Right Now, Just Do Your Best
“Just do your best” was probably the line I heard most from my mom when I was growing up. Now, as a mother too, I so appreciate her non-judgmental and personal best approach. But to be honest, at the time, I wasn't sure that I knew what my best was: certainly, I was conscientious, but it did always leave me with a sense of wondering if there was more I could have done, to prepare for the test, to practice the dance I was to perform, to not fight with my brother… I remember clearly comparing myself to others – she did better on the test than me, she must have worked harder and therefore my best is not good enough. Self-sabotage in full swing.
When I heard this phrase, this week, while watching a webinar with coach Marshal Goldsmith, I switched my focus to 100%. He was being asked about his advice in navigating the uncertainty and hardship that the Coronavirus has brought to our world. The story he shared was from the Hindu Scripture, the Bhagavad Gita. It was about a protagonist who was faced with two unattractive paths forward. One was bad, the other perhaps even more awful. He was describing these options to Krishna, who then shared his wisdom. Here is my take on some of the points that were made and an addition of my own:
Focus on the Process
Focus on the process and not the outcome. We are often not in control of the outcome, and this is particularly true today. In fact, I would offer that the work is to really detach from the outcome, to make sure that we are not taking it out on ourselves when a goal is not achieved. What we can fully manage is what we choose to do, so in that sense, we should work towards a positive mind state and sense of accomplishment for the input, for what we have achieved.
One practical way to zone in on process is from Cal Newport, author of Deep Work. He suggests a process called time blocking. The idea is to convert all your tasks and planning notes into time in your calendar, so that you can make sure progress is being made on the right things. He believes in this for both productivity and positivism.
Face the reality of your options, come to terms with the reality and make peace with the reality. Do not force an unrealistically positive outlook, this will not serve anyone. There is in fact, much data to support the fact that having lower expectations is correlated with a higher sense of wellbeing. It is so important to be honest about where you are, you cannot wish away the situation. I have always found it useful to use my friends as soundboards in this process: to share out loud, have them contribute to my thinking, and then to move on to making plans. It takes courage to move towards the difficult feelings and to work to process them. Susan David, author of Emotional Agility, articulates this well:
“It does not serve us to deny or try to push it away … On the contrary, what works — and is restorative — is to simply embrace, recognize and accept fear as a natural human emotion, not good or bad but a normal, usually temporary, response to a lack of control.”
Develop a Strategy
Decide on a plan, a best view of your way forward, based on what you know today. This will likely change in the short term, as you learn more, but decide for today based on both what you think and what you feel. If you are able to enlist a coach to support you in thinking around your options, this can be very valuable in making sure you are not letting fear dictate a limited set of options, and that you access the necessary resources for support as you move forward. Coaches are also usually particularly good at helping you to break tasks down into small, achievable steps that reduce barriers to conversion.
Do your Best
When you have a plan, or at least a few action steps that will bring more clarity to your plan, move on the plan. Afford yourself the encouragement and compassion you might offer a friend. Focus on what you are achieving and learning. If you can introduce a time or way to reflect on your progress, this will serve as additional motivation. Too often our bias for negativity helps us see our failings in stark technicolour and our achievements in blurry grey-scale.
Do not Compare
Tame your comparison monster. Easier said than done, I know. Our minds are not well suited to thinking in absolutes, we judge our performance relative to other people, and it makes us miserable. My favourite example of this is a study, by Medvec et al, of Olympic medalists which found that bronze medalists tend to be happier than silver medalists. The authors attribute this to the fact that the silver medalists compare themselves to the gold medalists, whereas the bronze medalists compare themselves to those completing without a medal. Being mindful of this bias and curious about our responses when we find ourselves comparing is a bit of a secret weapon of well-being.
In South Africa, we are many months into one of the hardest lock-downs on the planet. There is suffering everywhere, and our economy is on its knees. This is our reality. Just do your best.