What Are Personal Standards?
Do you ever wonder what separates the highest achievers from everyone else? There are of course many possible answers to this question. In fact, I have previously discussed the importance of self-belief and the value of asking effective questions. Living with a sense of urgency also comes into the picture, as does avoiding the common unhelpful thinking traps that catch so many of us off guard. However, there is also something else that is of paramount importance, and that comes down to the personal standards you set for yourself and for your life.
Personal standards are nothing more than a set of behaviors. These behaviors are built upon expectations you have of yourself in a variety of situations. They are in some respects performance standards. They lay down the benchmarks of performance for your life.
Recognizing the Personal Standards You Live By
You personal standards are reflected in how you treat yourself, and also in how you treat other people. They are also reflected in how you expect to be treated by other people.
When you have high standards you expect to be treated with the highest of regard. However, when your standards are low it suggests that you are lacking self-esteem. In such instances you probably allow yourself to fall prey to other people’s influence. Other people probably often take advantage of you because you fail to stand up for what you believe. As such, your personal standards are intricately intertwined with your level of self-esteem. Therefore to raise your self-esteem requires you first begin by raising your personal standards.
Your personal standards are also reflected in the promises you keep, in the way you dress and manage your life, health, finances and environment. They are also reflected in the quality of your work, values and communication. In fact, everything you do and say gives others an indication of the personal standards you live by.
If for instance your work or home environment is messy and disorganized, then that reflects the standards you uphold in these areas of your life. On the other hand, when your environment is clean and orderly that in itself sends a very different message about the personal standards you live by.
It is said that first impressions count. Well, within 30 seconds of meeting someone they will look at the way you dress, listen to the way you communicate, and tune-in to other signals that subconsciously provide them with an indication of the types of standards you uphold. If they sense that you live with low standards, then they will judge you accordingly. On the other hand if they sense that you hold high standards, then you are more likely to win their respect and admiration in those 30 seconds.
Because your personal standards are reflected in so many areas of your life and in so many different ways, they are therefore always ‘on show’ for other people. You are therefore always sending messages about how you feel about yourself, about others, and about your life, whether you’re consciously aware of it or not. You are also always being judged by other people based on those messages.
High vs. Low Standards
Do you have goals that you would like to achieve? Have you ever considered that in order to achieve these goals that you must first raise your personal standards in certain aspects of your life?
Every goal you set comes with a variety of requirements that you must meet. These requirements are reflected in the personal standards you uphold in accordance with that goal.
In order to achieve a goal you need to live your life a certain way. You may for instance need to discipline yourself to keep your environment in order; to improve the quality of your work; to eat healthier meals; to curb your spending habits, etc. Every goal you set requires something from you. No matter what that is you must meet these requirements in order to have this goal in your life. The requirements must be met in the form of the personal standards you keep and live by.
Setting low standards will only take you so far along your journey towards your goal. With low standards you will simply not put enough work, time, energy or resources into this goal. You will not be able to give this goal what it requires, and therefore you will end up getting sub-par results.
When you set high standards you immediately raise your expectations of what’s possible. You suddenly expect more from yourself, more from your actions, and more from others. And with a higher set of expectations you are willing to do more to get the results you’re after, which subsequently raises your performance levels.
As a result you attract more opportunities and exceptional people into your life simply because there is more certainly in your actions. And because of this ‘certainly’ you feel more confident about your goal and about the opportunities that present themselves. Moreover, this confidence helps you attract exceptional people into your life that can help move your goal forward in a better way.
It’s important to note here that when it comes to most things, the majority of people have very low standards and expectations of themselves. And this is why the majority of people don’t achieve anything of significance in life. Their low standards lead to average results, which is of course very good for you because if most people set low standards, then by raising your own personal standards an incredible world of opportunity could suddenly open up for you.
Finding the Motivation to Change
You probably acknowledge now that the personal standards you keep determine the expectations you set; determine the quality of your results, and the over all quality of your life. Even if you have high aspirations and big goals, living with a low set of standards will prevent you from ever reaching them. So something must change. You must change.
But what if you’re just one of those average people who continuously set low standards for themselves? How do you break out of this cycle? How do you break free of the standards that are keeping you in mediocrity?
When it comes to change, there comes a point in everyone’s life when enough is enough. You suddenly recognize that you are fed-up with how your life is at the moment, and you are determined to make a change for the better. In fact, you just can’t bear living another day with sub-standard results.
The fact that you have finally acknowledged that something must change is an important first step. However, the process of change may not be easy. You will need the necessary leverage to make this change successfully. For more information about how to get that leverage, please read about the Pain and Pleasure Principle and how to make it work in your life.
