Saturday, January 8, 2011

Is it Time to Lower Our Standards?

If at first you don’t succeed…redefine success and lower your standards?

2011. Seven days old and already I am tempted to forgo a New Year’s commitment I made. At first I thought it was the Parkinson's disease talking. "You did not get enough sleep last night. Forget getting up to go to the gym. You can do it tomorrow." But then I realized that “making excuses” is just human nature. We all like high standards, as long as they apply to other people or are easily achievable by us. As Michelangelo warned, "The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”
Not only does it seem that individuals are "lowering the bar", the Canadian government seems to be doing likewise. Despite epidemic levels of obesity, the government is releasing 'activity guidelines’ on January 24th that will lower minimum exercise targets. Apparently, this is to reflect what the rest of the world is doing and "encourage" Canadians to exercise more.

Struggling, as I have been, with failing to meet my own expectations, I know how it feels to face the frustration of lowering the bar. Inevitably, Parkinson's disease will progressively demand a lowering of my expectations when it comes to physical, and even some intellectual, performance levels. How can I recognize reality while avoiding the pitfall of achieving a mark set too low, as identified by Michelangelo?

After some initial thought, I asked myself the following questions:

1. Who should set my standards? It is hard to imagine anyone answering this question other than by defiantly saying, "I set my own standards”, like Frank Sinatra’s, "I Did It My Way". Of course, each of us choose the standards by which to measure our performance, but I believe the best choices are made on the basis of objective standards. Even the best athletes, musicians and performers of all types have coaches.

2. What are the best standards for me? Before setting a benchmark for any achievement, it is necessary for me to know my own level of performance. I may be able to complete a 10 km/6.1 miles, "fun run", but the ‘fun’ would be out of that run before I was halfway done. The reason lies in the fact that my current attainable distance/pace on a treadmill is 2.5 miles in 30 minutes. Sustainable success depends on setting standards measured incrementally, in "baby steps", as so annoyingly put by the obsessive compulsive Bob’s doctor in the 1991 comedy, "What About Bob?"
3. When should my standards be set? Personally, I need to be challenged all the time. If challenges are not readily available, I will make them up. Doing one more 'crunch' sit up or running one more kilometre. It seems to me that we are at our best when we continually adopt challenging standards. Personal growth means a stretching beyond our apparent limitations. Everyday is a new day.

4. How should my standards be set? To me this is where I get myself into the most trouble. The standards I set in secret are likely to be unhealthy for me. Like most people I need encouragement from others, whether I am in the process of achievement or failure. I am prone to be rash in setting goals, reaching too far, and expecting too much from others and myself. I have found that this can be moderated by being more open and accountable about the standards I set. Like an expedition, greater care must be taken when the goal or destination is well out of reach and over the horizon.
5. When should I let myself off the hook? Failure teaches me more than does success. Until I learn to deal with failure I am unlikely to be able to deal with success. So if the standards are set wisely, I can view any failure as temporary, a step in the process. Consider the goal. Prepare to achieve it. Give it your best. Learn from failure. Start the process over. The answer for me is to allow for failure as a necessary part of the process leading to success.

When my Parkinson's disease and its debilitation get me down, it is because today has become a destination. I forget that it is all part of a journey called “Life”. Failure today does not have to translate into failure all year long. It is not so much a question of lowering the bar, but rather continuing to do one's best.


  1. Very thoughtful piece Bob, inspirational without pushing the positive-thinking self-affirmation model so popular (and useless) today.

  2. Marshall;

    Thanks. From you I consider this high praise as i read every post on your blog.


  3. I just found your blog today, and am very impressed. It's great to see this positive spin on Parkinson's.

    Lindy Swain, PharmD