Updated: Jan 30, 2020
I keep a tiny black book in my room that contains my own personal rules for life. It sounds corny, but I really do have a book of rules. Granted, there are only three rules in it, but I keep the book nonetheless. Here are those three rules:
Don't send work emails from home.
Take one day off per week.
Surround yourself with people who want the best for you.
Those rules, few as they may be, are my standards for life. The rules that are in there have been carefully chosen and thought through. Rules I do not think that I can abide by are not included, because those rules are the standard by which I choose to live my life.
The whole concept of developing these standards came from reading Ben Bergeron's book "Chasing Excellence." For those unfamiliar with Bergeron, he is one of the leading CrossFit coaches for elite competitors at the CrossFit Games level. Most notably, one his athletes is Katrin Davidsdottir, the Icelandic athlete who went from not qualifying for to winning the CrossFit Games in a year (and then repeated as champion for second straight year). In his book, Bergeron makes a sharp statement that spawned my own development of a standard.
It's not the standard you talk about, it's what you tolerate.
Essentially, whatever you say you're about, you better be about. It's like the old Batman quote from Batman Begins "It's not who you are on the inside, but what you do that defines you." If your standard is that you (or your team) puts forth 100% effort, but you accept 85% effort, then your standard is 85% effort.
Now, just like goal setting, defining a standard is crucial for success in life. Your standards should be based on your beliefs and personal values. I value finding balance in life, so my first two rules or standards are to not do work at home, and to make sure I take days off. You may not value work-life balance like I do, but whatever you do value becomes the basis for your own standards.
Do you have to have a book of them? No, but writing them down gives them legitimacy and take them from being thought to action. Writing down your standards, even if it's a note on your phone is vital to success because it allows you to revisit them at any point. With concrete standards, when you stray away from them you have a concrete copy to return to. Everybody strays, but your standards become road map that help guide you back to your original destination.
One thing to keep in mind, however, is that standards are not the same as goals. If a goal is the destination, then your standards become like Google Maps. Your goals are something you wish to achieve or accomplish, and to accomplish anything you have to have a way to get there. It's not always going to be perfect, but having standards to revisit keeps it possible.