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Focus on Competence Not Perfection when Striving for Excellence

Focus on competence to achieve excellence in business and life skills.

“Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing.” ~ Dr. Harriet Braiker

Somehow, many of us have grabbed onto the idea that if we can’t do it perfectly, then there’s no sense in even trying. Where did we get the idea that never failing is good? This thinking robs us of the feeling of satisfaction and self-respect when overcoming obstacles and accomplishing our goals.

Perfection is like a digital clock. Every minute the numbers display the time. It’s either on or off. Those are the only two choices. It’s very rigid thinking. If you achieve your goal in just the right way, you’re a success. If your work doesn’t measure up perfectly, you feel like a failure.

However, competence is like an analog clock with its minute and hour hands continually changing to adjust to each moment in time. You have a goal and you know that each step brings you closer to where you need to be. And along the way, you allow yourself the freedom to discover that your original goal may not be what you need or want after all.

When you focus on being perfect, you’re less likely to allow for mistakes. Mistakes are necessary in the learning process to achieve competence in any field. To understand competency more fully, let’s break it down into its five stages.

The five stages of competence are:

  1. Unconscious Incompetence – Unaware
  2. Conscious Incompetence – Novice
  3. Conscious Competence – Technician
  4. Unconscious Competence – Artist
  5. Reflective Competence – Master

To illustrate these stages of competency, let’s think about something we’re all familiar…learning to drive a car.

Stage 1 Unaware: As a child, you know the car will get you to the ice cream parlor, but you don’t care how it works.

Stage 2 Novice: When you’re ten years old, your best friend dares you to drive the car, and you run it down the driveway into the neighbor’s mailbox.

Stage 3 Technician: In high school, you take Driver’s Education and you learn how to drive slowly and methodically.

Stage 4 Artist: As an adult, you can drive anywhere and can instinctively respond to deer in the road, rainy conditions, or cars swerving into your lane on the freeway.

Stage 5 Master: You become a racecar driver and can confidently maneuver around any track, even through complicated obstacles, at incredible speeds.

Stages 3 and 4 are the most challenging and frustrating. This is where people begin doubting themselves, losing faith in their abilities. They start thinking they’re not good enough. The inner critic is very active at this stage.

The trick is to stay focused on the task at hand by maintaining this attitude: “If I practice deliberately and methodically, I will become better and better. It just takes time and patience.”

In order to develop a higher level of competence in any area of your personal and professional life, these skills are vital:

  • Determination
  • Focus
  • Creativity
  • Big-picture thinking balanced with small, progressive steps
  • Deliberate practice
  • Curiosity
  • Positive expectation

If your child needed a life-saving operation, wouldn’t you rather find a surgeon who is highly competent rather than wait for one who is perfect? Isn’t competency what you want in your life too? Are you tired of perfectionism getting in your way? It’s helpful to have a coach who supports you in developing the level of competence you desire. Contact Maria and let’s work out a strategy that keeps you accountable and gets you to where you want to be in life.

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