What’s Your Standard of Excellence?

I heard this question for the first time from the late great Earl Nightingale. He was one of the pioneering founders of the personal development industry with his iconic classic, “The Strangest Secret.” The question and the context in which Earl phrased it stopped me dead in my tracks. He asked if you work as hard to master your craft as a good doctor or lawyer. The fact that I grew up wanting to be a doctor and now have a career as a fitness professional caused me to pause for some serious reflection.

It reminded me of when I tore my left meniscus and had arthroscopic surgery on my knee. My injury occurred on a Monday; however, I had to wait until the end of the week to see Dr. William Burns. He’s a sports medicine physician based out of Baylor Hospital in Frisco, specializing in shoulders and knees, and was referred to me by one of my best friends. Given the referral, I trusted him to do a good job.

On the day of my procedure, I was in pre-op, waiting for the anesthesiologist to put me to sleep before they wheeled me down to the OR. To my surprise, Dr. Burns popped in to check on me. After exchanging briefs hello’s, he asked with the most serious and deadpan expression which knee he was supposed to operate on.

Are you kidding me? After all, we had gone through numerous appointments leading up to my surgery, yet he asked which knee. After an extended and awkward silence, he broke into a big smile and said he was kidding. He further explained that it was for my protection to ensure no mistakes were made. Next, he handed me a sharpie and had me initial my left knee. He followed suit, and as he left the room, he turned back and told me to relax and that everything would be okay.

I will never forget Dr. Burns having a little fun with me; however, it could have been different. You see, my procedure, much to my displeasure, was mid-afternoon. I hadn’t had food since the night before, and it was one of the most miserable days of my life. I was dying of hunger for someone who eats six times a day.

What if, instead of Dr. Burns joking around to calm me down, he walked in and complained about how long of a day he’d had? He could have said thank God it was his last procedure because he was exhausted after a full day of surgeries. That wouldn’t have inspired much hope or confidence on my part. Fortunately, my surgery was successful, and Dr. Burns did an excellent job. However, the possibility of this alternative scenario prompted me to consider my body language and verbiage after a long day with my clients.

For example, just yesterday, I started my workout at 5:45 AM and started with my first of ten clients scheduled for the day at 8 AM.  My last client session began at 5:30 PM, and after being in our mega-high energy club for almost twelve hours, I was physically and emotionally exhausted. And yet, my 5:30 PM client deserved the same excellence and professionalism as my first client. Right?

Now I must confess that I’ve been guilty of not exhibiting the level of professionalism and excellence that I now strive for. And had it not been for Earl’s penetrating question, I would likely still be making the same errors. So, what is your standard of excellence? This may be a foreign question for some. I had never given it much thought before the prompting from Earl; however, I now have a list of standards that guide my actions daily with my clients and in my life in general.

1 – 100% Responsibility: Do you accept 100% responsibility for every area in your life? I’ve had this principle drummed into my consciousness for over twenty years from two of my long-time mentors, Andy Andrews and Jim Rohn. Last fall, however, the bar of my understanding was raised compliments of Jack Canfield, co-creator of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.

According to Andy and Jim, you are where you are in life because of the choices that you’ve made. And if you don’t like where you are in any area of your life, you can change. And Jim would add, “You’re not a tree.” You are not a prisoner to your past, and new choices today can make all of your tomorrows better.

Many will say they didn’t choose to be involved in a car accident, come down with some life-altering illness, or any other negative situation. And yet you still have a choice in how you respond to these everyday struggles that make up this journey we call life. When you place blame on any outside circumstance for your lot in life, you give away your power to create change for the positive. This is a concept that I’ve accepted and lived by for years until Jack took it to another level.

According to Canfield, accepting 100% responsibility includes no blaming, complaining, or making excuses. When I first heard his definition, I felt good about not blaming or making excuses. But unfortunately, with complaining, I was guilty as charged. Wow! Much like Earl’s question regarding my standard of excellence, I had never considered that I readily complained about things I wasn’t happy with.

According to Canfield, what you give energy to manifests in your life. So, openly complaining about a given situation will only worsen matters. Rather than complain, seek to control the controllables and be solution-oriented. If there’s a situation that causes you stress and strife in your life, and you can solve the issue, then by all means, take action. For everything else, give it to God.

After all, complaining about things beyond your control, like the weather, politics, or the economy is a waste of emotion that will only drag you down and those you associate with. Trust me; you don’t want to be that guy or gal.

2 – Be a student of your industry:

Dr. Russell Conwell, a clergyman, single-handedly raised $7 million and founded Temple College, one of the world’s leading universities, by giving over 6,000 lectures on his story called Acres of Diamonds. It’s based on the account of an African farmer who had heard tales of other settlers earning millions by discovering diamond mines. This inspired him to sell his farm and spend the rest of his life wandering the vast African continent, searching unsuccessfully for the gleaming gems that brought such high prices to the world’s markets.

Finally, broke and desperate in a fit of despondency, he threw himself into a river and drowned. Meanwhile, the man who had bought his farm one day found a large and unusual stone in a stream. It turned out that the stone was a remarkable diamond of enormous value, and the farm was covered in them. It would become one of the world’s richest diamond mines.

The sad moral of this story is that the original farmer had owned acres of diamonds but sold them for practically nothing to look for them elsewhere. If he had only studied and learned what diamonds look like in their rough state and thoroughly explored his land, he would have found the millions he desired right on his property.

