Whether defined on paper or not, everyone has an individual standard. Standards are applied to work, relationships, personal growth and every aspect of performance. If you surveyed the top performers in all walks of life, you would discover they have higher overall standards compared to others. I've never met anyone who set out to be average, yet so many struggle to escape mediocrity.
Close examination of most underachievers will find underwhelming standards. The key to success often begins with adjusting standards of performance, or the level you must operate at to feel good about yourself. Here are three reasons why it's time you consider raising yours:
1. The "C" standard.
For much of my high school and college academic career, my standards were, in retrospect, extremely low. My high school standard was to perform at a level that would allow me to graduate and get admitted to a four-year university -- not a notch higher. I was a "C" student in every regard. I had "C" standards, which resulted in "C" effort and a "C" report card. Plain and simple, people have a tendency to do the minimum.
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While "C" standards generate comparable efforts and behavior, the same is true for "B" or "A" standards. They result in better effort, behavior and outcome. Our minimum standards of success are what we need to reach to feel OK about ourselves and our performance level. Most people can't live with themselves if they don't achieve at least the lowest levels of what they define as success, so they subsequently do whatever it takes to get there.
By challenging and holding yourself accountable to operating at a level north of your current comfort zone, you push towards a level of commitment that will propel you towards improved performance.
2. The process is more important than the results.
Children's athletics start out being about the teamwork, sportsmanship and having fun. Prevailing wisdom is that if one follows those goals, ultimately results will come -- even if the immediate outcome is on the losing end of the scoreboard.
Of course, anyone who's attended a child's soccer or Little League game knows that many adults can't help themselves. They quickly substitute the previously mentioned goals for results, namely winning. Long before we've reached adulthood, most of us start to measure our lives by results. Don't get me wrong, results are important. Results are certainly important to establishing standards. However, results are just part of the equation for success and probably a much smaller part in relation to the excessive attention most pay to it.
Results typically earn the spotlight because they are so closely tied to the ultimate target. The result becomes your measuring stick to determine if you've reached a goal.
Here's an example. Let's say we accomplish a goal by losing "X" pounds or increasing sales by "Y" percentage this quarter. These results are tied directly to your process, but sometimes they shouldn't be. Sometimes results don't tell the true story and can actually encourage the wrong behaviors. How so? It's possible to lose weight the "wrong" way. Weight loss is only a good thing if the weight stays off. If you slim down via a crash diet that doesn't produce sustainable results, it doesn't do you any good in the long-term. Likewise, increasing sales by overpromising customers or by massively sacrificing margins doesn’t help either.
Re-defining higher individual standards should be about developing the discipline to establish behavior habits for sustainable long-range success. As you start to shift your standards, putting too much stock into immediate results can be counterproductive. Instead, trust that the new standards and process will be fruitful.
3. Your reason must be meaningful and personal.
As mentioned above, a great process will ultimately yield great results. A great process isn't easy to come by, though. It takes exceptional discipline and will to achieve. It requires the kind of internal fortitude that only exists when accompanied by a powerful motivation. Call it your personal "why" or "reason," or as coined in "Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies,” your "BHAG -- Big Hairy Audacious Goal;" we all need something that propels us towards our vision despite all odds.
Anyone looking to raise their personal standards will need a motivation beyond simply wanting to do better. The key to sustaining a new standard is longevity. The longer the timeline applied to a standard, the greater the likelihood it will work for you. The discipline to stick with anything is directly proportionate to the desire you have to reach the goal. In other words, want better standards, start with a goal that is so personal and daring that it will excite you for years to come.
Standards, like most things in life, can grow tired if they aren't re-examined and freshened up from time to time. If you find yourself lacking growth in your life, take a look at your standards and challenge yourself. You may just find that by boosting your standards, you boost everything else.