the other hand when you strive for perfection you are aiming at something that is so good, that it can’t get any better. But the risk is that you will never get there because you are setting your goal so high and possibly setting yourself up for failure when you don’t complete the task perfectly.

Psychologically there is also a big difference. Let’s take a brief detour into how the mind deals with the differences between excellence and perfection.

Excellence vs. Perfection
One of the basic principles of positive psychology is that we should always look at both sides of the coin. When something happens that we consider to be bad, we should look at how we can use it for good and how it serves us to get where we want to go.

Research tells us that the way the brain and the mind work is that the as we focus our thoughts on something, we fire neural networks in the brain. These networks are strengthened because the more we focus on those thoughts, the more likely they are to become firm beliefs. We also tend to notice things around us that are congruent with the thoughts and beliefs we have and the things that are important to us, which then become evidence supporting our thoughts and beliefs.

What are you thinking about?
So what does that have to do with excellence and perfection? If excellence is about continuously improving, doing the best you can and looking for ways that you can build on that to be that little bit better day by day, then your focus is already on all the things you are already doing well.

If you want to provide excellent customer service or be an excellent boss, you need to look at what you are already doing that works really well and work out what you can do next, now, today, to make it that little bit better. Excellence is a daily, never ending journey.

Progress not perfection.
That means that the majority of your focus is on the things that are working really well and on the next thing you can do, which is within your reach. That can be incredibly motivating and inspiring because we all have an innate need to do better, to excel.

On the other hand, if you are striving for perfection, your focus is long term and on the things that are missing between where you are now and the point of perfection, that is; the point at which it cannot get any better.

That can be demoralising because you are not gradually building on all the things that are working well now, you are focusing on a wide chasm that can seem impossible to jump over.

It’s the journey, not the destination.
In fact, you will never get there because no matter how much you do in the pursuit of perfection and no matter how ‘perfect’ things get, there will always be something that can be improved.

From a business perspective, it is also important that we don’t get dragged into the pursuit of perfection. By its nature, striving for perfection is a long-term pursuit. The world is changing so rapidly that if you wait until everything is perfect, your competitor will be way ahead of you and your customer has probably gone somewhere else. When you strive for excellence, your customers will enjoy the results of your continued improvement every day.

Strive for perfection and you are at risk of getting dragged down by the thought that no matter what you do, you will never get there. Strive for excellence and every day you will see the results of your pursuits as you focus on the incremental improvement you have achieved.



At The Positive Lane we help you to achieve better outcomes, improve your experience of life and discover what really makes you happy.



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