Practice, Practice, Practice

The other night, during the first of my two at-home Pilates workouts, I was feeling frustrated with some of the movements, so frustrated that I was thisclose to hitting eject and going for the Rodney Yee instead. Out of the blue, this quote from Les Brown popped into my mind:

You’ve always heard, “Practice makes perfect.” Well, there is no such thing as perfection. Practice makes improvement.

I’m not sure where this notion that I should be able to pop in the DVD and just be able to do all the movements perfectly came from. There’s not a single exercise I do that I do perfectly. That’s one of the things that makes exercising fun! Yes, it’s frustrating, and sometimes embarrassing, to struggle through what seem to be basic exercises. We see other people knocking out push-ups left and right, and an image of ourselves as we fumble through three pitiful ones (pardon author’s biographical intrusion) comes to mind, and our spirits and self-esteem tumble.

The trick, I learned after a few months, is to know that where we are now is just the starting point. If we view it as that–a starting point–the pursuit of improvement becomes fun. Joyful, even. One day we’re doing three push-ups (and doing them badly), two weeks later we’ve upped our number to five, a month after that we’re doing ten pushups and then another ten after a brief rest. We’re improving! The joy and pride in that can’t be measured.

Just as with exercise, building and maintaining that positive viewpoint takes a little practice. Two things help me most:

  1. Keeping a log of my progress – From time to time, I revisit my exercise calendar from 2007. The one entry always guaranteed to make me smile is the entry that marks the first time I walked a full hour. It has an exclamation point! :) Seeing the miles or reps add up, knowing that you’re progressing even when you aren’t where you want to be is incredibly motivating.
  2. Having a sense of humor – Finding the ‘funny’ in any situation or event helps. The other night,  I attempted some sort of Pilates maneuver that required I hold my arms and legs in the air, rock onto my back, and then propel myself forward until I was balanced once again with arms and legs off the floor. I could do the initial balancing, and I could rock back just fine. The problem (and hilarity) came in when I tried to stop the forward movement and balance myself.  I would rock too far forward and in trying to regain the balanced position, I’d end up rocking back again. After the first three attempts, an image of me as an old-fashioned rocking horse came to mind, and I was overcome with giggles. Seriously, I had to freeze the DVD until I could compose myself. Once I restarted, I began to see progress (of sorts) on the sixth repition. (On my second workout, I was able to (sort of) do this move by the third rep.)

Focusing on improvement rather than perfection builds confidence and self-esteem. It creates a sense of purpose and building toward something, as opposed to reaching for some future ideal that may or may not exist.

Mantra: There is no such thing as perfection.

Your turn. Do you get caught up in the chase for perfection? Or are you able to take the “bird’s eye view” and see the bigger picture? Any tips for the rest of us?

21 thoughts on “Practice, Practice, Practice

  1. I have, in the past, gotten caught up in the perfection quest. Now, I realize it is a journey and I try to celebrate the small changes and progress along the way. Every little change counts and it all adds up in the end, I say!

  2. I have never wanted to join the gym or take a public exercise class because I'm afraid I would embarrass myself with my lack of coordination! I do get a laugh at myself while doing uncoordinated things at home but I dont' want anyone else laughing at me! :) THanks for this post. I will remember it while I am trying to balance myself on the Wii balance board during yoga.

  3. I love looking backwards and seeing how proud I was of what are now fairly trivial achievements. But at the time…! They were up there with space shuttle launches. :)

  4. Great post , Cammy! That is something I definitely need to keep in mind. I like things "just so" and I feel like that carries over into my workouts and eating…have to get in x amount of reps or minutes and only eat this much!

    Thanks for the tips!! I will keep it in mind when I'm struggling!

  5. Thank you for this post! I am a perfectionist but am constantly trying to tell myself that I don't need everything to be perfect, as if it could! I would never manage to finish a scrapbook page or dress for a dinner out or post a blog entry if I stuck to my perfectionistic tendencies.

    I just started pilates at my gym this week after not taking for four years. I can't wait to see improvement:) No perfection possible for me here.

  6. The first few times I did Turbo Jam I spent the entire time laughing because I could only imagine how ridiculous I looked. And with pilates too. I could only think about not farting, lol.

  7. I try to do my best but not perfection. If we were perfect, there would be nothing else to strive for! :-)

    Practice & humor.. good stuff!

  8. Amen to no such thing as perfection! I grew up and continue to struggle with feeling as though I am not "enough." I've learned, and am learning, that I am ENOUGH just as I am. No perfection, no performance. Just me, showing up, and doing my best every day. THAT, in human terms, is my perfection. :)

  9. I tend to want it right now and perfectly too. That is definitely a reason for some of my stress! I put it on myself.

    Great post and a great reminder to stay focused, practice, and laugh at myself!

  10. I tend to want it right now and perfectly too. That is definitely a reason for some of my stress! I put it on myself.

    Great post and a great reminder to stay focused, practice, and laugh at myself!

  11. Hey Cammy, I love that "practice makes improvement" that's a great saying. :) Thanks for sharing it.

  12. "Practice makes improvement" – I love that! Me – I am a bit of a perfectionist and it drives me nuts sometimes! Now, about that Pilates – it is one of my favorite workouts in the world, so please don't give up yet. I think you will grow to love it. :)

  13. i think perfect would be boring. or maybe i just say that because i am so far from it :) love your perspective!

  14. Ive read this a couple times and each time it brings to mind the joke (not really that funny when you have it pounded into your head as a child :)) with the guy asking how to get to carnegie hall and the other person responding PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE.

    (tell me you know the joke to which I refer…)

  15. You are so RIGHT on all of this. That's one of the reasons I started videoing my workouts – so I could see how far I've come. Plus, it's a source of laughter when we're filming because we goof off a lot and have fun.

    I think it's important not to take yourself too seriously when you're learning new things. It's something I have to work on every single day, but I'm getting there. :)


    Seriously. There have been so many times that I've just felt like a ding dong trying to do excercises that are being modeled "perfectly" by people who have been doing them for months and I get discouraged and think "clearly, this is not the dvd (or excercise) for me!"

    The next time I feel like I should give up or get frusterated because I am not able to do something the way I'de like to I'm going to remember what you said: "This is just the starting point."

    Love your blog!

  17. I really like Les Brown!

    Every now and then I watch one of his motivational videos, and they always make me feel great!

  18. I've done Winsor Pilates and I remember the rolling move that you're talking about. I couldn't do it at first either. But for me, that just stimulated the competitive streak in me, and i was like "i'm gonna get this dammit" and so I practiced more and more lol. I think we should all be confident in ourselves and trust that nothing is impossible if you put the effort in.

  19. This is such a valuable lesson! It reminds me of learning to drive. I must have stalled the car hundreds of times, but eventually I got the knack with the clutch and the accelerator and could steer straight while checking in my mirrors.

    As you say, a sense of humor really helps…

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