How Lowering The Bar Of Expectations Could Be The Best Move You Make All Year

Lowering the bar took me from Mom’s couch to successful entrepreneur, from flabby to ripped and from lonely to having the best relationship of my life. The idea of it used to make me nauseated. Now, it’s a tool I use to take action.

Most things people say to me go in one ear and out the other. This is especially true of podcasts, and even truer for comedy podcasts. I was in college listening to Kevin Smith’s “SModcast," staring at a coed’s stretchy-pant rump, when he suggested lowering the bar in life.

He went off on how his career was built on lowering the bar. How he would never would have started his podcast if he didn’t first lower the bar; how his wife married him because she lowered the bar.

The idea made me sick. I've lived my life by the notion that we need to set the bar unrealistically high and constantly strive to reach it. I dismissed Smith's idea and went on with my life.

However, his suggestion kept nagging at me. Every time I procrastinated, I could hear Silent Bob saying, “Just lower the bar, man.”

No! Never give up! Never surrender!

Lowering the bar was giving up. It was admitting my deepest fears: that I suck, that I can't achieve what I want to achieve and that maybe my philosophy of life is flawed.

Flawed. I shudder.

Then the failures piled up. I was making money trading and now I was losing. I put together a team to film a documentary, but we quickly disbanded. There was loss in every aspect of my life: finance, family, fitness and mentality. I had nothing, not even a direction, I believed in.

I was paralyzed. I couldn’t take action because I knew nothing would work. Still, Silent Bob was there whispering in my ear, “Just lower the bar, man.” I ignored him for almost a year.

Then, right around rock bottom, I couldn’t ignore him anymore.

Lowering The Bar

If I couldn’t do something great, I wouldn’t do anything at all. I did nothing and ended up at the place where everybody who does nothing ends up: Mom's house.

I hadn’t showered in days. I had been eating as punishment to my body. My idea of exercise was walking from the bed, to the couch, to the fridge. I thought of killing myself every day.

One day I felt too tired to watch TV; staring at a box was too much work. How could I do less? Take a nap. I tried that -- too much work. I hit the point where less effort was impossible. My activity level reached zero.

I had no other choice; the bar had to be lowered. I started taking the smallest wins possible. I took a shower and congratulated myself for it. I rejected the last donut and gave myself a pat on the back.

I couldn’t be what I wanted to be, but I could be one incremental step better. I couldn’t be what the world said I should be, but I could write for myself in a journal. I couldn’t get ripped, but I could go for a 20-minute walk.

I couldn’t make the money I thought I should make, but I could help one person a day. I couldn’t talk to myself positively, but I could meditate and talk to myself less. I couldn’t be fun to be around, but I could be slightly less miserable.

I lowered the bar in all facets of my life. I undercut all expectations for myself. It hurt; I felt like a massive failure. I was taking action, though. Across the board, action replaced paralysis.

After a couple months, I forgot about the old expectations. I was just focused on taking action. And then something funny happened: I started having fun.

The Bar Rising

As I started to have fun, I began to find more opportunities for success.

It’s been just over a year since I decided to lower the hypothetical bar in my life. The results? Writing in my journal has turned into publishing multiple books. Twenty-minute walks have turned into me being in best shape of my life. Hating myself less has turned into a level of self-confidence I thought would never be possible. Helping one person a day turned into helping thousands (and making pretty pennies all over the place).

How did this happen? Where did the magic come from? Lowering the bar tricked me into taking action. It allowed me to focus on what I could do every day, instead of what I should do.

Action is the key to growth. We can’t make moves if we think we should be doing something other than what we are capable of. Lowering the bar is not giving up; it’s letting go of bullsh*t. It’s allowing you to start from where you are and give the next step everything you’ve got.

The only thing that matters is what you do now. Put everything you have into that initial step. Forget the plans you had for yourself. You’re not there yet; you’re here. Don’t punish yourself for not being where you think you should be.

Reward yourself for moving in the right direction as best you can right now. Don’t be a victim to your past plans. Be the hunter of your possible future.

Take the bar and lower it until you can roll over it. Roll over it every day. Keep your head down and keep rolling. Before you know it, you’ll look up and realize you’re stepping over the bar. Eventually, you’ll find that the bar is higher than you ever thought it could be and you’re getting over it now without a problem.

That’s not today, though. Today, we take it down a notch. Or ten.

Photo credit: Elizabeth Gadd