Why 'Exceeding the Standard Is the Standard'

BUD/S candidates work on their strength.
Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) candidates participate in strength and conditioning training with logs at Naval Special Warfare (NSW) Center in Coronado, California, May 18, 2020. (Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Anthony W. Walker/U.S. Navy photo)

If you've gone through rigorous military training, you’ve likely heard the phrase: "Exceeding the standard is the standard.” That’s a mindset common in highly competitive programs where it's hard to get accepted and even harder to complete.

If you have the mindset to complete a challenging journey, chasing the minimum standard isn’t enough. The origin of “exceeding the standard is the standard” is unknown, but it’s clear the person who originally said it was driven and highly disciplined.

I first saw this mindset during my own journey into the world of military special ops training. Someone asked our Navy SEAL instructor what the minimum standards were for the physical screening test (PST), and the instructor blew up at the entire group of candidates. We paid the price for that question in the next hour of "unscheduled extra training," as the instructor taught us that day that he did not want anyone "in his Navy" who did not exceed the standards.

That SEAL instructor expected the best out of the students he was teaching. Even though he was 20 years older than most of us, our attempts to match his own personal standards were a gut check for most of us 18- to 20-year-old candidates.

But he did not ask anything of us that he was not capable of doing better himself. Striving to meet his standard was the standard. It was later in my journey when I first heard, "Exceeding the standard is the standard."

When I heard this saying or saw it on a poster for the first time, I immediately flashed back to the moment I described above and completely understood the importance of striving for higher goals.

When you set your goals high, you have to work harder. This may take some patience in your personal preparation that you must build over time, but the motivation that evolves into discipline will be what you rely on, on those days when you do not feel like moving.

No matter who you are, those days will occur. When you are not motivated to get something done, doing it just because you do not feel like doing it becomes one of those magic moments when you personally know that you are building the necessary tools of discipline and resilience.

When you can say, "Today I trained hard because at first I did not feel like training," you know you have that undying spark that fuels the fire in the gut.

Obtaining this fire requires you to have a strong why. When those days show themselves (and they will), you have to have an answer ready for yourself when you are not 100% into going hard, and that safety and security voice (aka the Quit Demon) is talking to you.

Pushing these higher standards will help you to keep the Quit Demon quiet and keep on moving and talking to yourself. These are the times when you need to talk to yourself (as long as you are talking positively) and not listen to any negative thoughts. This will help you stay in compete mode.

The harder you work, the more durable you become. You will be better able to handle the workload as the days of training turn into nights, and you keep moving because there are training standards to meet (well, exceed) every day. Focusing on beating those standards will put you in a competitive mindset. You never will think about quitting when you are thinking about winning.

If you are an aspiring military member who seriously wants to go to the next level, I suggest that you take this quote to heart and use it for everything you do.

Focus on more than the minimum standards for your next testing cycle. Even on a bad day of testing, you at least will pass. But with the right training and preparation time, you can crush the standards.

You will find the "exceeding the standard" mindset will transfer into every other area of your life as well -- not just for fitness tests but also for work. You'll learn to do your best and get it right the first time.

You also can apply this idea to your home life when you walk into your house. Focus on being the best spouse, father or mother you can be for your family.

Eventually, this will make it possible for you never to worry about meeting the standards. Soon, even exceeding the standards will be an "easy day" for you.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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