Why raising the bar won’t get you where you want to go
In life we’re told to “raise the bar”, a mantra that promises to yield higher results, a stronger work ethic and growing momentum in the direction we want. It’s a mindset nearly all motivational gurus profess and one that I sold and believed in…until I came across this quote:
“We do not rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.”
When we aim for massive success, we’ll put in less work because the end result feels so far out.
When we decide that the criteria “must be impressive”, we won’t try as often or as much.
In the words of Archilochus, we’ll fall to the level of our training or our bottom line.
The nature of expectations is such that, for most of the time, you are in a failure state. Even if you reach your goal – be it walking 10,000 steps a day, running a marathon or playing an instrument – you’ve still spent almost all of your time not hitting your target. And it’s that failure state that quickly turns us off from action, that sends us back to whatever “floor” we were standing on. What’s more, once a goal is reached – let’s say you’ve hit the ceiling you set for yourself – the feeling of joy is fleeting because almost immediately a new goal creeps into focus, the bar gets raised even higher, the ceiling becomes further out of reach.
As expectations rise so does the bar to entry and at that point, it’s simple math: a higher bar to entry means fewer entries.
When we focus on raising the bar, the reality is we are putting things further out of reach. The floor we’re standing on hasn’t changed; we’ve just elevated the ceiling and put a greater distance from where we are to where we want to be. And when the floor we’re standing on, our bottom line, doesn’t change, what we’ll settle for remains the same.
As a recovering perfectionist, I have an addiction of “raising the bar” where I see anything less than extraordinary as mediocre at best. While raising the bar and keeping my standards high has afforded me better than average results on occasion, it’s also made staying “at the top” nearly impossible.
My bar continued to get higher, but my bottom line never changed. And so, when things got hard, as they always do at some point in the pursuit of anything, and I fell off whatever ladder I was climbing, the only place to fall was the floor I had decided on. In my career, my relationships, my health – virtually every area of my life – I always came back to the least I was willing to settle for, not the best that I wanted. My upper limits became equations for personal beliefs. I believed if I did x then it meant y. It was a vicious cycle of “not enough” where I believed I had to raise my bar higher, work more diligently and become more disciplined. Never once did I look at or question the very foundation that I was standing on.
I was deep in conversation with a friend the other day when the song, “I Feel It Coming” by the Weeknd came on.
“It’s just like that,” he said, “I feel it coming for you. You just have to decide what you want. You don’t even have to chase it. You just need to decide that it’s done.”
And he was right. I needed to get clear on what I wasn’t willing to settle for.
While I was waiting for life to throw me a rope so that I could climb my way up to all the things I wanted, life was busy giving me the side eye and telling me to figure it the F out. It was waiting for me to close the gap by bolstering my floor.
We all have areas in our life where we settle for mediocrity.
We all accept staying in jobs we hate.
We keep friendships with people who let us down.
We stay in relationships that we know are toxic for us.
We allow complacency to become normalcy because we’re hyper focused on our ceiling and forget the floor we’re standing on.
Are you focused on your ceiling or your floor?
Forget the Ceiling and Bolster Your Floor
Raising Your Foundation Prevents Regression
Raising your foundation prevents regression because it turns your “shoulds” into “musts”. When you decide something is an absolute must, you make an inner shift to take control over the quality of your life and when you do that, you put power back in your hands. It’s a leveling up that raises the very foundation upon which you stand and once you elevate the bottom line, the least you are willing to settle for, it prevents regression.
Just like every new iPhone makes the older model obsolete, every new level to which you elevate your life allows you to see the stark contrast between where you are and where you were. And honestly, once you go “next level”, no matter how small, you simply don’t want to accept anything less than where you are now.
Raising Your Floor Also Raises Your Ceiling
Any area of our life in which we aren’t getting the results we want, is simply because we haven’t raised our bottom line.
The floor is the base of our reality. It’s who we are and what we are willing to settle for. And it’s what we’ve settled for in the past that has created the results we currently have in our life.
If we want real change in any area of our life, we have to do our part and it starts with honestly asking yourself,
Who am I?
Am I a winner? Am I always a step behind? Do I complain about what I don’t have? Do I think nothing I do is good enough? Am I content with my best efforts?
Answering this question of “Who am I?” is an unraveling of your true beliefs about yourself. How you view yourself is your identity and we’re hardwired to follow through on who we believe we are.
Ultimately the ceilings we’ll hit are directly in proportion to the floors we stand on. And when we elevate the floor, we raise our ceiling and what is truly possible.