Raising Your Personal Standards
If you feel that your personal standards are not at a level they should be to achieve your goals, then you will find the following process of some value. This five step process will help raise your personal standards.
With a higher set of standards you will think differently about your decisions and actions. As a result you will expect more of yourself in every situation pertaining to your goal. As a result your behavior will change and your results will subsequently improve.
Step 1. Gain Clarity
Your first step is to clarify what it is exactly you want to achieve. It’s after all impossible to set standards if you don’t know what it is you want. Ask yourself:
What do I want to achieve?
Whom do I seek to become as a result of achieving this goal?
What traits would I need to cultivate to achieve this goal?
What new behaviors would I need to adopt?
How would I ideally like to live my life having achieved this goal?
If you’re finding it difficult to answer some of these questions, then consider for a moment that you have limitless ability. In other words, let’s think about this goal and consider what might be possible if there were no barriers and/or limitations. Ask yourself:
What could I potentially achieve if I had no limitations?
What would be the possibilities?
It’s important at this stage not to see your goal from the limited perspective of your current reality. Instead, envision your goal from the future perspective of your desired reality.
Step 2. Analyze Your Reality
Your second step is to analyze your current and desired reality. Your current reality is the life you are living at this very moment. Consider what kind of life this really is and the types of behaviors that define your actions and results in the present moment. Ask yourself:
What standards do I currently live by?
What standards do I have for myself in various situations?
What behaviors and actions do I partake in within these situations?
What standards do I have for the roles I play in my life?
The roles you play may include being a friend, parent, teacher, employer, employee, leader, sister, brother, etc. Consider for a moment:
What standards do I have as a parent, friend, teacher, etc?
What goals do I want to achieve in each of these areas of my life?
What will I accept and no longer accept of myself when partaking in these roles?
What expectations do I have of others when I’m partaking in these roles?
What rituals do I partake in within each of these roles?
Within every role you partake in there will be a set of standards that you will uphold and a set of expectations that you will have of yourself and of others. Consider this for a moment, then ask yourself:
Are these standards mine?
Did I set these standards myself?
It’s important to acknowledge that the origin of some of your standards may not have come from you. You might have for instance modeled them while observing your parents. You have now accepted these standards as part of your life despite the fact that they may not serve your best interests. Ask yourself:
Given the goals that I would like to achieve are my current standards hindering me in any way?
Are my current standards preventing me from doing my very best in these areas of my life?
Consider your goals and the roles you play. Now honestly ask yourself whether or not you are doing your very best in all these areas of your life. If the answer is “yes” then there really isn’t much that you can change by yourself. However, you may want to gain more knowledge or simply ask for help in areas of your life where you are struggling most. With the right kind of knowledge and help you can do better than you are at this very moment. Although if on the other hand you feel as though you’re not doing your very best, then this indicates that you have untapped potential and room to grow within specific areas of your life.
Now let’s consider your desired reality and where you would ideally like to be within each area of your life. Ask yourself:
Where could I potentially do better?
Where could I potentially be better?
What standards do I need to set in each area of my life in order to be the person I see myself becoming?
What standards do I need to set in each area in order to achieve my desired goals?
What will I accept and no longer accept of myself, of others and of circumstances in each area of my life?
The standards you set for yourself will depend on the kind of person you want to become and the goals that you would like to ideally achieve in each area of your life. These are the two factors that will lay down the foundations for the personal standards you live by.
Step 3. Find Inspiring Mentors
Your next step is to find appropriate mentors. These will be people who are currently living to the highest of standards in specific life areas that you are wanting to focus on. The purpose here is to use them as inspiration to help you raise your own personal standards.
Let’s say for instance that you have a friend who is very health conscious, active and fit. This friend of yours has certain standards that they uphold every single day. Your task is to get a sense of what they expect of themselves in various situations, as well as an idea of the healthy rituals they partake in. Ask them what is acceptable and what is not acceptable in this area of their life. Then it’s your task to model these standards to improve your own health and well-being.
Go out there and find mentors for each and every area of your life where you seek improvement and growth. Your mentors will provide you with the insights you’re looking for to help you achieve your goals.
Step 4. Set Clear Standards
It is now time to set some clear standards and expectations for each area of your life. In other words, you must identify a set of standards you will follow. These standards effectively become the rules you live by.
You could for instance take one of your life roles and set standards for what you believe, for what you expect, for how you behave, work and live. Ask yourself:
What will I now believe about myself within this role?
What will I now expect of myself within this role?
How will I now behave while partaking in this role?
