“Just try your best.”
“All I can do is give it my best.”
“Let’s just give it our best.”
One of the things that’s so powerful about developing a growth mindset is that we can shift away from focusing on “getting it right” and instead direct our energy toward “doing our best.”
That’s truly a game-changer for those of us (including me!) who are high achievers and who often put so much pressure on ourselves to excel at everything we do.
For those of us who are parents, that shift away from a win-or-lose mindset is why we use this phrase so often with our kids. When we tell them “just do your best,” we’re giving them permission to be imperfect.
We’re letting them know that we celebrate their growth as much as their achievements. We’re reminding them that we support them and believe in their capacity for resilience and their dedication.
If you’re a recovering perfectionist (hi there, me too!), that pivot toward “do your best” might feel freeing, but maybe it also feels a bit overwhelming.
What exactly does it look like to “do your best”?
If we’re no longer just focusing on perfect results, how will we know whether we’ve really “done our best”?
If we embrace setbacks as opportunities to grow, are we running the risk of never really giving things our all?
A few weeks ago I shared this article with my newsletter crew—little habits successful people practice daily.
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First of all, the author is Adam Grant, so I knew immediately that this article would be chock full of goodness and practical advice for small changes that add to big transformations. (Trust me, Adam Grant is definitely one of us!) He offers a whole lot of great advice and food for thought in there, but let’s take a minute to focus on this one:
“Identify some shortcomings that you can accept. Consider where you truly need the best and where you can settle for good enough.”
Whoa. That’s powerful stuff, right? Because most of us grew up thinking about how we could get better and better in everything we did. When’s the last time someone (and not just anyone—a New York Times bestselling author with a PhD in organizational psychology) told you to stop wearing yourself down trying to improve every aspect of your performance and start thinking about where you’re already as skilled as you need to be.
Because high achievers can get stuck in the “do your best” cycle and have it morph into just a softer way to say “make it perfect.” We lose sight of something that’s really important:
Sometimes your best is the bare minimum. And that’s okay!
Our best can’t always be 100%.
There is no faster path to burnout than giving 100% of your attention and energy to 100% of your responsibilities 100% of the time.
And I think we know this deep in our guts. We accept that when we’ve got an intense period at work, we sometimes end up eating more takeout. We accept that when our kiddos are sick, we end up letting the laundry pile up so we can take care of them. We accept that when we’re nearing a huge work deadline, we may not be able to respond to every email right away.
I also know that we recognize this because we’re so quick to give others permission to just do what they can. Most of us don’t expect a colleague with a new baby to be checking Slack every 15 minutes. When a friend’s family is going through a tough time, we drop off meals because we know they’re already stretched thin. When our company is introducing a new product or service, we accept that our teams will experience bumps along the way.
Now is the time we learn to turn that compassion inward. Easing some of the pressure we put on ourselves is truly a gift. It’s what gives us breathing room to truly thrive and grow.
Because if you’re spinning your wheels trying to give your best to every single task, you’re using up energy you could’ve directed toward an area where your growth could create meaningful change.
Here are four habits to help you prioritize where you put your effort and focus:
1. Decide where you really need to excel.
Take stock of where your energy will make the greatest impact. Where do you really need to be at the top of your game in order to reach your goals? Put your energy into those areas and accept that in order to accelerate your growth in one area, you may have to accept just maintaining (or even ramping down) your current effort in other aspects of your life.
2. Embrace the power of team effort.
True leaders know that they do not have to be experts in every area or involved in every minute detail of their team’s work in order to help their teams excel. In fact, there’s a lot to be said for being what organizational psychologist Aaron Nurick calls a “Good Enough Manager.” When you stop focusing on being the most knowledgeable, most skilled member of the team, you create space for others to grow and excel.
That’s true in your personal life as well. Have a kid who is really excited about learning to cook? Encourage that and give yourself permission to take a step back! Recognize that when you step back, you’re giving someone else the opportunity to step up!
3. Remember that growth isn’t always linear.
Growth is really about the long game, and that means having faith that we are growing, even when there isn’t an immediate reward. Having a growth mindset doesn’t mean you have to be pushing yourself to grow every second. It’s about getting comfortable with the seasons of stillness, knowing that growth often comes in spurts.
Easing the pressure on what’s next is what opens the space for us to move forward when the time comes. Just like our bodies need sleep to allow them a chance to develop, our minds need those seasons of quiet to prepare for the inevitable periods when we’ll be charging full steam ahead.
4. Accept that your bare minimum still moves you forward.
It’s easy to assume that if you only put forth the minimum effort in some areas, it means you can’t accomplish anything, but that’s just not true. Think of it this way: Maybe you set a goal to walk 30 minutes every day, but today, you’ve only got energy for the bare minimum—10 minutes. Those 10 minutes still benefited your body and your mind, right? We don’t want perfect to be the enemy of good, but we also don’t want “doing our best” to get into the way of doing whatever we can and embracing small steps forward toward our goals.
To sum it up...
This year, instead of focusing on “doing our best,” let’s embrace growth balanced with grace.
Sometimes, your best is 50%.
Sometimes, your best is just not giving up.
Sometimes, your best is just showing up.
Every single version of “your best” is valid, and every single one moves you incrementally closer to your goals. Give yourself permission to decide that your best is not always going to look the same over time and know that embracing the bare minimum in some aspects of your life isn’t slacking—it’s actually the breathing room you need in order to reach your goals!
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