Why Doing Your Best May NOT Be Best

I can still hear my mother’s words echoing in my mind – “Always do your best.”  Words most likely spoken with the intent of calming my concerns about my ability to do well in school, sports, music, art etc.

Maybe all Mom meant was that my best was good enough, no matter what – a less than perfect grade or making a mistake didn’t matter –  as along as I did my best.

However, I now recognize that the effort to always do my best paved the way for my chronic emotional and physical pain.

No matter how much I excelled as a student, musician, or teacher; I continued striving and pushing myself to do more, be more. I believed that I still had not accomplished my best version of whatever I was doing!

 This load of self induced pressure kept my nervous system revved up leading to chronic unconscious muscle tension which ultimately became chronic physical pain and anxiety.

Striving is often necessary to achieve our dreams – but trying too hard can actually paralyze us – shutting down the creative process which thrives on openness and freedom.

In our culture there is a deep and pervasive belief that impacts many, if not most, of us: the belief that only those who always do their best truly deserve a healthy, happy life. 

 It is interesting to note that from an evolutionary perspective we are here today because our ancestors were the best at hunting for food and fending off threats and predators.  This ensured our survival.

This brings us right back to our evolutionary history and the role it plays in our lives today, greatly influencing our health and well-being.

BUT, our survival no longer depends on doing our best!  Yet our inner critics tend to run the show while depleting our innate healing power.

 Tara Brach, PhD writes about the trance of unworthiness: I believe that the sense of not being enough is the most pervasive suffering in our society… It’s a background noise that’s always saying, ‘How am I doing now?”

 Both our upbringing and our culture provide the immediate breeding ground for this contemporary epidemic of feeling deficient and unworthy. Many of us have grown up with parents who gave us messages about where we fell short and how we should be different from the way we are. We were told to be special, to look a certain way, to act a certain way, to work harder, to win, to succeed, to make a difference, and not to be too demanding, shy or loud.” 

We grew up receiving the message that we were “less than” or “unworthy.”  And the seeds of suffering were born.

We just never seem to feel okay.

This trance of unworthiness is fueled by self- blame, fear and excessive striving.  However, we can STOP, take a break, and become aware of these patterns. This heightened awareness enables us to engage in the essential self-care and self-compassion that lead to optimal health and healing. 

Although it may sometimes seem like our safety and success in the world will be threatened if we don’t always do our best, we can shift out of this mode.

 When we simply suspend self-judgment and observe ourselves with curiosity and acceptance, we begin to unlock our truth and personal freedom.

 Remember, YOU hold the key!

 Elaine

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