If you take the wisdom of this story to heart, it can change your life. Do you spend time regularly studying your industry? According to Earl Nightingale, one hour a day invested in learning about your career and industry can make you an international expert in five years. Many will say they don’t have an extra hour daily, which may seem true. However, when you utilize the “cracks” in your day, including what I like to call “NET Time,” it is incredible what you can accomplish.

NET Time means no extra time like your daily commute or while showering. But, of course, you must spend the time anyway, so make the most of it. Many will waste this time listening to music, sports talk radio, or simply nothing. I maximize my NET time for education by listening to audiobooks or educational videos. YouTube is a goldmine of free information, and I take advantage of this tremendous resource daily. And while my commute is short, I still average two to three hours of learning daily when combined with the time I spend at home doing things such as getting ready for work in the mornings, household chores, or cooking.

One hour a day for a year equals just over nine forty-hour work weeks of self-directed education time to further your career and relationships. And adding in the cracks in your day, like the five minutes you have because you arrived at an appointment early, can add up to a significant amount of time over a year. But unfortunately, most people underestimate the value of five minutes in the short run and fail to realize the significance of the compounded effect that takes place over time through small, consistent steps.

For the next week, track your time daily and look for opportunities to layer in education where it makes sense. And then consider Brian Tracy’s E: E ratio in planning for your education time. Your E: E ratio is the time you spend educating yourself versus the time you spend entertaining yourself. The most successful people in all walks of life have a healthy balance of education time to coincide with their entertainment time. So, if you need more in the education department, take steps to shore up the balance because your future success depends on it.

3 – Develop Your People Skills:

You must work with people unless you live alone on a deserted island. We all have gifts to serve others; however, your ability to share your gifts will be limited to how well you’ve developed your people skills. And remember, people will ultimately do business with those they like and trust, which places a significant premium on your ability to connect with others.

The following are part of my library; I’ve studied them for years. If you need more in the people skills department, the skills and strategies these resources teach could change your life.

How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie

25 Ways to Win with People – John C. Maxwell

Everyone Communicates, Few Connect – John C. Maxwell

4 – Going the Extra Mile:

I was first introduced to this concept by Napoleon Hill in the all-time classic, Think and Grow Rich. However, it would take years to piece together the input from several of my most influential mentors to develop the framework for applying this powerful principle in everyday life, including business and personal.

The following are the four questions to ask after any life experience:

What did I do Right?  And what can I do better next time? Brian Tracy

What did I Learn?  John Maxwell

What can I now do Extra?  Napoleon Hill

The last step is the glue that ties these questions together, which is the discipline of Reflection.  I owe the late great Jim Rohn and John Maxwell for this.

You can apply these questions to any life experience, and they will pay dividends.  For example, let’s say you’re in sales and presenting to a group of potential clients for a significant project.

Once the presentation is over, you pack up your materials, say your goodbyes, and leave.  While driving back to your office or your next appointment, the natural tendency is to give considerable energy to the negatives rather than giving yourself credit for the positives.  You mentally beat yourself up for a mistake or two, which can completely overshadow the excellent work done.

A better approach is to go through the questions above.  So, what did you do right?  Well, you positioned your company to have the opportunity to present in the first place.  So, focus on coming up with the positives that you can take forward from the event.

Next, what can I do better next time?  This is a critical differentiator from what most people do.  What you give energy to, you manifest.  Focusing on your mistakes only magnifies them in your mind and worsens them.  The more positive approach is to ask, “what can I do better next time.”  Brainstorming ways of improving is solution-oriented and a far more productive activity than hammering yourself for your mistakes.

The third question is, “what did I learn.”  If you are well prepared, ask great questions, and have your antenna up, you will undoubtedly learn things you can leverage for the positive in the future.  Moreover, these lessons can often be applied in other areas of your life.

The fourth question is, “what can I do extra.”  In many cases, the necessary details discovered will give you the info to “go the extra mile” and “wow” your customer.  If there was ever a concept in life that allows you to set yourself apart from the competition, this is it.  It’s the old “under promise and over deliver,” and it will win you favor regardless of the situation.

The above questions work…if you take the time to do the work.  Jim Rohn and John Maxwell are two of my long-time mentors.  Even though Jim passed away years ago, his work still influences me today.  For example, he used to teach the importance of pausing each day to “roll back the tapes,” and John Maxwell is also a strong proponent of this concept.

This doesn’t have to be a long, laborious process.  Just a few minutes to run back through the events of your day can make a huge difference.  I use the voice recorder on my iPhone throughout the day.  Then once I’m back in my home office at night, I will run through the recordings and take notes, whether for business or personal.  This can result in immediate action steps or thoughts to file away for the future.

Either way, the following quote best sums up my last point:

Socrates: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

Closing thoughts for my readers:

I have heard of the value of keeping a gratitude journal from numerous sources; however, I only took it seriously in the fall of 2022. Beyond the 100% Responsibility Principle, Jack Canfield finally pushed me to start a gratitude journal. I already had a nightly sleep ritual, and adding a few minutes of writing in my new journal was a perfect time. As explained above, I had already developed that habit of journaling for reflection; however, I wasn’t giving any focus to gratitude.

I’ve taught numerous clients this practice, and they’ve all given me positive feedback. While it’s helpful to live in a spirit of gratitude for the good that you have rather than focusing on the harmful elements in your life, a gratitude journal can be especially beneficial after a challenging day. It can shift your perspective from the struggles you may have faced earlier to all the good in your life. And if you’ve had a particularly challenging day, read some of your previous posts; it will do wonders for restoring a healthy perspective and remind you of how good your life is.

Best of luck in your journey.

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