Raising the Bar

“You can’t raise the bar for others,
if you haven’t raised it for yourself.”

                                                               – John Maxwell

When was the last time you raised the bar?  Mind you, I’m not asking when was the last time someone else raised it for you, rather I want to know how recently you heightened expectations for your own personal performance –  as a person.  Did that surprise you?  When we hear the term “raise the bar”, most of us assume that the discussion is focused on our performance at work, an athletic endeavor or some other behavior that can be quantified.  However, when we think about raising the bar on a personal level, it’s a bit more difficult because we are the ones raising the bar.  Equally important, when we raise the bar we create discomfort; a challenge for those who have settled into routines with which they are content.  Perhaps we would be better served with a little less comfort and fewer routines.  Perhaps we should consider embracing the concept of Kaizen.

First practiced in Japanese businesses following WWII, Kaizen represents the combined ideas of good (Kai) and change for the better (Zen).  Many believe that the philosophy became the driving force that resulted in Toyota emerging as a dominating player in the auto market.  Kaizen has since spread to the Western world and has been applied to fields as diverse as business, sports, and self-help.  So how can you apply it to your life?

Let’s begin with a premise; life is a journey.  There is no final destination, rather we have many ports in which we will anchor for various periods of time.  During our journey we grow and learn; it is a perpetual process, but the decision to become better, to improve upon who we are, is personal.  Unfortunately, there are times when we encounter situations in which our desire to improve is compromised by an expected outcome that we perceive as being beyond our attainment.  This is where Kaizen enters the picture.

The core belief that drives the Kaizen philosophy is basic; ongoing continuous improvements will yield better outcomes.  Implementation is equally simplistic; striving to achieve small and consistent growth each day.  Sustained daily efforts and progress (even at a minimal level) will eventually lead to significant results.  Only three things are required:

  1. A Growth Mindset

  2. Long-term Willpower

  3. Motivation or Incentive

Do you have those three?  Okay then, here is your goal; seek to be 1% better tomorrow than you are today.  It’s called incremental improvement.  Apply this idea to any component of your life that you want to improve.  In fact, apply it to multiple areas, but remember that this is something you will do each day until you achieve the results you seek.  What does it look like?

  • Want to start an exercise routine?

    • When you get out of bed tomorrow, do one push-up and one sit-up.  Each morning thereafter add another.  In one month you will be doing thirty (30) of each.

    • Take a ten minute walk.   The next day take another, and add one minute to your walking time.

  • Want to improve your faith?  

    • Tonight read a single verse from your Holy Book.  Tomorrow night, read two verses.

    • Thank God.  Today, take a moment to write down something for which you are thankful and express thanks to your God.  Tomorrow, add one more thing to that list and again express your thanks.  Keep that list handy.  You will soon realize how your life is truly blessed.

  • Want to lose weight?

    • Cut out one sugary drink a day

    • Drink eight, 8 ounce glasses of water daily.  Not doing that?  Start where you are and add 2 ounces of water daily until you arrive at the recommended daily intake.

  • Want to make people smile?

    • Send a handwritten note to a friend letting them know you are thinking of them with hopes for their health and happiness.  Next week, write two notes.

    • Share compliments!  Tomorrow extend a compliment to someone, be it for a job well-done, a new haircut, or anything else worth mentioning.  The next day share two.

There is no “one thing” that will change your world and let you attain that which you seek.  Don’t wait for someone else to raise the bar.  Take control and begin your trek of continuous self-improvement.  The most significant change you can experience will not come overnight.  It will occur as the result of small continuous efforts.  You already know what to do, now it’s simply a decision of how high and how often you will raise that bar!