Progress mindset celebrates any movement toward a goal

Perfection mindset fears that failure reflects core identity


Embracing Discomfort and Celebration


We continue our exploration of healthy vs unhealthy mindsets by reviewing the difference between Progress and Perfection.  As a reminder, these mindset pairings represent a tension that most of us feel, often with one mindset leading in the direction of health while the other fuels unhelpful thoughts and behaviors.

Everyone wants to achieve their goals.  Nobody wants to be stuck.  However, it can be difficult to embrace the fact that healthy growth is imperfect in nature.  Healthy change requires we engage in an uncomfortable learning process, as Curt Thompson MD notes in his book Soul of Shame:


“…acquiring knowledge depends on admitting that we

do not know many things, that we need help from others

in order to learn.  Learning, in fact, is a declaration

of vulnerability.”


Truly, it cannot be otherwise: Growth involves discomfort. 

However, many of us avoid discomfort at all costs.  We try to skip the pain that progress requires by being perfect.  Unfortunately, a Perfection mindset often blocks positive movement because it fears that failure reflects our core identity.  We think we can avoid discomfort, but it just shows up in a different way as a Perfection mindset equates our performance with our personal value, producing feelings of shame and thoughts like: I am bad, I am no good, I am worthless, I am an idiot.  Anxiety tends to follow as a way of helping us outrun the feelings of shame, and either moves people toward collapsing into stagnation or pressing all the more frantically into trying to achieve the impossible. 

The problem is that in a Perfection mindset, we keep moving the finish line, and each time we move the finish line, we become critical of ourselves for not doing better, being better – not being perfect.  We pull the rug out from under our own feet and then crucify ourselves for doing it.  It can be a brutal, exhausting cycle.  This anxious orientation to the future comes at a cost as we miss rich opportunities for meaningful connection in the present moment, whether that be with friends, family, spouse, kids, neighbors, nature, or our own inner world.  In a Perfection mindset, we are unable to slow down and simply appreciate what is. 

 Discomfort is unavoidable, but we can choose to leverage it in the direction of health.  The trick is to work on building a Progress mindset, which celebrates any movement toward a goal.  This mindset embraces setbacks (or “failure”) as a friend who helps us accomplish our goals, NOT a reflection of our inherent character and personal value.  Setbacks are a coach that help us reach the next level, but it is up to us to listen to the coach.  Nelson Mandela is quoted as saying, “I never fail.  I either win or I learn.”  That is a strong Progress mindset.  And it doesn’t need to be a herculean effort.  Mandela’s mindset, is an example of a small, consistent choice to celebrate growth regardless of outcome.

Choosing celebration produces several things: hope, self-compassion, and levity.  Without these, I believe that any work we undertake will be drudgery.


Hope grows as we reflect on where we’ve come from:

Well, if I can do this much, maybe I can do more.


Self-compassion grows as we validate our worth:

I’m OK no matter how things go, I’ll get through this. 


Levity grows as we take ourselves less seriously:

Imagine if I was this consistent in failing 10 years ago!  Oh, the progress!


 3 Reflection Questions to Grow Your Progress Mindset

  • How is fear of failure (Perfection mindset) affecting your sense of self and your relationships?
  • What areas or goals in your life never feel like they’re good enough? (i.e. You keep moving the finish line.)
  • What is a recent setback that you can learn from?  What might you do differently?


Written by Tom Page, LPC