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Why Aiming For a Less Than 100% Can Optimize Learning

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Why Aiming For a Less Than 100% Can Optimize Learning

Your friends call you a perfectionist. As a child, you sat eagerly at your desk, awaiting the results from your latest exam. Despite most of your friends being content with a B+, you were only truly happy with 100%. While achieving 100% on school tests is possible, the habit of demanding 100%in order to be satisfied with your performance, may limit your learning later in life. That’s because real-life is not about perfection. In fact, if you regularly ace everything you try, you aren’t adequately challenging yourself. To remain optimally engaged in the learning process, you must push yourself beyond what you have already mastered. Otherwise, you will become bored and lose your edge.

Why We Learned to Aim for 100%

Society sets us up at an early age with a massive fear of failure. While most young children are willing to try almost any activity, we lose that enthusiasm by the time we hit puberty. We worry what people will think of us if we don’t do well, and we learn to give up on things that we don’t master right away. Yet, staying in that fearful mindset will cause you to miss out on both the joy of the learning process and your ultimate success. You are unlikely to grow if you don’t make any mistakes. Staying in activities that you easily master may give you a momentary feeling of comfort and security, but it will limit your learning in the long term.

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Why 80% Success Is Better for Optimal Learning

In order to maximize your learning potential, aim for a success rate of 80% during the learning process. For those over-achievers out there, I imagine you are now twitching with discomfort. Yes, 80% means that occasionally you won’t be successful in what you try. The important thing to remember is that we don’t actually receive a grade in life. As adults, we get to decide our own measurements for success. Keep in mind that as soon as you achieve your goal, or learn what you set out to learn, you will naturally raise the bar. That keeps you engaged, allows you to learn faster, and constantly increases your skill. Consistently aiming for a success rate of about 80% will give you a feeling of mastery, while ensuring that you continue growing.

1. Write down what you want to learn each week

The simple act of writing down what you want to focus on will keep the information fresh in your mind. That way, when other things come up, you can stay focused on your specific goals. Remember to choose goals that will keep you at the optimum 80% success rate.

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2. Keep track of how you spend your time

Before you start any new project or take on a new activity, spend some time writing down how you currently spend your time. You likely have a busy schedule, and any new activity will give you less time for what you already do. Decide what is essential in your schedule and what you would be willing to replace with your new activity. Be careful not to overload your schedule. If you are already working at full capacity, don’t add more. Instead, replace a less important activity with the new one you’d like to learn.

3. Increase or decrease difficulty based on your rate of success

Keep track of your success rate each week. If you are regularly mastering more than 80% of what you planned for yourself, consider increasing the difficulty of your activity. On the other hand, if you typically achieve less than 80%, ease up and make next week less challenging. In this way, you will stay optimally engaged on a consistent basis.

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Don’t worry too much about the exact numbers. The most important part is to keep yourself stimulated by taking on challenges you haven’t yet mastered. The overachiever in you, who strained forward in her desk to see her exam score, may feel a little disappointed at first but that’s ok. Once you get in the habit of challenging yourself, the acceleration in your learning will speak for itself. Soon you will find yourself able to tackle challenges that your old perfectionist self never dreamed possible.

Featured photo credit: Clem Onojeghuo via unsplash.com

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Lindsay Shaffer

Lindsay is a passionate teacher and writer who shares thoughts and ideas that inspire people to follow their passions.

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