Practising best living

How high do you set the bar? Raising the standards you set for yourself in life might just raise your standard of living…

If the watchwords of the 1960s were peace and love and the strapline for the 1980s was “make money”, surely the buzzword for the last 10 years has to be something to do with “best practices”. Businesses everywhere seem to have become obsessed with positioning themselves as beacons of best practices in their field – implementing ethical strategies, obtaining ISO certification, establishing protective HR regulations, providing transparent accounting reports. While for some companies this is clearly just smoke and mirrors, for others a drive towards excellence is genuine corporate policy.

And isn’t that to be applauded? How often to businesses put quality rather than profits at the centre of their decisions? Implementing best practices is surely good for the balance sheet, but more often than not, a decision to apply for quality certification or set up a leading-edge employee development scheme is led by a real desire to be the best in their industry. Obviously, this is underpinned by the hope that, in the end, being perceived as “the best” will help attract the highest-calibre candidates, retain employees and boost sales, but the primary goal of best practice policies is to raise standards. A laudable aim.

Personal quality controls

I was recently at a meeting with a woman who was sharing her knowledge of good working methods and procedures in her field: she talked about respect, transparency, honesty and service with sincerity and conviction. And I would have been really impressed by her presentation, had I not recognised her from the tube ride I had just taken. Her face stuck in my head because the same woman who was advising on best practices in the workplace had been a poster child for the worst possible behaviour on public transport.

She barged onto the train without giving anyone a chance to get off and rushed to a seat, throwing a triumphant glance at the weary-looking woman she beat to it and kicking my shin in the process. She then proceeded to talk loudly into her mobile (“I’m on the train!”) and eat at the same time. As she got off at the same stop as me, I also saw her let the exit door slam in the face of the poor man behind her and then drop her used ticket on the ground. Needless to say, I had a hard time taking her presentation on best practices very seriously after that display.

Raising the bar

The woman in my story clearly needed to practice in her personal life the high standards she preached in her professional life. Noticing that made me wonder how I too could implement the same high standards I set for my working life in my private life. I always follow up job interviews with a thank you message. But how often do I email, or – epitome of etiquette – send a thank you note after staying with a friend for the weekend or going to a dinner party? I’m always careful to dress smartly and stylishly for work, but I just throw on jeans and an old t-shirt when at home for the weekend with my beloved.

When I started thinking about it, I found lots of ways to raise my own standards. On a macro-scale, I could set up a small monthly direct debit to a charity close to my heart, write a letter to the manager of the shop where I received particularly attentive service, or make an effort to buy only recycled paper. On a day-to-day basis, I could choose to offer my tube seat to another passenger simply because she looks more in need of it than me that day – not just because she’s pregnant or elderly. Instead of waiting for the confused-looking tourists staring at a map on a street corner to ask for help, I could go and offer assistance. I could choose to start a conversation with the nervous man in the dentist’s waiting room, simply because it might calm him down. Even in things that only affected my personal wellbeing, I could make changes to raise the bar for myself: saying no to the extra glass of wine that I know will ensure a thumping headache the next day, consistently using hand cream after doing the washing up, eliminating unnecessary clutter from my handbag that weighs it down and gives me a sore shoulder. The opportunities are diverse and endless – and they all become apparent when you decide not just to behave well but to behave in the best way you can.

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