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Defend Your Standards or No One Will

“It is a funny thing about life: If you refuse to accept anything but the best you very often get it.”
W. Somerset Maugham

Do you have standards for what you will accept in life – and what you won’t?

And my followup question: given the standards you set, do you actually follow them?

Having standards is the easy part – it’s sticking to them and enforcing them that’s hard.

As Alfred Adler once said “It is easier to fight for one’s principles than to live up to them.”

But I’ve got news for you -

If you don’t defend your standards, no one will.

Your Standards Are Your Responsibility

Having standards, principles or even a code of conduct means nothing unless you actually stick  to it.

As I discuss in Part II of  How To Stop Wasting Your Time and Start Accomplishing Your Goals, it’s easy to stick to your principles when the actions that will bring you short term benefit fit with your principles anyway.

But what happens when your standards and principles make your life difficult in the short term?

  • What happens when you can achieve a short term gain by violating your principles?
  • What happens when it’s simply not fun to uphold your standards?
  • What happens when defending your standards means others may be inconvenienced?
  • What happens when it is easier to keep your mouth shut, than actively defend the standards you’ve set?

Prioritize Your Principles

In your own life, your principles will constantly be tested. You’ll have different people pulling you in different directions.

The easiest way I have found to deal with this is to prioritize my principles.

Just as I prioritize my to-do list, I try to prioritize my principles, values and standards.

For example, if my friends want to go eat at an unhealthy restaurant – I ask myself:

What do I value more,  the principle of spending time with my friends or the principle of maintaining my health?

When choosing between a job that will take away time with your family, but provide you with higher income – ask yourself:

Is the principle of earning income more important than the  principle of spending time with family?

In this particular example, there’s more at play though: we know that up to a certain amount, increasing the amount of money your family has available can increase the quality of their life.  Choosing to spend less time with them, in order to earn money to support them is a very, very difficult complex decision.

Unfortunately, even with prioritizing principles, I don’t have a good solutions to that question.

General Rules Of Thumb

The very general rules of thumb I have are these:

  • Choose standards that you can stick with long term.
  • View every decision as a long term decision – don’t assume things will change, and you can adjust course then.
  • Prioritize, and make the difficult decisions before you’re in the situation where you have to choose in the moment.

A general note, I prefer to not weigh one option against another.  Rather, I lump them into the general buckets and principles that encompass them – and then use the prioritized principles to make the decision.

Yes, this frequently leads to short term inconvenience, but I believe that by viewing each options as a representative of a larger principle, it’s easier to stay consistent long term. Otherwise, I’m concerned I would be constantly weighing and measuring, and trying to find the exact price at which I’d be willing to violate my principles.

Stand Up For Your Standards Today – Not Tomorrow

The only person responsible for your standards, the only person who can possibly defend them – and frankly, the only person who really cares about them – is yourself.

And I urge you not to try to set standards for a future version of yourself. Don’t shy away from the tough decisions today, passing them off on an idealized version of you, living an idealized life that can uphold your standards.

You’ll never reach that idealized, principled version of yourself tomorrow, unless you start to stick to your principles today.

How many people do you know who:

  • Say they hate their job – but won’t leave it?
  • Don’t like keeping certain commitments they’ve made – but won’t do anything to end them?
  • Are dragged down by and constantly complain about people in their life – and yet won’t cut them out?

In fact, truth be told I think most of us at some point or another will put up with something we don’t like simply because it is convenient.  The question I’d like you to ask yourself in that situation is:

Is there a larger principle or standard that is making me continue to do this, or have I let my standards slip simply because it was too inconvenient or difficult to stand up for them?

In the immortal words of Pat Paulsen:

“I’ve upped my standards.
Now, up yours.”

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Further Reading

This isn’t the end – it’s only the beginning. If this article has struck a chord with you, first please tell someone else about it. Tweet it out, email it to a friend, send someone a message or an IM – they’ll be glad you did.

Second, here’s a hand picked selection of articles to continue with similar themes and lessons that you’ll enjoy. Check them out.

If you like what you’ve seen so far, and want to make the most out of your life, take a moment to read the details about my course The Action Solution and see if it’s something you’d be interested in.

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By Sid Savara
Published April 20th 2014
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