One of the ways to unlock greater personal wellbeing and performance is to find your “best self” and this recent article by Luke Mulcahy, reproduced below, is an excellent one to show you ways to achieve this. Mental Toughness is a big factor in becoming your best self and Luke touches on many relevant messages here.
How To Be Your Best Self
When it comes to careers many of us either wish we had done better or have aspirations to be more than we are today. For the vast majority of us both scenarios are equally applicable and it is my hope that the insights below might allow each of us to better access our inner realm of pure potential.
1. Understanding what best self really means
If you are anything like me, the immediate image I have of my best self is at least 5kg’s lighter, more toned and of course wealthier. Well I can tell you I’ve had that same image for a number of years now and I’m not seeing huge leaps forward. Why is that? The Harvard Business School and colleagues from the University of Michigan suggest what I am visualising is my ideal-self, not my best-self. The ideal-self I have been holding onto is unconnected to who I am today. More importantly there is no pathway or roadmap to help me bridge the gap between my circumstances today and my desires for tomorrow. The Harvard Business School and team present a theory of how individuals can build a portrait of best-self that suggests if we truly desire improvements in our careers, not surprisingly we need to dig a little deeper. Some of you might find your inner voice suggesting this is the point to “move-on” as digging deeper is starting to sound like work. Give it a minute before moving on to something else. Moving to best-self is actually pretty straightforward and dare I say fun. In essence the theory suggests the sense of self we have today, has been, and continues to be, shaped through past and current interactions and experiences of the world. It is these interactions and experiences that shape and evolve our sense of self. Sounds simple enough but when we get under the hood are we really in control of our perceptions and how our sense of self impacts our behaviour? Maybe not! Well if not, how do we more consciously own, shape and move towards our best selves?
2. Stop comparing yourself to others
The concept of best self is exactly that, it’s the best we can be with the skills, tools and other resources we have available today. We need to forget how we were ranked against our peers in last year’s performance review or how we compare to our friends and family. If you were ranked ‘Outstanding’ or No.1 it’s natural to develop a sense of safety, pride and accomplishment. The concept of best self pushes us to look past how someone else ranked us vis-a-vie our peers. That IS NOT who we are. The same applies if we didn’t receive the feedback or rating we believe we deserved. Our best-self is much more than our relative performance against our peers. It is more about a sense knowing we have pushed ourselves above and beyond our comfort zones to exceed our own expectations. It is to know we have worked with a structured, planned, consciously aware approach that takes us a step closer to the desired circumstances of tomorrow.
3. Keep an eye out for the “jolts”
Every day each of us if buffeted with a wide range of interactions and experiences. Each experience has the potential to shift our sense of self. We are not always sufficiently mindful or consciously aware to notice the many subtle shifts that occur with our unfolding sense of self. Without practising daily mindfulness meditations (which I now do), an easier technique is to look out for the “jolts”. Jolts can vary in size. For example a small jolt could be watching a Netflix documentary that shifts your worldview as it increases awareness of the wider system in which we live (on that topic I’d highly recommend Cowspiracy or Zeitgeist Moving Forward). More obvious and significant jolts could be losing ones job or the death of a loved one. Jolts can also be joyful events like the birth of a child or grandchild or a promotion at work. The point is that jolts regardless of size or if they are positive or negative, impact on our sense of self. In building and working towards our best selves we are each responsible for self-managing how we interpret and respond to the events around us. It starts with awareness and watching for the jolts.
4. It’s never too late
Ancient Vedic literature suggests that inside each of us exists an overarching theme. The theme has been described as a template for heroic living. For many of us living in modern day Western cultures we are all too frequently caught up in the day-to-dayness of our lives, juggling the 1001 things that ensure us and our families make it through the day, week, month and before we know it – BOOM that’s another year gone by. How can most of us realistically unleash our inner hero with so much going on?
The first part of the solution is to never give up on the belief that we are extraordinary. It’s NEVER too late. Perhaps our best-self for today and the next 12 months is literally getting ourselves and our family through the day. At some point though the circumstances will change. Just because a few years may have gone by without a huge amount of public accolades and achievements doesn’t mean we’ve failed. Know and believe that today is not too late to begin taking the first steps to our best-self.
5. Embrace opportunities as they arise
The second part to living heroically and moving towards best self is to not let fear control and limit our potential. Best self is about embracing and creating opportunity.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” Marianne Williamson
Fear is a powerful negative emotion that encourages many of us to stay within our comfort zones. More positive emotions such as hope, optimism, peace, gratitude and love are equally powerful emotional resources that act as a natural antidote to fear. Dr Barbara Fredrickson’s Broaden and Build Theory suggests negative emotions limit our potential by biochemically and neurologically blocking our more creative and solution-focused ideas and thoughts. Cultivating, recalling and savouring positive emotions are part of the key to unlocking our full inner potential.
