In the old days, soldiers marched behind a standard bearer, who’s flag or sigil represented the nation or the military unit. The symbol was up at the top of a pole so everyone, friend or foe, could see it. It gave courage to those marching behind it — and sometimes struck fear in those facing it.
The “standard” I’m talking about is your own dream or goal or vision for what you want from life. It could be primarily about work and job titles and money. It could be primarily about happiness and fulfillment and connection with loved ones. It could be your dream to travel around the world, or to run a marathon. Don’t let me or anyone else tell you what it “should” be — it’s your standard.
If you’re anything like me, you know it’s easy to take your eye off the standard. You mean to focus better, work more diligently, write every day, exercise regularly, spend quality and quantity time with your kids, track your finances better, et cetera et cetera. But you avert your gaze.
Sometimes it’s unintentional: A work project blows up right next to you, and your whole week — when you were going to get your inbox cleared out and spend some real time thinking about Gamebreaking Project X — goes to the dogs.
Sometimes the aversion grows from our own weakness: You’re scared of how badly the first draft of your Great American Novel is going to turn out, so you never even get started on it. You’re so scared, in fact, that you can’t even admit that you’re scared. You just hide your eyes like a small child.
What’s the antidote? I think you have to plant your standard somewhere obvious so that you can’t help but look at it. In his essay “Do It Now,” Steve Pavlina talks about the simple tricks he used to enforce clarity on himself when he was starting out as an entrepreneur:
Years ago (during the mid-90s), I went around my apartment putting up signs in every room that said “$5,000 / month.” That was my monthly business income goal at the time. Because I knew exactly what I wanted, I achieved that goal within a few weeks. I continued setting specific income goals, even amidst occasional setbacks, and I found this process very effective. It wasn’t just that it helped me focus on what I wanted — perhaps even more important is that it made it easy for me to disregard those things that weren’t on the path to my goal. For example, if you set a goal to earn $10,000/month, this can help you stop doing those things that will only earn you $5000/month.
Whether you reach your goals in a few weeks, as Pavlina did in this case, or just make steady progress toward them, the lesson is clear: plant that standard.
If you don’t know what that standard looks like, then you have your first task already cut out for you. Pavlina addresses this in the very next paragraph of his article:
If you aren’t yet at the point of clarity, then make that your first goal. It’s a big waste of time to go through life being unclear about what you want. Most people wallow way too long in the state of “I don’t know what to do.” They wait for some external force to provide them with clarity, never realizing that clarity is self-created. The universe is waiting on you, not the other way around, and it’s going to keep waiting until you finally make up your mind.
You need something to fight for — to work toward — in this life, or you’ll be forever coasting toward . . . whatever happens to come along. You might achieve the clarity you need with just a few words on an index card that you put in your wallet, or by drawing a picture, or by tacking up a photo clipped from a magazine above your desk, or by writing a treatise that only you will ever read. Use whatever works, but get clear on what you’re after, and then stay clear by planting that standard, literally and figuratively, right in the big middle of your life.
What can YOU do to plant your standard where you’re sure to see it?
(Photo by Alan Jones, used under a Creative Commons Noncommercial license.)