In ski jumping, a “perfect” landing is one where the jumper lands on the k-point, which is a line drawn in the landing area that serves as a target. Not surprisingly, ski jumping coaches often remind jumpers to keep their eyes focused on that spot rather than looking downward. While I have never actually gotten to the k-point, I always go farther if I watch the k-point rather than when my eyes are fixed on the landing hill below me.
Why is that? It is partly psychological and partly physical. The psychological part has been proven by research around the effects of mentally visualizing the “perfect” performance by elite athletes. That then leads to the physical part, which involves engaging muscles and form to produce the best results.
In sports, our idea of perfection can actually be reached, yet what is considered “perfect” is transitory and changes over time as the sport and athlete training evolves. Remember the perfect 10’s Nadia Comaneci earned in the 1976 Olympics?
I find it interesting that in other areas of life, the notion of “perfection” is not thought of positively. One reason that is the case is because perfectionism can never be sated. The consequence of this line of thinking, however, is that a lot of people simply avoid it. If it is not attainable, why aim for it?
“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” –Norman Vincent Peale
It is perfectly OK to aim for perfection. Like Peale’s quote above, it is far more likely we will reach or exceed a goal if we continually set our eyes beyond what most people would assume attainable.
And it is important to stretch, but not to be a stretch.
“Stretch” goals are goals that go beyond what we believe possible given our current abilities–like me thinking I could hit the k-point. And because of stretch goals, we’ve gone further, faster and to places once thought unreachable. This is especially visible in space travel and in Olympic sports.
I am not suggesting stretching to the point of absurdity. When Kennedy proclaimed that we would land on the moon, it was a stretch because it had never been done before and would require a lot of things get worked out. But we had the technology and expertise needed to fly into space, so the goal was within grasp. Had he instead taken an idea from Star Trek and suggested that we would be beaming man to the moon, it would have been a stretch.
“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.” –Vince Lombardi
My point? As it is with elite athletes, the idea of perfection is transitory. It is perfectly perfect until it is not. It is also not something to avoid or dismiss, but instead to harness. Whether in life or at work, set stretch goals. Aim for perfection and be satisfied with the excellence it brings!