Mastery vs Perfection

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As a coach, physical therapist, wife and mom I often find myself striving for perfection. The perfect race, the perfect technique, the perfect home. I have been doing this for the greater part of the past 20ish years and for some reason I haven’t reached perfection yet! Is it because I am lazy? I highly doubt that. But maybe, just maybe, it’s because there is no such thing as PERFECTION and I should be striving for mastery instead of perfection.

Let’s talk about running technique first. I teach the Pose Method of Running. I love it. There is a specific movement we as athletes and coaches strive to achieve. But to be honest, I KNOW my technique isn’t perfect. Does that mean I stop working on it? Absolutely NOT. I work on it daily. I teach this DAILY. My technique is very good.  There are days when my technique is better than others. But I am running without injury, faster than I have been for a while, and I love it.  Perfection, no.  Mastery, YES!

This is a hard concept for some of my athletes to understand because they want an end state. But I have come to realize in my own practice that there isn’t one. There will always be something more to learn. So rather than striving for perfection, let’s start focusing on mastery.

Mastery doesn’t mean being perfect at something. And being an expert means understanding that there is always more to learn. MIND BLOWN!

My friend sent me a blog the other day that made me actually sit down and read through it a couple of times. They were the words I needed to hear, especially this time of year when we need to do all the presents and decorating and baking and parties and also still have the training and “look” that we work so hard for. I wanted to put my own spin on it and share with you so here goes.

There are three main skills that help pave the path to mastery: deliberate practice, seeking feedback and consistency. 

Deliberate Practice

My friend Angie Diebal and I made a video on the Pose Method a looooooong time ago to share with our patients and Soldiers. At the end we had a catch phrase of “Perfect practice makes perfect performance!” Taking out the “perfect” part, we need to understand that simple repetition of a movement is NOT the most efficient way to learn, but rather deliberate practice. That means you need to be conscious of your weaknesses and instead of avoiding them, focus on them. Start the hurdle drills with your left foot first. Do the pullups in the workout vs just skipping them. Add in the dynamic warmup and stretching if you are super stiff and creaky. Deliberate practice.

Seeking Feedback

How do you know where you have weaknesses? Well some are obvious. If you can’t perform a pushup, you can’t perform a pushup. Others are less obvious; those injuries that seem to just pop up out of nowhere…or did they? That is why I love video analysis. It doesn’t lie. Do you know how many times athletes have come to me after a running analysis for a follow up and said “I know I am doing _________” better and then I show them and it’s not? You would think you can feel these things, but sometimes you just can’t. My brother in law Kris is AMAZING! Anytime he is home (because he is in Honduras now) he comes to the studio and has me watch his lifting technique. And then he FIXES IT! He loves it. Because he is striving for mastery and craves this feedback.

It can be hard to learn about your weaknesses. Sometimes we don’t want to know them and we avoid them in the hope to achieve this ideal perfection. But research has shown that perfection hampers achievement.


Consistency does not mean never messing up or never taking a break. Consistency means putting in your best effort as often as you can for long periods of time. If you never allow yourself a break you set yourself up for failure. Are you a failure because you got sick? Had a family emergency? Had a ridiculous work schedule that didn’t allow you to work on your goal? NO! But you better get back at it when you can.

I became an ambassador for the company JustStrong.  They have a tank that says “Progress Not Perfection” and it fits.  Don’t be afraid to start.  Progress is better than stagnancy.  So recycle that milk container even if you haven’t the past 3 times.  Focus on your running technique this run.  Make yourself do that pullup because it is hard.  Buy the soap in the cardboard container vs the plastic one, even if you buy the plastic one the next time.  Each and every time you make the conscious decision to be better you ARE better.

Mastery takes time. Mastery takes deliberate practice, feedback and consistency. The more running classes/strength sessions/nutrition decisions you can make/take, the better. Even if they go over the same exercises/same nutrition plan/same everything. Allow yourself the gift of mastery and you might just get that Christmas Tree lit and decorated before it’s too late!

Making progress on getting the lights on the tree…