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by Chris Ritter

May 6, 2014

Perfection is the enemy of progress

We all want to be successful, don’t we? In swimming, in particular, it’s clear that most swimmers are always seeking to do something better. Why else would we work so hard and keep training? But how do you define success? Are you seeking improvement, or perfection?

Many great athletes have always strived for “perfection” in their performances. But the secret is there’s always something that can be done better in the next performance. Perfection is actually an illusion. Records that no one thought would ever be touched are eventually broken, no matter how amazing and out-of-reach they may first appear. (Of course there’s undoubtedly a limit, we just haven’t reached it yet.)

Chasing perfection and holding yourself to that goal is like trying to catch a desert mirage—you can picture it, but you can never actually reach it. This can become frustrating if you’re putting in a lot of hard work and dedication to a goal if that goal isn’t realistic. Instead of perfection, strive for improvement on your current ability. This is much more measureable and attainable.

Think about it: perfection is actually limiting, because it implies that you can never do anything else better after that one perfect performance. Once you’ve achieved perfection, what would be the point in continuing to strive for anything more?

Swimming can be a frustrating sport, especially when you’re stuck on a plateau of performance or can’t master a new technique. When you get stuck chasing tenths and hundredths of a second, think about how other athletes measure success. In baseball, an athlete can be inducted into the Hall of Fame with a 30 percent success rate—that’s how batting averages work. In basketball, an athlete who hits half his shots is probably the best shooter on the team. Even in business, individuals receive many more nos than yeses.

The point is, it’s not the misses that should be used to evaluate how well you are performing or progressing.

Instead of focusing on perfection, consider measuring your performance based on continual improvement and the pursuit of challenges that are in front of you. Don’t back down. Eventually you’ll break through and make a big improvement. And no matter what level of ultimate performance you’re after, you’ll get closer and closer to that goal if you just focus on improving a little bit at a time.


  • Technique and Training


  • Goal Setting
  • Mental Training