How to achieve high standards & happiness

Can you achieve high standards & happiness whilst doing it? What is the the link between high standards and the way we treat ourselves? Often we think to achieve high standards we have to be disciplined and self critical, but is this true? What can really help us sing well and sing with confidence?

One of the best things I’ve heard from a client at the end of their Courageous Performer 1-to-1 programme with me was this:

“It’s funny how since I’ve stopped being so much of a perfectionist, not only am I enjoying my life more but the standard of my work has gone up”

– John Bloomfield

The relationship between having high standards and achieving them is an interesting one. Often we believe it is because we have high standards, and beat ourselves up to achieve them, that we achieve what we do achieve. That if we were less disciplined and less hard on ourselves that we would achieve less.

I want to challenge this belief. If you think back to your school days, we all had at least one teacher that would drive us hard, load on the work and berate us (sometimes publicly) when we didn’t achieve high standards. We often respected them, and equally often believed that what they did was effective. But was it? I remember my maths teacher very clearly, we called her Hitler. I was in a permanent state of fear and low level panic in her class. I worked hard, but my mind was muddled. I was terrified to speak up in case I was wrong, and we spent hours taking down dictations of formulas and methods.

Was my mind in the best state to receive the information? Was I able to process it, learn and move on quickly? I would argue that I wasn’t.

Now think about your most inspirational teacher, and the lessons you enjoyed the most. How did you feel in those lessons, how much effort did you put in often without even thinking?

It reminds me of an interview with Dick van Dyke I watched a couple of years ago where he says he is often told by people that they love his work. “Work?” he says “Work? I haven’t worked a day in my life!”

If we are doing something that we enjoy, in an environment of support and encouragement, it never feels like work. Children often become very good at a skill because they love it and they simply spend hours ‘practising’ it because they just want to.

The question then arises, why do we create our own environments of criticism, judgement, fear, and shame?

We do it because we fear that if we don’t, we will not work and achieve the goals we want to. But if we want to achieve those goals, creating an environment in which mistakes are ok, interesting, or even conundrums to be solved and worked on, where we work because we want to achieve the next level for pleasure’s sake, rather than for fear of embarrassment about not being ‘good enough’, is more likely to help us achieve those goals.

High standards are wonderful as goals, things to think “Won’t it be wonderful when I can do that?!” When we start to use them as sticks to beat ourselves with, as tools of shame, they can have a such a negative impact on our enthusiasm, our enjoyment, on how we feel about ourselves, and even on our achievements.

My entreaty is always, “Be kind to yourselves.” This is not the same as being soft or indulgent, it is simply the most effective way of getting the best from yourself. The bonus is that, and this has been proved in neurobiological terms, the kinder you are to yourselves, the more understanding, tolerance and empathy you have for others. This then makes you a more open and communicative performer for your audience.

With much love

p.s. Here are a couple of videos I made on the same subject…..