What do most people do as soon as they achieve something?
If they're lucky, they enjoy the success for a week or two. Maybe even a couple months.
Then they ratchet their goals up higher, start judging themselves on this new level of not-quite-there yet, and are mentally back to square one.
This isn't all bad. While it causes some neurosis, it's a huge driver of progress. Humans are always unsatisfied and keep wanting more. They get it, and then want more. So we keep improving and building things.
The problem, though, comes when you ratchet your goals up in an optimistic way, and then get demoralized from getting back to the hustle. You have a record-breaking performance that you're not quite on the level to consistently do, but you ratchet your goals up to there and there alone.
At that point, increasing your skill and making incremental progress that's realistically achievable feels failure. It can demoralized and throw people off.
So, shall we toss out our ratchets?
Perhaps not. But it's good to be smart about them.
Good ratcheting looks for a way to achieve a new level of structure, process, method, or understanding permanently. For instance, if you land a big contract, doing a thorough analysis of how you did it, writing out all the particulars you did that time that are good practices, and creating a checklist you refer to always when bidding is good ratcheting.
Bad ratcheting increases goals, aspirations, and minimum levels of performance that you'll be satisfied with -- without taking pragmatic steps to ensure it happens. For instance, after you land a big contract, you set a goal to land 3 more contracts like that in the next 2 months, even if it was your first one, your sales cycle time is still measured in months and you don't have realistic prospects in the pipeline.
A distinction --
The hallmark of good ratcheting is that it reduces ongoing costs. This can mean "absolute lower costs," like reducing complexity, creating more natural workflows, breaking up bureaucracy, finding more reliable suppliers and building a good relationship with them, etc. This would mean lower costs of mental energy and thinking, lower time required going forwards, and/or lower cash costs.
You could also lower cost per action, which makes actions more leveraged. By coincidence, a number of my friends in freelance web development recently re-did their portfolios, and all of them were able to raise their fees and exposure afterwards. By demonstrating that higher level of skill and ability henceforth permanent, you're able to command more for the same amount of time (of prospecting, in fees and contract size, etc).
The hallmark of bad ratcheting is that it increases ongoing costs. When you ratchet up a goal without any increase in skill, process, procedure, methodology, mental approach, capital, tool quality, tool usage, etc, you're placing a heavier weight on yourself going forwards.
Inevitably, "locking in success" by having more or better tools, processes, capital, etc, at your disposal means that you'll be performing at a higher level.
The temptation is to do the opposite. It's to say, "I just performed higher than normal, let's set that as the new baseline!" -- without the required analysis and building structure around you.
It sounds simple, but no one does it. When you're at a higher performance level, reduce the damn costs to keep it going. You can't keep working more hours, thinking harder, and juggling more balls.
To ratchet up to a higher level of performance, cut the costs of achieving your goals.