Be Your Best Self, Live Your Best Life
This blog post is based on a Thursday Evening Lecture titled, “Be Your Best Self, Live Your Best Life.” The theme of the talk begs the question “Why would anyone want to work at being their best self and living their best life?”
And it’s a good question. After all, there has to be a reason for you to invest your time, energy and perhaps even money into becoming the best version of yourself and living the best life you can live.
Today, I’m going to talk to you about being your best, as well as demonstrate some of my favorite mindfulness and affirmation techniques for how to tune into yourself and tap into your full potential, but to go back to the original question I posed, “Why be your best?”
To me, the reason is simple: to have more happiness and less suffering. We all want these things, and I think I’ve discovered some more direct ways to achieve them.
Life is filled with painful experiences; some of which simply happen to us and some which, although we may not initially realize it, we have a hand in.
In striving to be our best and live the best life possible, we begin by taking responsibility for how we engage with these life challenges.
We make the choice to look at our contribution to our own suffering, as well as how we could contribute more to our own happiness.
Furthermore, we look at our contribution to the suffering or happiness of others. Seeing as we don’t live in a vacuum, to be our very best and live our best life means that we should also live well with others.
When we take responsibility for how we’re dealing with life’s problems and hardships, we become better at tolerating the painful experiences we all must face. We become more resilient, in fact.
We see ourselves not as helpless victims but as powerful warriors, going through life with the ability to make conscious, empowered choices about how we deal with painful or challenging situations.
This already makes the painful experiences in life that much less painful, as studies have shown that having a sense of agency in life contributes to better overall health and happiness.
We recognize that although we might not be able to prevent all the difficulties we and our loved ones might encounter, we certainly can choose how we’re going to handle them, and we can choose to handle them consciously, responsibly and compassionately.
When faced with problems we’ve contributed to, we accept responsibility for the part we’ve played in our suffering, while not subjecting ourselves to counterproductive self-criticism.
Having a compassionate but honest attitude toward ourselves, what I call an attitude of “ruthless compassion,” we’re more and more able to alter our attitudes, beliefs, expectations and behaviours for the better, so as to prevent future problems of the sort.
We also accept responsibility for the suffering we’ve inadvertently caused others, and by so doing, we’re able to become kinder, more caring individuals who not only mean well but who do well.
We recognize that although life may be brutal and unfair at times, and that random disasters will occasionally befall us and those around us, we still can live good, productive lives and make a positive contribution to our community and our world.
We can identify the sources of true happiness and pursue these, recognizing that happiness isn’t to be found through compulsive consuming, addiction or accumulating of money or things, and equally not through being famous, popular, or even well-regarded.
We can see that true happiness comes from meaningful relationships, work and pastimes; from feeling a sense of belonging rather than alienation and from feeling a sense of inter-connectedness and inter-dependence with all living beings.
Happiness comes from cultivating an attitude of self-compassion, which includes loving-kindness, acceptance, understanding and forgiveness toward ourselves; this attitude being so much more important to our happiness than how we’re regarded by others.
Happiness comes more from generosity – as recent studies have shown- than from acquiring more and more money and things; it comes from feeling deeply engaged in meaningful activities, alone and in collaboration with others. Altruism and shared projects are deeply fulfilling and create moments of profound joy.
Happiness comes from taking good care of our physical, emotional and spiritual well-being, and from caring for and nurturing children and our animal companions.
For me, being my best self and living my best life means striving to be more mindful, aware, kind and honest; more empowered, responsible and compassionate.
Being my best is seeing myself not merely as a consumer of goods and services, but as a member of a local and global community whose contribution matters.
I strive to be productive, constructive, creative and collaborative; nurturing, caring, generous and understanding. I endeavour to be instructive, helpful, connected and deeply engaged in the life and work of my family and community.
This, to me, is being my best self and living my best life.
Here are some simple tools for beginning to achieve these goals:
1: Mindfulness check-in
Being grounded in the here and now is the foundation for all happiness, health and success. Mindfulness enables us to be more grounded in the here and now. It’s fairly simple to practice mindfulness. I like this exercise:
Sitting in a quiet room in a comfortable, straight-backed chair, close your eyes and put your attention on your breathing. See if you can inhale down to the bottom of your belly, and allow your exhalation to be simply the reaction to completing your inhalation. Continue to breathe into your belly, allowing your exhalations to be easy and natural.
Feel your feet on the ground, and imagine them to be weighted, and sinking ever so slightly into the ground. Feel your connection to the earth, and notice how that feels, but don’t try to analyze or change anything about this experience.
Then, begin to tune in to your physical sensations. Scan your body from foot to head, outside and inside, noting any discomfort, tension, numbness, tingling, or other sensations. Don’t try to analyze or change anything; just put your neutral, non-judgemental attention on these sensations.
Then tune in to your emotions, observing any and all of the emotions moving through you at this time. Again, don’t try to analyze or change them; just put your neutral, non-judgemental attention on them.
Then, notice if anything has changed in your physical sensations. Notice if anything has changed in your emotions. There’s no right or wrong, so no judgements, regardless of what you notice.
You can do this exercise any time you’d like to.
2: Self-compassion exercise
Sitting in a quiet room in a straight-backed chair, close your eyes and do the first two steps of the previous exercise. Then, when you feel more relaxed and present, visualize in your mind’s eye that you’re holding in your arms a younger version of yourself; maybe 3 or 4 years old.
Begin to talk to this younger self. Tell her that she’s beautiful, precious and important to you. Tell her that you accept her for exactly who she is; that you support her in all her goals and that you forgive her for any mistakes she’s made.
If you’ve been beating yourself up recently for any reason, tell this younger self that you’re sorry and that you’re going to stop doing this. Tell her that you understand that she’s doing the best she can and that you’re going to help her to do better.
You can repeat this exercise any time.
3: Combating the inner critic
The inner critic is the internalization of all the negative messages you heard as a child. They can be critical, blaming, shaming, guilt-inducing, obligating, undermining or just plain nasty. All are counter-productive and ought to be rejected. Motivation for change needs to come from self-love and self-acceptance; this type of self-criticism never leads to positive change.
Begin by tuning in to your inner monologue. Notice any negative or critical self-talk. Tell that hurtful voice within that you’re not going to listen to it anymore; that it’s a liar and that it’s not helping you with anything.
You might even consider writing down all the negative messages you tell yourself. Then write a contradiction to each message. For example, if one message is, “You’re fat and disgusting,” you can counter it with. My weight may be more that I’d like right now, but I’m a good and lovable person, and I’ll make changes by loving and accepting myself, not by beating myself up.”
This blog post is a summary of a Thursday Evening Lecture delivered by Dr. Marcia Sirota of the Ruthless Compassion Institute on May 21, 2015.