Progress Not Perfection

In meetings I often hear people say “progress not perfection.” This was a foreign concept to me. I had always thought that if I was just good enough and did all the right things, then I would be right with God. I have come to understand that as long as I am heading in the right direction, God makes up for all my shortcomings.

What Does “Progress Not Perfection” Mean?

When we go to alcohol and drug recovery meetings, we are sure to hear the phrase “progress not perfection”. “Progress not perfection” means “practice makes perfect”, most of us have all heard that phrase. It’s a little saying that reminds us how to approach sobriety, recovery, and life in general. In short, learn to grow and be patient and kind to yourself. If you fall, learn from it, pick yourself up, and wipe off the dust. Ask yourself what you need to differently… do you need to reach out to others more often and ask for help?, spend more time in quiet prayer and meditation? Do you need to just sit down and do the work your recovery requires by writing out your steps, work with your sponsor and get into action?

Spiritual Progress Not Perfection

When people say “progress not perfection”, they’re actually forgetting the rest of the phrase. It comes from the AA chapter “How It Works”, which lists the 12 steps and their program of recovery. Because it all seems overwhelming, the book offers some word of encouragement:“No one among us has been able to maintain anything like perfect adherence to these principles. We are not saints. The point is, that we are willing to grow along spiritual lines. The principles we have set down are guides to progress. We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection.” So, when we say this we mean spiritual progress, not spiritual perfection. This clarifies that “progress not perfection” can’t be used as an excuse to mess up. There is something we have to do perfectly.

What It Doesn’t MeanTelling lies, stealing, gossiping, writing fake checks, beating your spouse, etc. — none of this is “progress”. Of course, we are bound to mess up and make mistakes in recovery. If we hurt someone and honestly try to make it right, that’s progress. But habitually hurting people without making it right is not progress. Neither does “progress” mean “I only drank a 6 pack instead of a 12 pack”. If there’s one thing we have to do perfectly, it’s stay sober. That’s the only thing we have to do 100% all day, every day. Without sobriety, the rest of the program wouldn’t even matter.

What it Does MeanWhat spiritual “progress not perfection” means is this: don’t be a perfectionist and take yourself too seriously. Don’t lose sleep over your inventory or amends. Don’t worry about making doing every single little thing exactly right. Instead, go easy and don’t get too self-critical. If you can honestly say that you’ve tried your best, then you can go to bed with a clear conscience every night.





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