It occurred to me a few weeks ago during a particularly overwhelming week, that the pressure I was feeling was self-inflicted. It was not required or necessary for life to continue. However, many times it is only in retrospect that I come to this conclusion. After I have suffered and beaten myself up and entertained some desire to escape my situation with some sweeping conclusion like: “maybe I just won’t work anymore” or “I just want to move to some remote location and live off the land.” I know this sounds ridiculous to actually say out loud because it is not something I truly believe or would follow through on, but still my mind travels there occasionally. Not as much as it used to in my younger years, but nevertheless it has yet to be a pattern that has become obsolete in my experience.
Does this ever happen to you? Do you work yourself into a frenzy only to realize that after you have sought out many others to try and put the blame for your suffering on, or concocted some escape plan, the only true source of your anxiety and overwhelm is plain old you? So how do we stop this uncomfortable cycle? Well, the answer lies in a most simple statement: Always do your best.
This phrase is probably not new to any of you, but it is documented as a principle in a book and concept called: The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz. I have mentioned another of these four principles in a previous blog on commitment. I highly recommend studying the Four Agreements as they are such simple yet profound principles to assist you with living a clear, authentic life. But for today’s purpose, the last of these agreements will be our focus.
When I was growing up, “do your best, that’s all we ask,” was a common request and as the good little girl that I was I took my parent’s requests quite seriously. However, unbeknownst to them, my little mind interpreted their request as “be the best.” Which I was able to appear to achieve through my grades, high-achievements, and constant striving. This reinforced a perfectionistic attitude and belief that I had created about myself that came to serve me less and less as I progressed into adulthood. Although I have obtained many pieces of paper along the way, I also created periods of overwhelm, self-sacrifice, and self-judgement that led to a withdrawal rather than a propulsion. I have spent much of my adult life attempting to redefine the meaning of “do your best” and accepting that “my best” is not always “the best.”
So for those of you who tend toward this perfectionistic side of the spectrum, I am adding a caveat: Take it easy. Taking it easy is not a permission slip to be lazy or give up either. Its finding the happy medium between pushing yourself and honoring the commitment you have made to yourself and assessing your expectations to match up with reality. Also its the attitude that you carry if you need to make adjustments to your expectations. This does not mean you have failed or there is something defective or wrong with you. It just means that you need to assess and adjust. Only you will know if you gave your all in each moment, and you will know when you don’t.
The success of your effort is not measured by an external result, it lies within. If you judge yourself harshly, it is usually because your judgement is based on an external standard (I should have this kind of life, relationship, child, etc., because this is what everyone else seems to be doing, or what society expects of me, or what my parents said should be happening by now, or what my child-mind dreamed should be happening in my life, etc.). So, the key to true happiness and success with this principle is by staying tuned to your inner self, and truly owning your whole experience, willingness, and participation in any given life-event. If you give up on, deny, or abandon yourself in any given moment, you will struggle with doing your best. If you show up, tell the truth, be yourself, and unconditionally give what you are fully capable of giving, it will be effortless.
So in order to “always do your best and take it easy,” focus on what you CAN do, release the “shoulds” from your mindset, and quiet your inner judge. Replace him/her with a more compassionate wise adult who is firm, yet fair and loves you unconditionally. If this sounds difficult, remember that your mind is very powerful. Just as you are able to work yourself into a frenzy that can paralyze you and suspend your growth, you are also able to unwind, assess reality, and bring your self into a state of calm and presence. Listen to the words that you use when you describe your experience and also to the inner self-talk that may try to sabotage you. Give yourself new words to say to yourself that give you permission to be human and to take your time. The solution to providing relief when you are overwhelmed may be to give yourself more time, to ask for help, or to figure out what truly needs to be done. In the words of the Eagles: “Take it easy, take it easy; don’t let the sound of your own wheels, make you crazy; lighten up while you still can, don’t even try to understand, just find a place to make your stand and take it easy.”