This is the last agreement in The Four Agreements series. In the first post, we addressed the way we talk to ourselves and others with Agreement #1 – “Be impeccable with your word” . Next, we introduced ways to avoid getting our feelings hurt by using Agreement #2 – “Don’t take anything personally”. The last post examined ways to avoid disappointment with Agreement #3 – “Don’t make assumptions”. For this final post, we will learn to embrace the variable nature of performance with Agreement #4 – “Always do your best”.
|“Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.” – Don Miguel Ruiz|
I used to tell clients that I am a “recovering perfectionist”. It helped them to know they were not the only ones who tried to do everything “just right” and then beat themselves up when they fell short of impossibly high standards. There really is no such thing as perfect. We can accomplish a lot of great things, yet there will always be room for improvement. We take a lot of stress away when we accept that striving for excellence is the best that’s humanly possible. So, welcome to the human race. It is full of mistakes, flaws, failures, and outright negligence. I hope you enjoy your stay.
The fourth agreement, “Always do your best” initially sounded like something I could do without much effort. Then reality set in when I realized that my idea of “doing my best” was exactly the opposite of what Ruiz intended. It really affected my self-esteem because I believed that the height of my achievements was possible every day, over and over again, in all circumstances. I was ashamed of migraine because it made me look weak and unreliable. Deep down, I believed that when I had a migraine attack, it meant that I had somehow failed as a person. By learning how to truly do my best in all circumstances, the pressure to be perfect was relieved. Here are some of the key points I had to embrace:
Do the best you can at that moment and not one ounce more. Avoid depleting your body of physical, emotional, or spiritual energy. You need this fuel to function. Just as it isn’t good to let your gas tank run dry, it isn’t good for people to “run on empty” either. Overdoing it means it will take longer to accomplish your goal because you will make mistakes and have to repeat steps when you recover. This often happens when we have a migraine. We push through the pain to do work that we think cannot wait. We know that our focus and concentration are impaired. We complain about having difficulty expressing our thoughts. We tell others that we are sick and cannot work well. Yet we keep on going when really that is the time to walk away and take the time to recover. We will just have to do the work over again once we are migraine-free anyway. Give yourself permission to “do your best” without judgment or self-shaming.
Stay in the present moment
Keep your attention on right now, even if that means you are paying attention to pain. Try not to think about what you promised yesterday or a deadline looming tomorrow. Just stay with the migraine as it is. It will pass or change soon enough. Resist the temptation to worry about the possibility of the next migraine or reminisce about the days before migraine took over. Just focus on what is now your reality. Accept it. Plan for it. Don’t avoid it.
I spent many years in denial, fighting against migraine and planning for the day when I would have a cure. I wasted a lot of energy on dreams that were not based in reality. Life got a lot better when I learned to accept that migraine attacks were going to happen. I started planning my life around the possibility that I could get an attack at any time. It wasn’t that I was stressed out or anxious – just better prepared. As long as I had options available, I could deal with whatever happened.
Your best is changing all the time
I was so bad at this. I would compare my current abilities to the highest achievements I have ever made and then beat myself up for not doing that all of the time. Every migraine was viewed as a defeat. It took me decades to realize I could not perform at the same level all of the time.
Your best is different when you are tired or sick as opposed to healthy and well-rested. Accept that your best will change from moment to moment. No one is at their peak performance in the middle of a migraine. Accept that your best may be simply getting dressed for the day.
Take action on your dreams
This was easier to do once I stopped having pity parties about all the things I could not do. I still struggled with impatience when things didn’t progress as fast as I expected. Then a friend introduced me to “migraine time”. It’s the concept that anything we set out to do can and will be interrupted by migraine attacks. By building in time for attacks, I was able to set more realistic goals.
To do your best, you must actually do something. You can’t just sit around waiting for something great to happen. Wishing for a cure is great, but you will need to seek out options and experts if you are to accomplish that goal. So often we fail to act because we believe ourselves incapable. We blame migraine for our inability to take action when in fact it is our failure to include migraine in the planning that keeps us from accomplishing our goals. So the next time you are tempted to say, “I can’t”, stop and rethink how you might say “yes” by making allowances for the next attack.
For discussion: Which step do you think will be the hardest for you? Why do you think that is?