Personal Development

Raise Your Standards

Steve Pavlina’s Raise Your Standards complements my post from yesterday about changing your mindset. The idea is that if you can’t honestly say that you’ve done your best, you should make some changes. Raise your standards, and you can clarify what to do to improve your situation. Otherwise, you’ll simply accept it as normal, even though it is suboptimal. The enemy of the great is the good.

I know that my current situation is a huge improvement over just a few years ago. At that time I would coast through life and do the minimum necessary to get by: go to class, take the tests, read only the books required. I’d work in the part-time job that I’ve had for years because I didn’t have any compelling reason to work somewhere else. The work wasn’t challenging me anymore, but it wasn’t too hard either. I just had to put time in, and out came money. It wasn’t much money, but since I wasn’t doing anything that needed money, it was good enough. When I did take on something, I would do it well. I would get great grades in class, and other people would ask me for help at work. I had no problem doing quality work; I just had problems with motivating myself to do more than expected.

Recently, however, I decided to raise my standards and change my mindset. I started asking myself why I was doing certain things. I wanted to know I had good reasons. If I didn’t, I would stop those actions. Why was I going to graduate school? I didn’t have a good enough reason, so I stopped going. If I did have good reasons, I would ask follow-up questions, such as “Can I do something better to accomplish the same tasks?” and “Can I improve what I am doing to get better results?”

I started programming on my own again. Until then, I was only coding in class. I figured that I would have enough practice in my computer science courses, but I was woefully underestimating the importance of practice as well as the amount of practical experience my classes would provide.

I started reading a lot more books. I’ve always loved reading, but I would usually stick to game development books and the occasional piece of fiction. In the past year, I read a wider variety of books. Besides programming and game development books, I read about personal productivity, grammar, history, marketing, health, and business. I read some classic fiction, science-fiction, and mystery books as well. Add magazines, RSS feeds, and newsletters, and I have been reading a lot more than I have in the past. Reading so much allows me to think better, and if the brain is the most important part of my body, I’ll keep reading.

I started keeping track of what I was doing at any given point in time. In the past, I never had a schedule or an agenda outside of class and work, so it was very easy for me to drop whatever I was doing to do something else. Now, I have certain afternoons dedicated to game development that only get pushed off my calendar if I consciously push them myself.

I started eating better. I started exercising again..mostly. I started to write a lot more, specifically writing posts for this blog. I started to regularly attend meetings with different groups.

The best part? I know that even with all of these improvements, I can do better. Much better. I just need to raise my standards.

Perhaps your peers will tell you you’re doing just fine. But I’m not going to let you off so easily. I say that if you aren’t doing your best, then you’re a loser. I have more respect for the homeless drug addict that’s doing the very best he can to pull his life back together than for the yuppy prince who settles for socially acceptable, above-average results without breaking a sweat.

In a way, it kind of reminds me of a story in the Bible in which Jesus notices that most people donate to the Temple from their abundance while the poor woman donated what was probably all she had. What she gave was a huge sacrifice for her while the rich, even though they gave much more money, were not sacrificing at all.

While I may struggle with my current standards from time to time, overall I can say that I’ve met them. I’ve improved my life significantly in the past year. Now I need to raise them again. It is part of the reason I joined The Thousander Club. Rather than just try to do more of the same, I want to aim higher. Even if I don’t make it, I’ll definitely see an improvement over last year. I don’t want to see too many small, incremental improvements that take no effort, although will probably make a number of those throughout the coming year. I want to push against what I think are my limits. I want to get to my best faster, and taking baby steps to get there seems too slow.