"Practice doesn't make perfect; practice makes permanent." -Anonymous
Somewhere deep in my brain a voice exists that demands perfection. I can never please it because something I do will always disappoint it. Something will always be not quite satisfactory for its lofty expectations. This voice is not unique to me and is what we colloquially call the "monkey mind," an obsessive-compulsive, nit-picking, shallow little shadow of ourselves. It has no real personality of its own because it is constantly focused on tearing ours down. How do we live with the monkey mind and perhaps even use it to our advantage? This is where the power of habit comes in.
Habit formation has become a popular topic in modern culture. "Change your habits and you can change your life" is how the mantra goes but most people focus too heavily on what habits to adopt and not enough on why to adopt them. They get stranded in the sea of information on what habits are best, but if information was all that we needed we would all be millionaires with six-pack abs. And even among those who manage to use the information to achieve success, there is little guarantee for happiness. Depression is just as high (if not higher) in those who "have it all" when compared to those less fortunate. So we must ask ourselves the reasons for why we do the things we do. In other words, motivation.
There are two types of motivation, extrinsic and intrinsic, and I would argue that only one of them is going to help you form healthy habits that lead to more self-satisfaction. Extrinsic motivation dominates when we become fixated on specific endpoints (I'm going to lose X pounds, I'm going to make Y dollars this year, I'm going to be able to do Z number of some athletic feat), and while it is important to set specific goals, the underlying motivation for these goals is far better served through intrinsic means (I want to feel vibrant and energized each day, I want to get paid for what I'm worth, I want to enjoy each workout on my way to my training goal).
The external landscape will constantly be in motion (this is what the monkey mind thrives on,) and we can not use it for an accurate guidepost for our happiness. Instead, we can develop our own internal metric for measuring success. Our focus on the process. This is not to say that on some days it won't be extremely hard to find internal motivation. I know, I've been there. But what we can fall back on at those difficult times are the practices that support the intrinsic goal, such as going to the gym even when you don't want to, saying something nice even though you feel bad about yourself, doing your work because you know someone needs it, setting up the next steps for success after some monumental failure.
Humans are resilient. Humans are brilliant. Each one of us has the power to change our future. So the next time the monkey mind nags at you to achieve perfection, remember that you are already perfect and need only realize it. Your power lies in your connection with your goals. No one else can take that away. The constant, intentional practice is yours.