Perfection: the act or process of improving something until it is faultless or as faultless as possible.

Mastery: comprehensive knowledge or skill in a subject or accomplishment.

The idea for this post came to me as I sat in my health coaching class, working with a classmate on a discussion about values. We were exploring a number of values which I had to identify as ‘Very Important’, ‘Somewhat Important’, or ‘Not Important’. I was playing the role of the client and he asked me how the value of mastery fit into my life.

At first, I rated mastery as only ‘Somewhat Important’. He then proceeded to ask me what makes mastery only somewhat important to me in my life. I thought about it for a brief second and I replied something along the lines of “well, I consider mastery essentially the same thing as perfection, and I don’t believe I’ll ever be perfect at anything, so I didn’t feel it warranted a rating of ‘Very Important’”.

He didn’t dig too much deeper, but after the class concluded for the day, I certainly did. After having thought about it further, I now realize that mastery is not the same as perfection, and we can certainly achieve mastery in many aspects of our lives.

The issue, I feel, is that we often lose sight of the ultimate reason why we are doing something that is important to us, and that may lead to the feeling that we will never reach our true potential. So, we may fall off or never feel satisfied by our efforts. My question then is, does this happen because we feel that we need to be perfect in our efforts? What if we chose to pursue a lifelong goal of mastering certain aspects of our lives instead of striving to be perfect all the time?

I tend to see this quite often in the realms of nutrition and fitness. Someone may lose motivation to eat well the vast majority of the time because they feel like they let themselves go over the weekend. Someone else may get bored and frustrated with their current fitness regimen because they haven’t set a new personal record in their back squat recently.

If we can just take a step back sometimes and realize that we are all humans who make mistakes, who like to have fun with friends and enjoy tasty foods, who get a poor night of sleep sometimes, and who may not achieve a PR every testing day, we won’t be so let down and discouraged by not being perfect all the time.

We can’t be perfect with our nutrition and fitness, but we can absolutely achieve mastery in these aspects of life. I would even add to the definition of mastery that a person’s comprehensive knowledge or skill in a subject or accomplishment allows the person to recognize when he or she is veering off track from their goals, and implement the correct actions to get themselves back on track.

A couple hypothetical examples of that definition would look like this. “Oh, it seems I’m a bit lethargic today and I remember that the last few days I’ve made poor food choices about 50% of the time. Let’s get back on track for a bit and bring that number back down to about 10% of the time for the next few days”. Or, “Damn, I’m so pissed I didn’t PR on that back squat today. I totally should have. But, I did get a crappy night of sleep last night and I haven’t been lifting as heavy as I could have the last couple months in class, so I’ll step it up a bit going forward and I’ll make sure to get to bed earlier the night before the next testing day”.

Long story short, if you plan to live your life expecting to not make any mistakes or do some things that are not in line with your goals occasionally, you’re going to set yourself up for disappointment. Live your life and chase your nutrition and fitness goals with a mastery-oriented attitude by learning from your mistakes, easing off the gas pedal a little, and understanding that there is no finish line when you’re training for a better quality of life. Goals will be met along the way, but ultimately it comes down to constant practice, refinements, and adjustments based on your current situation.