Friday, May 28, 2010

Is that the best you can do?

We've all heard it since we were kids. "Do your best." But what does this actually mean? When I teach yoga, I regularly emphasize this idea to my students. "Do your best. That's all you can do." Just like any overly used phrase, "Do your best" has lost meaning along the way for many of us. Oftentimes we hear it as "Just do something" or "Try not to slack."

"Do your best" means dig deep, try hard, push against your easiest-to-reach-limits. Your best is the unknown. Unidentifiable because it always changes, constantly evolves. In yoga practice, as we get stronger, more flexible, more focused, our best becomes better, deeper, harder. In other parts of life, as we practice different things, like cooking instead of eating out, not yelling at our kids, driving the speed limit, the more we actually commit to really doing our best, the better at it we become.

So how do you know if you are doing your best? You become present. You accept that you are not perfect and you d o y o u r b e s t to work hard always. And, within that commitment, you will notice time and time again that from wherever you are, there is always somewhere else to go. For example, when I weed my garden, I regularly leave the dandelion roots, opting for a quick handful of leaves and stem instead of walking to my garage to get the weeding tool that will surely capture the nagging root. I know in those weed-pulling moments that I am absolutely not doing my best.

On the flipside, though, there are times when it is clear as day to me that I am trying my hardest. The other day, I was talking to a friend about the fact that I have a really hard time accepting praise. I said that I was working on breaking that habit. She asked me if I am hard on myself when I falter, fall back into old patterns. I had to think for a moment, but ultimately realized that no, I am not hard on myself because I do my best. I really do. I recognize each time I shut down a praise-giver and I commit to do it differently the next time. I do this over and over and over.

I can tell the difference between this and blowing off serious weeding. There is a consciousness in both instances. In one, the weeding, I consciously decide that I don't really care if I have weeds. In the case of my inability to graciously accept praise, I am deeply aware of where and how I want to develop emotionally and I do my best to push against my bad habit every time it shows up.

Yoga is a great place to practice doing your best. For many of us, the fact that there is a physical component makes doing our best more tangible. Does camel pose make you feel like you are going to lose your breakfast? But you do it for one more second anyway? If you've been there, you know exactly what I mean. That's your best. Once we understand the physical expression of doing our best, doing it mentally and emotionally makes more sense. Like anything, it is a practice. We do our best to do our best, checking in to see if we have more to give, deeper to go. We ask ourselves, every time, "Is that the best you can do?"

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