When it comes to careers (and for some of us, life more broadly) many of us either wish we had done better or have aspirations to be more than we are today. For the vast majority of us both scenarios are equally applicable.
It is my hope that the insights from part one and part two of this blog might allow each of us to better access our inner realm of pure potential.
We discovered in part one that our ideal-self (the selves we fantasise about becoming) and our best-self (the selves we have a pathway to becoming) are quite separate constructs. We also discovered in part one that the construct of best-self is more akin to a lifelong journey than a destination at which we will one day magically arrive. If we are each to succeed in our individual journey to mastery, excellence and a life well lived we need to dig a little deeper. Part one was about lifting the lid on our inner world. We looked at the need to stop comparing ourselves to others. Forget how we were ranked in last year’s performance review, or how we compare with our family members, friends and neighbours. But instead focus our energies on more forward looking, structured, planned and consciously aware approaches that take us a step closer to the desired circumstances of tomorrow. Also under the lid of our inner world we looked at the need to keep an eye out for the jolts. The point being that regardless of size or if the jolt was positive or negative we are each responsible for the sense of self unfolding within us. We write the script and it starts with awareness and watching out for the jolts. The last two points highlighted in part one focused on ancient Vedic templates of “heroic living” and the need to embrace opportunities as they arise. To never give up on the belief that we are extraordinary. Emphasising the importance of overcoming our fears, our doubts and our negative self-talk.
6. Energise your strengths
Several of the theories on human flourishing, optimal human functioning and best-self support the idea that although best-self in reality is more a journey rather than a destination. The exciting news is that the journey towards best-self is like a snowball rolling downhill. It builds positive energy, it get’s faster and it can eventually become unstoppable. As the journey towards best-self unfolds, just like the operating systems in our phones, our self-portrait gets updated and reinforced. The updated sense of self, along with the accompanying positive emotions, contribute to increased momentum towards the desired state. For example, continuing with the simple weight loss example from part one, for each 1kg of weight I lose, I foster an increasing sense of pride, happiness, empowerment and overall improvement in well-being. Similarly, with each test, exam or life lesson a child learns they develop an increasing sense of strength, accomplishment and a will to strive for more. With the unprecedented hecticness of modern life and what, at times, seems like far too many ‘perfect’ role models we are expected to emulate, it’s not hard to see why some of us may at times lose our innate zest for life and capacity for personal betterment. One antidote for consideration is to enrich our daily diet of positive self-talk. Just like our muscles have memory so does our sense of self. In order to foster a stronger and more empowered sense of self we need to switch from beating ourselves up to building ourselves up. For example, rather than focusing on the handful of things we might have done marginally better, we might want to consider the importance of reminding ourselves just how far we have come. How much we’ve already learnt, how many obstacles we’ve each overcome, how many demons we may have had to put to bed just to get to where we are today. We each have an incredible story of strength, resilience and hardiness to just be who we are today. Best self is built on identifying, harnessing and supercharging our strengths so that they continue to support us on our journey.
7. Know your biases
Building and working towards our best selves relies on our ability to interpret and respond to the events around us. Our biases are involved in this. For example, two people may experience the exact same event yet process the meaning, the message, the intent, the reason why, the emotions quite differently. Research from University College London suggests that our brains update our sense of self with pre-programmed biases. Evidence suggests that we update our sense of self asymmetrically. Hang in there it’s simpler than it sounds 😉 It basically means that overall we have a general tendency to update our ‘self-relevant beliefs’ to a greater extent in response to positive news rather than to negative news. For example, if someone tells me I’m looking good today I’m more likely to adopt that belief than if someone tells me I’m looking terrible. The research shows that depending on my age and degree of mental health, I’m likely to quickly shrug off the negative feedback rather than integrate it into my sense of self. On the face of it this evidence looks great. Our brains are actually on our side. Perhaps part of a survival mechanism or just pure chance – our brains seem to be helping us maintain and build a positive sense of self. So what’s the relevance for working towards best-self?
8. Know your triggers
The key takeaway for moving towards best self is to get to know your biases. Are they working for you as theory and evidence would suggest or are they sometimes working against you? If you are anything like me you may find that regardless of these inbuilt human biases specific people, specific environments or specific situations have the ability to trigger more negative rather than positive updating. For example, as children most of us experience the accompanying positive or negative self-talk associated with parental criticism or praise. Equally as adults we all know the positive self-talk that is generated from say public praise, awards and other acknowledged achievements. Conversely, and I’m sure it’s not just me who’s felt the increased negative self-talk resulting from overly critical bosses, personal failure or rejection. The journey towards best-self is facilitated by becoming familiar with our updating biases and identifying those people, environments and situations that either contribute towards or detract from our ability to perform at our best and truly flourish and thrive. Research shows that getting to know our positive and negative psychological, biological and physiological triggers is a key ingredient to a life well lived.
You can contact Luke Mulcahy via Linked In
To learn more on developing and discovering your best self contact Mental Toughness Partners.