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Progress, not Perfection.

26 May 2015

One of the guiding principles of recovery in AA is “progress, not perfection”. The phrase comes from chapter 5 of the book Alcoholics Anonymous, where it actually says, “We claim spiritual progress, not spiritual perfection.” As I’ve said many times, even though the book and the program of AA refers a lot to “God as we understand him”, there’s no need to be religious to be a part of AA, or to believe in anything spiritual/supernatural. Recovery doesn’t depend on that.

But I think recovery can hinge on our ability to look outside ourselves for strength, and to consider ourselves as a small piece of a big whole. For me, I think of systems. Networks of recovering people who form, together, a far stronger fabric than I could be as a single thread. I haven’t given up on the idea of God. I’m hopeful about God. But my “spirituality” doesn’t require there to be one. And I am constantly evolving in a spiritual sense, and I am uninterested in being right, or being perfect. I am moving forward, and that’s what matters.

For example, AA is a program of honesty and self-reflection. But Sunday night I lied, on purpose, to get something I wanted. It was just after 10 pm, and a neighbor a few houses down was blasting bass-heavy music. And I mean blasting. It was a good 6 houses away, and my windows would rattle on the deeper notes. I went over there and said, smiling, and polite, “Hi! Some of us have to work in the morning, and I was just wondering how late you were planning to go?” They were polite, and said, “It’s a holiday tomorrow, but we can turn it down a bit.” And they did. And I went to bed.

I feel a tiny bit bad about it the lie. But not really. They were disturbing the whole neighborhood, and it was after 10 pm. But, it was self-serving dishonesty. That’s outside the program I’m trying to work. And I probably didn’t need to lie. I probably could simply have said, “I’m trying to get to bed,” or something. But I lied, I got what I wanted, and I feel pretty justified about it. Is that ugly? Did I commit an  offense? I don’t know. I don’t feel like I harmed them. They just turned their music down from “earthquake” to “hearing damage”. But, if it weighs on my conscience, I’ll make amends.

But progress, rather than perfection, is a guiding principle of my life these days. And I’m applying it to my fitness as well as my program. This weekend, with BB in town and three days to work with, we really turned it up. Saturday morning we went out for 10.36 miles, and hit a 9:07 pace. That’s on a pace to (just) break two hours in a half-marathon. 9:08 is the pace you have to run, if you do exactly 13.1 miles. But usually, half-marathons end up being 13.4 or so, because you have to weave a bit, etc.. So to get to a sub-2, the pace you have to run is probably closer to 9 minutes per mile, flat. Nevertheless, this was the fastest I’ve ever gone on a long run.

Sunday we went to the gym. Monday, we did something insane. We did hill sprints. This was BB’s idea. We jogged to the art museum, which is on a hill, and then sprinted up the hill, and jogged back down it, fourteen times. The hill is about 100 meters. We added in some recovery jogs around a big circle, and then jogged back home. Like so (top of the hill is on the lower right):


The total distance was 6.2 miles. I was so drenched in sweat that the bootcamp group at the top of the hill made fun of me. After about our tenth ascent, I gasped at them, “Tell her she’s crazy!” while pointing at BB. They shouted, “YOU’RE CRAZY.” It was fun.

So, fitness-wise, I’m making progress. Perfection is impossible. What I think of as “perfect” is far beyond my reach. Beyond anyone’s reach, really, who doesn’t have specific genetics and the opportunity to spend hours a day with a trainer and nutritionist and chef, etc., managing their body. Which I wouldn’t want anyway, even if I had the money and time to do it.

But today, I’m sore. I’m tired. I’m behind at work and need to pick it up. But I’m happy. Because I’m making progress. And progress is good.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. 26 May 2015 08:10

    You worked…on your health! I see no lie 🙂

  2. 3 June 2015 07:06

    One of the best guiding principles in the programme for me. In particular I had to cling on to that for dear life in my early days. A day sober was progress most of the time. I also have this odd perfectionism where if something is presented as an opportunity I’ll start racing in my head to the finish line and realise all these things that I may fall short of (i.e. not do it exactly right – even though I don’t know what that is yet) that I’ll just in an instant say “Well no point starting that as I’ll never do it”. And then walk away having not failed as I never started. I could have so so so easily used that piece of unfailing logic on my sobriety and not started the first step. So Progress Not Perfection being the goal is great as I could just start and make progress… also progress not perfection being the goal means I have to keep making process so have to keep working the programme. Another day sober… progress…
    Great post as ever my friend – it has helped me today

  3. Lisa permalink
    16 June 2015 20:52

    I am so very fond of BB! Dropping in every now and again to find that all is well, and you are happy. It may be that happy = perfect.
    – I felt like shouting “YOU’RE CRAZY” too!

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