Why lowering your standards helps you reach audacious goals

by | Jul 9, 2010

Audacious goals are inspiring. Invigorating. And sometimes hard to wrap your mind around, which can be overwhelming. One of the best ways to manage the overwhelm is to measure your progress a day at a time.

As they say, what gets measured gets done. Measuring progress toward an audacious goal gives you momentum. It helps stave off bright shiny object syndrome. It keeps you focused.

But there’s a shadow side to measuring progress, and that is what bestselling author (and my good friend) Jennifer Louden calls the “stifling pit of perfectionism.”

When perfectionism strikes, nothing you do seems good enough. Baby steps seem insignificant and giant steps send you right back to overwhelm. Measurement turns into a whip with which you beat yourself into a quivering mass of insufficiency.

It isn’t pretty.

Aim high but lower your standards

The poet William Stafford set an audacious goal: To write a poem a day for a year. Robert Bly asked him how he did it. His answer? “I lowered my standards.” And that’s how to measure progress toward an audacious goal, sans whip.

Lowering your standards doesn’t mean compromising your values or doing substandard work. It means kindly and realistically choosing increments of progress that you can do on an ordinary day. Not a day when the planets are in perfect alignment, but a day filled with the usual slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

Lowering your standards means naming the tiniest step you can take toward your audacious goal and measuring that. And not just measuring it, but declaring it good enough. In fact, declaring that it’s plenty. (A coaching client dubbed this the “good-and-plenty” method.)

Train your brain to recognize good-and-plenty

Some of us have a hard time recognizing good-enough when we see it. Baby steps seem insignificant compared to the size of the audacious goal. We compare ourselves with other people, who always seem to be more accomplished, more productive, more together. It feels like lowering our standards will put us out of the game.

When you don’t recognize good-and-plenty, your brain becomes habituated to believing that you aren’t being or doing enough. It doesn’t matter how much you argue with that crazy-making assessment. When your brain slips into that insufficiency groove, you’re stuck.

Unless you train your brain to make a new groove. The “good and plenty” groove. The groove in which tiny steps are clear and sufficient progress to your audacious goal. Which gives you the courage and focus to keep on keeping on.

Six steps to training your brain

In her ebook, The Satisfaction Finder, the divine Ms. Louden lays out six steps to arriving at good-and-plenty standards, or what she calls “conditions of enoughness.” Here’s an overview.

STEP ONE: Make space. Before you can find good-and-plenty, you need to make room for the craziness. Not embrace it, but give it space. After all it’s squeezing its way into your awareness anyway. Giving it space actually reduces the pressure.

STEP TWO: Name your prize. What do you want? To have more consistent income? To finish your ebook? To get your work into a certain gallery or shop?

STEP THREE: Ask yourself, “What’s the simplest step I can take towards this desire?” Choose a tiny step that is specific and concrete so that even an outside observer can tell when you’ve completed it. Post your latest program to Twitter once a day. Work on your ebook for 30 minutes a day. Update your resume.

STEP FOUR: Add a time element. When will you complete your simple step? At lunchtime? Every day for half and hour? By noon tomorrow?

STEP FIVE: Double‐check that you can complete your step in the specified time on an *ordinary* day. As Patti Digh says, “Put down your clever and pick up your ordinary.”

STEP SIX: This is the secret sauce that makes it all work. When you complete the simple step, declare yourself satisfied. You don’t have to *feel* satisfied. Just make the declaration. This trains your brain to recognize good-and-plenty.

Toward your audacious goals

I’d love for you to have–and reach–audacious goals. So it’s ultra-important to me that you have the tools to get there. I’ve described one tool here. If it speaks you, check out Jennifer’s Satisfaction Finder. It goes into detail on how to train your brain (and your heart) to recognize that you are good enough. That you’ve got what it takes to reach your audacious goals.

Disclosure: I’m an affiliate for Jen’s work and can’t recommend it too highly. She nails the inner issues that keep us from being our best selves.

Photo credit: GenBug via flickr
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