When it comes to raising your personal standards and making them stick for the long-haul, you must be willing to create small rituals that will help you meet these new expectations. Ask yourself:
What new rituals must I adopt to live these standards?
What little things must I do each and every day to live these standards?
Where will I partake in these rituals?
When will I partake in these rituals?
Why is it important to partake in these rituals?
The new rituals you create must lead to new decisions, actions and habits that can help you to successfully maintain your higher personal standards over the long-haul.
Step 5. Utilize the Pain and Pleasure Principle
The final step of this process is to utilize the pain and pleasure principle to help instill the motivation you need to follow through with these rituals, and subsequently live your life in accordance with your higher personal standards.
We will not go into any details here as I have already written an extensive article about this topic. Please see The Pain and Pleasure Principle for more information.
Guidelines to Help You Raise Your Standards
Raising your personal standards is never an easy process. You will need to break old patterns of behavior and develop new rituals and habits that will provide you with the impetus you need to make positive changes to your life. As such, the following guidelines and suggestions might be of some value.
Become More Mindful and Self Aware
Mindfulness is the key to self-awareness. When we are mindful and self-aware we put ourselves in a position where we are able to better understand ourselves and our personal tendencies. With this awareness we are more in-tune with our decisions, behaviors and actions.
In order to raise your personal standards you must first have the necessary self-awareness to understand where things need to improve — where you’re not living up to the very best of your ability. This knowledge and understanding will provide you with the impetus to make the necessary changes to move your life forward in a better way.
Develop Appropriate Rituals
As previously discussed, rituals are the actions that support the personal standards you set for yourself. However, in order for these rituals to be most effective they must help you prepare, plan and think ahead. In other words, they must keep you moving forward while progressively encouraging you to raise your standards and levels of performance.
In order to develop appropriate rituals, consider each of the personal standards you have set for certain areas of your life, and ask yourself:
What more could I do in this area of my life?
How could I improve upon what I’ve been doing?
How can I do this better than I did it yesterday?
What rituals can help support this development?
Remember that your rituals don’t need to be complex. For instance getting out of bed at 7 am and exercising for 10 minutes could be a wonderful ritual that can help get your day started on the right track. It’s important not to over-complicate things. Keep things simple and straightforward, and most importantly progressively develop these rituals over time. Exercise for 10 minutes to begin with, then increase that to 15 minutes and 20 minutes over time. Baby steps are the keys to your success.
Set Performance Standards
As you partake in specific rituals, measure your performance over time. For instance measure how consistently you performed these rituals over a period of a week. Then the following week set new performance standards and try and outperform last week’s version of yourself.
Again, this all comes back to baby steps. Incrementally take time each week to raise your personal standards and tweak your rituals accordingly. Progressively over time these small tweaks will make a big difference to the way you conduct yourself in various life roles.
Learn from Mistakes
We are all human. And because we’re human, we often fail and make mistakes. The standards you set for yourself and for your life will not always be attained. You will fail time and again and ultimately make mistakes along the way. But this is perfectly okay. Learn from these mistakes and make adjustments to your personal standards and rituals accordingly.
At times you may find that no matter what you do you are unable to attain your lofty standards. In such instances, take some time to gain more knowledge or more practical experience in regard to this specific area of your life. More knowledge and/or experience under your belt can provide you with the necessary confidence and motivation you need to perform at a higher level moving forward.
Also, remember to build on your past successes. What has worked for you in the past, worked for a reason. Build on that experience to keep improving and raising your personal standards moving forward.
If in doubt, follow a simple formula: expect more from yourself each time, and you will get more out of yourself each time. And if you don’t, then take a step back, reflect on what worked and what didn’t, then make some adjustments, and move forward once again.
Sometimes to move your life forward you will need to take risks. At times things might just be progressing a little too slowly for your liking. You’ve raised your standards, however they are just not high enough to make a significant difference to your life. In such instances, take a chance on yourself and shoot for the stars.
Challenge yourself for a week by significantly raising your personal standards while building supportive rituals. Then go all-out that week doing all you possibly can to reach those lofty standards. It of course might not work out, but there is also a chance it may provide you with the impetus you need to move things forward in a better way. However, without having taken that risk, you will never really know what you’re truly capable of.
Don’t Make Comparisons
Comparing your personal standards with other people’s standards is a dangerous game. Remember that most people have very low standards and expectations of themselves, and that is why most people live a mediocre existence. Comparing yourself with the way they live their life; with their standards; with their norms, is often not going to get you to your desired destination.
