Growth or Perfection?

My 6-year-old does NOT like to read. She can do math astoundingly well, but reading is her least favorite thing to do. I empathize with her on the nonsensical rule exceptions. And the exceptions to the exceptions. Annoying.

We work together every day to improve her literacy. I reach into the deep tool kit I’ve created from my experience in homeschooling, coaching, instructing, and reaching personal goals. One of the most effective tools is measuring.

Peter Drucker, the founder of modern management theories, said,

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”

My version of this wise counsel?

If you won’t measure it, you won’t improve it.

Tracking and measuring progress is sooo helpful in the psychology of growth. When left to our own emotions and perceptions, we usually flunk the skill of objectively measuring progress, and then progress itself suffers.

As you can see in my daughter’s progression of reading times, growth is not a smooth graph that resembles a ski slope. Growth actually looks messy and jagged with random spikes and dips. In the thick of each moment, growth feels more like trudging through Iowa mud, not galivanting through meadows of flower. This is rough on our natural desire for instant gratification, which is why we quit working toward something when we encounter resistance.

Measuring and tracking is meant to be objective. With it, you can see the little improvements. Most importantly, you witness the pattern of growth over time, which fuels the hope that you are actually accomplishing something and that you will indeed get to your end goal. Keeping track may sound tedious, but in truth, it provides the information that fuels your motivation and inspiration.

Having the discipline to track your progress is another “task,” yes. And sometimes it is a puzzle to figure out WHAT to track and HOW to track it. MOST things can be tracked if you have creativity and a good system, so stick with it, and let me help.

Dax Shepard, a man of many talents in the film industry, has made quite a few personal accomplishments in the last couple decades. In an interview on The Off Camera Show, he shared an experience about his road to sobriety that was soo inspiring and touching to me. He had been tracking each of his attempts at sobriety in a book that a friend found. All Dax saw were the number of times he failed, but the friend saw something different. The friend’s awe of Dax helped him to understand, “I was so proud of myself that I didn’t quit quitting.”

See the full heart-warming story for yourself.

I recently heard that Dax relapsed after 15 years of sobriety. I’m guessing this is/was very “demoralizing” for him. Some fans might be disappointed. But, considering his big lesson, this new start point on his growth chart is even more inspiring to me as I consider my own growth in things I struggle with. Somethings are simply a challenge for us. Every. Freaking. Day. We kick ourselves when we fall, but do we equally credit ourselves on the days we “win”?

The objective measurements in Dax Shepard’s “Growth Chart of Life” show his pattern is to get up and try again. Every day is the opportunity to start fresh. We may have more “relapses,” but if we don’t “quit quitting” our efforts to improve, growth WILL happen.

I had a Facebook exchange with a childhood friend, Heather Blaze who is a fantastic artist. See her gorgeous work here. She had taken an instructor’s assignment to paint a subject in 25 minutes. She then posted her results to Facebook. While she described the results as “terrible” and hinted at embarrassment or frustration, those of us without her skill marveled at what she could produce so quickly.

I replied, “‘Terrible’ is relative. Your reject would be my masterpiece.”

She responded, “In the moment of saying it’s terrible I found out that we’re just looking to loosen up our brush strokes and create more movement and these are all unfinished. So this was fine. But the shock of being graded on movement instead of perfect detail is…interesting.”

I found wisdom for life in this exchange. I replied, “I think this is the grade criteria in life as well: “movement, not perfection.”

In my lifetime of studying willpower and the art of achieving goals, studies reveal that forgiveness is one of the most effective ways to boost willpower, and the willingness to try again is the largest indicator of whether or not a goal will be achieved. The level of shame is the single biggest indicator of whether a person will repeat a negative habit; the higher the shame, the more likely to repeat.

When you link this science finding with the spiritual, isn’t it easy to believe that the ultimate grade criteria will also be based on our movement rather than our perfection? All we have are imperfect steps. So take one imperfect step at a time. And in those moments when you don’t conquer your weaknesses, train yourself to rush in with forgiveness for the blemish rather than with shame. (Stay tuned for my post, Is Perfection Objective?)

Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.

William Bruce Cameron – Informal Sociology: A Casual Introduction to Sociological Thinking

I appreciate the wisdom and success found in measuring and tracking. It is how I help my clients pay down debt, build up savings, increase their income, budget their time and money, increase their confidence, and create systems for lasting change. However, there are so many essential parts of living abundantly, many of which I personally have not figured out how to objectively measure. YET. Growth in these areas is still essential, right? And completely possible!

Perhaps there is a graph somewhere that we will get to see…

My mother used to sing me a song with these lyrics:

Dearest children, God is near you,
Watching o’er you day and night,
And delights to own and bless you,
If you strive to do what’s right.
He will bless you, He will bless you
If you put your trust in him.

Dearest children, holy angels
Watch your actions night and day,
And they keep a faithful record
Of the good and bad you say.
Cherish virtue! Cherish virtue!
God will bless the pure in heart.

Children, God delights to teach you
By his Holy Spirit’s voice.
Quickly heed its holy promptings.
Day by day you’ll then rejoice.
Oh, prove faithful, Oh, prove faithful
To your God and Zion’s cause.

–Charles L. Walker, 1832-1904

In my younger years when perfection was the stick I felt beat with, I shuddered at the thought of having my every action recorded by angels. However, as I have worked on my own “Growth Chart of Life” in MANY different areas, the idea of angels watching over me doesn’t feel so stressful anymore. I don’t believe my loving Heavenly Father has His spies out to catch me doing badly so He can spank me for it later. I believe He has His angel observers taking regular measurements of my journey so that when I show up to have our great “Man-to-man,” He’ll be able to show me my objective graph of progress. He’ll show me that I did come a long way, and, hopefully, I did prove myself to be a person who doesn’t quit quitting the things that hold me back.

What evidence of personal growth would you like to measure?

Here’s my list:

  • How many times I keep my crap together
  • How many times I help someone feel loved
  • How many times I help someone feel understood and seen
  • How many times I respond well to life
  • How many times I respond well to my kids
  • How many times I feel God’s influence
  • How quickly I sincerely apologize
  • How many times I truly forgive someone
  • How many times my husband and I have great sex
  • How many times I make someone’s life easier
  • How many gifts I have developed and the growth of each
  • How many times I let someone love me
  • How many times I let someone see me
  • How many times I let someone inspire me
  • How many times I observe or experience a miracle
  • How many times I laugh deeply
  • How many times I cry cleansing tears
  • How many times I don’t quit quitting

What’s your list? I would LOVE to see it. Put it in the comments below or send me an email.

Would you like to work on something in your plan for an abundant life?

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Published by Ruth Liebel

I am a mother of 4, wife of a surgeon and soldier, girl of the Southwest but I love The South. I am a formally educated financial counselor and a Ramsey Preferred Coach. I love my work and want to empower others to live abundantly through budget, boundaries, and beliefs. What can I help you accomplish today?