(Don’t) Do your best

They say that life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans, and last week this is exactly what happened to me.

It was supposed to be a week of getting things done – the annoying little tasks on my to do list that had been put off for weeks because they were either extremely time consuming or extremely boring – or both.

I’d declared it my ‘power week’ – a week of blasting through procrastination, of being productive and also making progress on the planning stages of our home renovation.

It was going to be great and I was going to give it the best I had in order to get everything I needed to get done, done.

But, as the opening paragraph alludes to, this of course did not happen.

Instead: A cold.

Pre-burnout a cold wouldn’t stop me. It would slow me down, but it was something to overcome – there was no way I could take a day off with all of these things I simply must get done!

Giving every single day my best was always a non-negotiable – come hell or high water, through sickness or whatever came my way. It was not only exhausting, of course, but I also believe this kind of behaviour is a stupidly short term way of approaching life.

But who can blame us?

We are bombarded with this message constantly. Do your best! Give it your all! Strive for perfection! If you can’t give 110% then why even bother?

There is a lot of this kind of pressure in the fitness world but it’s now seeped it’s way into everything we do. For example, we tell our kids to do their best, but research has shown this to be de-motivating, that the child loses interest when they feel they need to do something perfectly.

I don’t believe this to be true for just kids either – perfectionism is rife in all age groups and it’s stopping us from excelling in the areas of life we actually care about.

How can we possibly do our best in everything we do? How can we give our all 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? It’s impossible. It’s the quickest way to exhaustion and burnout, and not just that – depression too.

Life is not a sprint, but it’s not a marathon either.

It’s more of a Steeple Chase – a series of differing activities all requiring different levels of energy and skill. It’s never the same – and this is a good thing. Imagine how boring life would be if it was the same all the time?

Sometimes we need to give things our best, but most of the time we don’t.

Maybe 50% effort is required, maybe more, maybe less. Maybe sometimes it’s not worth our time or energy at all.

When we reserve our energy and mindshare for the things we truly care about (and that really matter) we can make big things happen in our lives because we’re ready, willing and able.

If we tell ourselves we simply must give our best in all that we do, no matter what, we are on the fast track to burning out before we even get started. And not even coming close to working on the goals and activities that will bring us joy and meaning.

So last week was noticeably different for me.

Instead of ‘powering through’ (another unhelpful phrase) I put my feet up. I hid the piece of paper that reminded me of all the things that need to be done and told myself that there would be time for that later. It was time to get better, and once I was I’d have the energy to whip through my list. Undoubtedly a lot more productively than I would when I was ill.

I thought about this idea of ‘do your best’ a lot and the more I thought about it the more I allowed myself the time and space to recuperate. By the weekend the idea seemed absurd to me that people even try to operate in any other way that I had to write this post.

And, to little surprise, this plan worked.

I’m better now, and much faster than I would’ve been if I’d not allowed myself the right to be sick.

The world didn’t end either. My to do list has been retrieved from its hiding place and my laptop dusted off. As far as I can tell the earth is still on its axis and I feel refreshed and ready to get started with Power Week, 2nd Edition.

Whatever this week brings, I will be giving my best to some things and to others they will just get done without much thought. I’ll be resisting the urge to do anything perfectly and operating on the mantra that done is better than perfect any day.

If we can all give ourselves an inch – an inch that allows stellar effort when required, but also a lax attitude when it doesn’t, then we can start to forge ahead with real, hard won progress with our goals.

In that kind of world, the rest doesn’t matter. Especially perfection.

So what can you give your worst to today?