Ever get frustrated with yourself for not doing your best? Man, I sure do. My inner critic goes into hyper drive when I work hard on a project, and then in dismay judge it as not my best work. Half the time I can’t even point out what’s wrong with what I did. It just somehow feels incomplete, or not up to snuff.
I suppose it’s because like most of you my parents challenged me over and over to always “do your best.” In theory this was supposed to be encouragement to pay attention, and to try our hardest. In reality however, it often became a comparison to their perception of perfection.
We got an A on a test? We did our best. We got a C? We could have done better. That wasn’t our best.
For sure it’s an over simplified analysis of what constitutes our best. But if we’ve never stopped to consciously think about our childhood programming we’re very likely applying this same standard in our adult lives. It’s why even when we try our hardest, we often find ourselves questioning whether we’ve done our best, and whether our efforts are indeed good enough.
This is especially true if we’ve done better at some point in our past.
For example last week you may have run three miles three days a week. This week? You’re so tired you can barely scrape together a mile. Was that mile your best, or should you have pushed yourself to do more? What is your best, and when is it enough?
Because I like to do things with excellence, I think about this a lot. On the one hand, I believe in pushing ourselves to aspire higher, to explore life outside of our comfort zone, reaching beyond what we can easily achieve. On the other hand, I no longer believe in mental self-flagellation. There is no benefit to beating ourselves up because we’ve fallen short of our perception of what it means to succeed. We need some balance to our quest to be our best, and I think I’ve found just the thing to help us get started.
Last month I read a book called “The Four Agreements.” In it Don Miguel Ruiz offers a powerful code of conduct to help us transform our lives to experience a new level of freedom. His fourth agreement, Always Do Your Best, gave me some new insight on what it means to do your best. Take a look at his perspective:
Under any circumstance, always do your best, no more and no less. But keep in mind that your best is never going to be the same from one moment to the next. Everything is alive and changing all the time, so your best will sometimes be high quality, and other times it will not be as good. When you wake up refreshed and energized in the morning, your best will be better than when you are tired at night. Your best will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick, or sober as opposed to drunk. Your best will depend on whether you are feeling wonderful and happy, or upset, angry, or jealous.
In your everyday moods your best can change from one moment to another, from one hour to the next, from one day to another. Your best will also change over time.
Yes! I love this perspective. It’s rooted in common sense and yet revolutionary in its application, because it releases us from our pursuit of perfectionism and instead provides a pathway to peace. Here’s my way of thinking about it:
Doing your best is not a competition; it’s a commitment to consistently bring your whole and best self to every task, however that manifests in the moment.
If we embrace this shift in our thinking, allowing it to change our perspective on what it means to do our best, we can then learn how to be at our best for every task.
Ruiz gives us some insight into this too with his assertion that if we’re sick or tired, we don’t perform as well as when we’re healthy. Makes sense, right? Yeah…I think so too. Trouble is we don’t live our lives as if this is true. Instead we do silly things like tackle hard tasks in the afternoon, when we’ve already poured out so much of ourselves into other projects. We know we’re exhausted, but we expect ourselves to be superheroes – delivering the same level of excellence at 5PM as we did when we started the day.
Well, I’m going to challenge us to do things differently. Instead of trying to be superheroes, how about we be empowered women that courageously make smart choices that set us up for success? Here’s 5 tips to help us bring our best self to every task:
- Prioritize Rest – Rest is often the first thing we sacrifice in our busy schedules, and yet it has the most profound impact on our productivity. Your best is always better with rest. If you want to improve your performance, put getting some sleep at the top of your to-do list.
- Schedule Wisely – Plan your day according to your energy levels. If you’re most alert in the morning, do those things that require the most skill and focus. If you tend to drag in the afternoon use that time for manual tasks, like cleaning off your desk. Work with your body’s natural rhythm so that you optimize your time, based on when you are strongest.
- Practice Presence – Wherever you are, be there. Multi-tasking reduces productivity and performance. Whereas if you stay present, focusing all your energy on the task at hand, you can accomplish more and at a higher level. Remember, doing your best requires bringing your whole and best self to every task. Don’t sabotage your efforts by not being present.
- Think More. Do Less – We often spend more time identifying what needs to be accomplished, than we do thinking about the best way to achieve it. Let’s challenge ourselves to step back for a moment and invest a bit more time in planning. You’ll be amazed how much energy you can save by eliminating needless tasks from the start.
- Complete and Release – When it’s done, let it go. As Ruiz said we are required to do no more and no less than our best. Resist the urge to be an overachiever. All you’re really doing is exhausting yourself, reducing your own happiness and enjoyment of life, and diminishing your capacity to bring your best self to your next task.
When you bring your whole and best self to every task, it is enough. So my friend, are you.
Hugs and Love ♥