To do better, lower the bar. You heard me.

Article by Madeleine Shaw, Executive Tactician

Sometimes, I’ll be working with someone who tells me they would like to exercise more. We work through how some exercise could fit into their week, and they might come up with a plan like:

– Monday – group fitness class
– Tuesday – 10 km run
– Wednesday – pilates
– Thursday – boxing
– Friday – 10 km run
– Weekend – 20 km cycle

Wow. Amazing, right? You’d feel incredible if you were doing this.

So, I ask them: out of 10, how likely are you to achieve all of that this week and usually, I hear something like “Ummmm… maybe a one?”

If they’d answered 9 or 10… great! That’s their plan.

Anything less, it’s not a plan. It’s a wishlist. A great wishlist, and perhaps a good longer-term goal. But if you’re not doing anything like this amount of exercise now, a ‘plan’ like this is actually counterproductive for most people. You know you’ll never stick to it… so why bother starting? It’s just one more thing to fail at. You end up hitting the snooze button and feeling worse.

Instead, I suggest you take a different approach.

Lower the bar.

This suggestion creates an almost viscerally negative response in most high-achieving people. You want me to… what? Aim lower?!

Why, yes. Yes I do.

We are so conditioned to aim high, take massive action, reach for the stars that we can forget that we always, always need to start where we are and work with what we’ve got.

By all means, aim high – but you’re more likely to get there if you set about it in a way that will actually create results for you.

Let’s work the plan back this way:

What amount of exercise could you do, that’s more than you’re doing now, that you are an absolute 10/10 to achieve this week? Keep winding back and lowering the bar until you have something you are absolutely certain to achieve this week.

For example:
– Take a 10 minute walk around the building once a day
– Take the internal stairs between your office on level 17 and the meeting room on level 18
– Do three pushups on the kitchen bench while you wait for the kettle to boil

Do that until it is so ingrained in your week that it has become your new baseline. Then, add something new. Keep it up and congratulations: you are getting fitter!

This doesn’t just apply to exercise, of course. How about:

– Spending more 1:1 time with your team
– Delegating
– Making business development calls
– Speaking up in meetings
– Shutting up in meetings
– Developing your professional skills
– Getting home in time for dinner with your family
– Getting to bed earlier
– Improving your eating habits

Speaking of habits, over the summer I read Atomic Habits by James Clear. This book has become a phenomenon. By “atomic habit” he means something similar – making a small and achievable change, consistently, to get substantial results. It’s a great read, if you’re interested, and aligns totally with what I’ve observed in myself and thousands of others over the years.

So, let me know – what’s your lower-the-bar commitment?

Madeleine Shaw
Executive Tactician

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