Another trap you will want to avoid is lowering your standards in order to match societal norms and expectations. Society as a whole is the domain of the masses. And the masses lead an average existence. If you have higher aspirations for yourself, then you cannot compare yourself to the masses. You must instead look at ways you can separate yourself from the masses. However, having said that, making comparisons with others is rarely helpful.
Instead of comparing yourself with others, compare yourself with your personal best. The only comparisons you should be making is to past versions of yourself. Improve upon version 1.0 of yourself, and then upon version 2.0 of yourself, and just keep progressively moving forward. In fact, acknowledge that…
I create my own standards…
I do not accept mediocrity…
I will not be ordinary or average…
I know I can do better, and I will do better…
I will not settle for less than my very best…
Performing at your very best will always ensure that you are improving and moving forward, as long as you learn from every experience and use those lessons to improve on your past performances.
Don’t Get Complacent
Complacency is something that often affects even the highest of achievers. They just get comfortable with how things are, and no longer set higher performance standards for themselves.
When you consistently meet certain standards of performance, keep setting ever higher standards for yourself, so that you always have something to strive for that’s slightly out of your reach. It’s like dangling a carrot in front of a donkey’s nose. The carrot is always slightly out of reach, however it’s enough to keep the donkey motivated and moving forward up the mountain.
Don’t Lower Your Standards
When faced with adversity and setbacks, it’s easy to start feeling sorry for yourself and acknowledge that things are just too hard. As a result you will be tempted to lower your personal standards and you will begin to settle for the easiest path. This is not a time to settle for what’s easy. This is a time to learn from your experience and make adjustments moving forward.
Remember that the process of raising your personal standards and attaining them on a regular basis is not easy. It’s a difficult path, but it’s a path that many people do not choose to take. They instead just settle for how things are because they are not willing to do the work to get to a better place. However, you’re different. You chose this path on purpose, and now you need to work this path with purpose until you attain your lofty goals.
Learn from adversity, learn from setbacks, learn from the problems you face, but be very careful not to lower your personal standards just because you are looking for an easy way out. You’ll never achieve your goals if you choose to take this route.
Lowering Your Personal Standards
There will of course be times when it’s actually helpful to review your new personal standards to get a sense of whether or not they are working for you.
You might for instance be doing the very best you possibly can in a certain area of your life. However, your very best is just not good enough. Your personal standards are just too high and unattainable. This can of course be very disheartening, but in such instances you shouldn’t be ashamed to lower your standards for a specific period of time. Lowering your standards temporarily can help give you the confidence you need to move forward in a better way.
Gain More Knowledge
At times we can’t reach the lofty heights we set for ourselves because we simply don’t have enough knowledge or experience in certain areas of our life. In such instances it’s important to step back and gain the necessary knowledge and experience before pursuing those lofty goals once again.
Avoid the Perfectionist Trap
At other times it’s important to lower your personal standards when you sense that you are getting caught up within the perfectionist trap. In such instances you are spending too much time trying to make things perfect when ‘good enough’ is enough. Setting high standards that force you to pursue perfection will inevitably lead to disappointment. Perfection is unattainable. There will always be something you could do better.
Allow for Mistakes
It’s also helpful to lower your standards to allow for mistakes and temporary setbacks. We are all human and we all fail at times and make mistakes. In fact, failure and mistakes help us learn and grow from our experience. As such they are of tremendous value for your psyche and for your growth in each area of your life.
Reaching your lofty goals will of course take time. In fact, it will take progressive steps that could take many weeks, months or even years. And every step you take you become that little more confident and familiar with what you’re working towards. In fact, treat every step as an experiment that helps you to learn, grow and develop yourself in a new way. And for this very reason it’s absolutely paramount that you do not set personal standards that are well out of your reach (doing this temporarily can be helpful). Instead, allow yourself time to experiment and make mistakes. That’s after all what life is about.
Take Baby Steps
Finally, start small and progressively work your way up. Set higher standards that will keep you challenged and focused, but be cautious not to consistently set standards that are completely unattainable at this very moment. In the future with more knowledge and experience what seemed unattainable today will become attainable tomorrow. It’s therefore important to raise your personal standards, but raise them progressively over time to keep your motivational levels high. Like the donkey with the carrot, keep the carrot dangling close in front of your nose, but just out of reach.
The goals you have for each of your life’s roles will surely not be achieved in one big step. These are things you work on consistently day-in and day-out. A new decision or action here, a new ritual over there, and before you know it your goal will be within your grasp. However, this process takes time because both growth and maturity take time. And as we all know, growth and maturity comes along with experience, and experience comes as a result of learning from your failures and mistakes.