Raising the Bar


I really didn’t want to work out this morning. I had a very late night at the computer compiling notes from a coaching session which I thought gave me an excuse to hit the snooze a few times. After struggling to get out from under the covers, I decided there wasn’t enough time to get in both cardio and strength training. But maybe I could spend a few minutes on the elliptical machine, kind of a cross-country skiing machine that lightens the load on aging knees and ankles (that’s what old people tell me they wrestle with).


As I walked into the gym, the owner of Thermal Fitness, Rodrick Woods, was pushing one of his clients beyond what they thought were their limits. In between their grunting (and I think profanity), I asked Rodrick “What are YOU doing to raise the bar today?” He and I have this cool relationship, I pointed out to him that his gift was to work on body and health, I work on head and heart.


His response was evasive. He answered my question with a question:“What are YOU doing to raise the bar on your work out?”


“Just here to do cardio.”


Stunned, he asked “What?”


“Not much time today, only a little cardio.” I replied.


Over my shoulder, I retried the question “What are you doing to raise the bar today?”


As I climbed on my trusted steed (it’s what I call the same machine I use each morning) I began my 30-minute routine. This has been a new venture for me. Last fall I fell and broke both arms while saving my dog from being run over by a car. (Still bothers me that before people comment on how drastically that impacted my life they are more concerned about the dog. My favorite response from others has been “did you put her on eBay?”) Since then my left arm has been in a slow healing process. Two months ago, the docs told me it was time to start putting some pressure on it. That’s when the morning jousting sessions with Rodrick renewed.


Looking at the monitors on the machine, my question to Rodrick kept running through my head. I started with a target of a mid-fourteen-minute mile, the level I tried to keep with a 2 or 3-mile workout. “What if I took a shot at doing better today, maybe getting under fourteen minutes?” My tempo increased and just as I crossed the one-mile mark, the dial showed 14:04. Yes, my best! As I began to dismount, since this was only going to be a light workout due to a late night at the desk and aching arm, I asked myself “wonder what I could do if I put in another mile?” I kicked my steed into gear and off we roared. I couldn’t wait to find Rodrick when I crossed the 2-mile mark under 28 minutes. 13:40 per mile!


Some may be reading this, totally unimpressed by the times. Yep, these are sub-Olympic standards. But they are mine. Rodrick continues to point out that I have no business looking at other times or the weights people use in their work out programs (there are many women in the gym that I don’t like to come behind as I need to remove weight from their programs, so I can do mine).


Comparison has limited value unless it is against yourself. Mark Sanborn, the author of the Potential Principles, Closing the Gap Between How Good You Are and How Good You Can Be (and the first guest on my podcast series to be released in a couple weeks) discussed with me the power of focusing our attention on what can we do to be better. There is much more fuel in that than seeking to be best. Better is the only door that leads to best. It’s actionable, stretchable and increases performance.


The question we face, if we have the nerve to ask it, is what can I do better, how do I raise the bar? Is there a process I can improve today to deliver better results to clients or coworkers? What does your plan for today look like? Is it a shopping list of items to do? Or do you have targets of what you can do more of, be more thorough in, something new you can learn, something you can focus more intently on? (By the way, these questions don’t just apply at the office.)


Today I choose to raise the bar. Not to climb Mount Everest. It’s to do something better today than yesterday.


By the way, Rodrick, you didn’t answer my question. What are you doing today to raise the bar??