I often use terms that have evolved over many years and I neglect to define them. In honor of my many new readers (welcome!) and to set the stage for the Life Navigation Course, here’s the last in a short series of “What in the heck is she talking about?” posts.
low·er [loh-er] verb (used with object): to ground yourself in what’s possible; to descend into your life.
standard [stan-derd] noun: an average or normal requirement.
Lowering your standards might sound like I’m saying “go ahead, do sloppy work” or “sure, watch another five episodes of House of Cards.” Allison in the Taos writing retreat first heard it that way. She felt she’d been lowering her standards for too long, not building the life she wanted.
That’s not lowering your standards. That’s resignation. Or collapsing.
Lowering your standards means removing the deadly weight of perfectionism, of standards so impossibly high you never meet them or, if you do, you raise the bar and keep going. No rest, no recognition, and forget celebration or satisfaction.
Lowering your standards is remembering that to be human means to be flawed. It is to learn to grow down into the truer shape of your real life, not the glossy fantasy life you keep thinking will arrive… someday. Nor is it to live a stunted life of less than true, less than what you desire.
Lowering your standards fosters progress in a human-scaled, mindful way. “This is what I can do right now and I’m doing it.”
When asked how he managed to write every day before his day job over so many years, the poet William Stafford is said to have replied, “I lowered my standards.” By lowering his standards, he was able to keep showing up at 4:30am with a cup of instant coffee, lying on the couch with his notebook, and writing a poem or more a day (rough drafts, of course). He did not do this by trying to write perfect poems or prize-winning poems or by coming home after work and insisting he also write novels.
Lowering your standards is scary because you may believe the old story that beating yourself up and pushing yourself harder is the only way to succeed. Let me assure you a big body of research suggests the exact opposite. But why trust that research? Experiment yourself this week. Set one measurable, easily achievable Conditions of Enoughness and then notice: did you get it done? Did you enjoy the process more? And most important: do you have energy and motivation to continue shaping more of the life you want?
That’s the experiment to pay attention to.