Standards denote a level of quality. Our behaviors and actions are typically evaluated by others on the basis of these levels. In the long run, they are a leading indicator of our reputation.
So, that brings two questions. First, do we have standards for ourselves? And, second, do we hold ourselves to them consistently?
The enemy of high quality levels is an exceptions process. Too often, we let ourselves off the hook by making excuses. I make excuses all the time and am fresh off making them yesterday – too hungry, too tired, too something else.
Of course, the solution isn’t to beat ourselves up. That doesn’t help either. No, the improvement process involves silent observation, a clear understanding of the triggers of unhelpful behavior and, in time, a proactive approach to guarding against it.
We judge great goalkeepers by how they do on their worst day. Similarly, the beauty of functioning standards is that they help us on our worst days. They will us to do better by calling on our character.
When standards work, they work because we realize that the standards that matter aren’t the ones “they hold us to.” Instead, they work because we realize that the ones that matter are the ones we hold ourselves to.