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Is it Better to Set Goals or Minimum Standards?

Everyone talks about goals. But no one talks about the other, more approachable way of achieving progress—minimum standards.

When it comes to achieving goals, there are two trains of thought…

1. Setting a high goal that is almost out of reach. The thought process here is that having a lofty goal will motivate you to work as hard as you can to achieve it. And if you don’t hit it, that’s fine! Because it was a lofty goal in the first place, so if you even come close to it you’ll be happy with your results.

2. Setting a minimum standard that is doable, but you absolutely must reach. The thought process here is that if you make your minimum standard easily attainable, you’ll likely surpass it and feel great about your progress. If you hit the minimum, you’ll achieve what you need to achieve, but if you surpass it, that’s even better.

So, which is better? I’m not going to say one or the other is particularly better, but I will say that people often look past number two. So, in this post, I’m going to make a case for why you might want to opt for setting a minimum standard instead of setting goals.

The case for a minimum standard approach

Everyone focuses on setting goals, but sometimes that isn’t the best approach. When you set a minimum standard instead of a goal, there’s a different mentality that occurs. Here’s what I mean…

When you set a minimum standard, you’re simply telling yourself that you will not, under any circumstances, go below that number (or metric, or whatever it is). It makes things very simple and clear-cut—if you don’t do X, you’ve failed.

Let’s look at how this works with a simple example. Let’s say you want to lose weight in the new year. You could set a lofty goal for yourself of going to the gym six days out of the week. Now, that’s a pretty big goal—realistically, what are the chances you’ll keep up with that routine for 52 weeks straight? Chances are, you’re not going to hit that goal.

But what if we reframed it…

What if you set a minimum standard and told yourself that you absolutely must go to the gym at least three times per week. No matter what happens, you have to go at least three times. If you can go more, great! If not, that’s fine. But you have to hit the gym three times every week without fail.

All of a sudden, this becomes a lot more attainable, doesn’t it? Going to the gym three times a week isn’t that bad. If it’s a Friday and you’ve only been to the gym once that week, you know that you need to go the gym twice in the next three days. That’s just what you have to do! And on the flipside, maybe you get to Friday and you’ve already hit your three days for the week. In that case, you can go to the gym on Saturday and crush your minimum standard!

But imagine if you had that initial lofty goal of hitting the gym six days per week. If you have a busy week and miss Monday and Wednesday, you’ve already failed before the week is even over!

It’s a different mentality… But if you can set a minimum standard and stick to it every week, you’ll be setting yourself up for the best year yet.

Accountability, Sacrifice, and Discipline

No matter how you slice it, achieving true progress in your life is difficult. There are three traits you need to have in order to progress—accountability, sacrifice, and discipline.

When you’re setting minimum standards, you need to be held accountable for meeting those standards. If you get to the end of the week and you have two more calls you need to make to meet your minimum standard, you might just think of blowing it off. 

Having an accountability partner can help. I’ve had one for years and I don’t know if I could live without one anymore. The process here is simple. Find someone who can hold you accountable and set up a weekly meeting with them where you go over what your goals and minimum standards are for the week. Their job is to make sure you get all of that stuff done. It can also work both ways, where you hold them accountable for what they’re supposed to be doing.

Sacrifice is the next thing you need to get comfortable with. There are going to be times where you have to make sacrifices. That’s just how it goes. Whether it’s going to the gym when you don’t want to, making sales calls when you could be spending time with your kids, or missing the game to get caught up with work. Kareem Abdul Jabar once said, “I think the good and the great are only separated by their willingness to sacrifice.”

But here’s the key—the sacrifices really only happen when you don’t stick to your routine and your minimum standards. So let that motivate you! Once you hit your minimum standards, you can go do the things you want to do.

Discipline is the final piece. As the late Jim Rohn once said, “Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.”

If you want to stick to your minimum standard… If you want to achieve your goals… You have to be disciplined. There’s simply no way around it.

So, what minimum standards are you going to set? What goals can you turn into minimum standards? And who’s going to keep you accountable?

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