Reality Check: Doing our Best

What does it mean to do our best?

As I’m far from perfect, I know that the best that I can do in a given situation isn’t necessarily the best that could be done.

If “doing our best” doesn’t mean achieving perfection, then how would we assess what our best is? What do we mean when we say, “Well, at least I did my best”?

Bill is a pleasant guy who loves his wife dearly. He wants to get along with everyone and offers to help out his wife’s family where he can. However, Bill has some issues with his mother-in-law, Bernice.

Sometimes, Bernice is pleasant and acts as if she appreciates Bill. Then there are the other times. Bernice becomes sullen, snide, and downright nasty. It’s as if Bill has done something horrible, but Bill has no clue what that might be.

Bill finds it difficult to deal with those episodes. He comes from a family where people are respectful, even when angry. Bernice’s erratic behaviour toward him leaves him feeling out of sorts. Maybe it would be easier to avoid any contact with Bernice, but he knows that’s not a good solution.

“How do I deal with this?” Bill asks his wife.

Just do your best.

“OK, but what does that mean?”

You’ve heard it before, and here it is again—it’s helpful to remember the difference between what we can and can’t control. When he’s around Bernice, Bill can control what he does, what he says, and how he says it.

Bill can’t control how Bernice responds.

That can be hard to accept. Bill wants Bernice to like him. Maybe he could change himself into someone that Bernice would like?

The reality is: Bill can’t make Bernice like him.

Bill is also less than perfect. When Bernice is nasty, especially if he’s tired and grumpy, it can feel like too much effort to be nice to Bernice. It’s especially hard as she seems to make no effort at all to be nice to him.

It helps that Bill’s wife is supportive. She has told Bill that he is not the only person who has difficulty connecting with Bernice in a consistent way.

Just do your best.

Realistically, what is Bill’s best?

In this relationship, perhaps Bill’s best is simply to strive to be his natural, pleasant self, and not get thrown off by Bernice’s reactions.

Bill can choose to always behave respectfully. If Bernice’s actions toward him are not what he would like, then his first new (internal) behaviour could simply be to recognize that Bernice is having a hard day today. He knows it doesn’t help to respond in kind. Instead, Bill can choose to be pleasant regardless of what Bernice does.

It is not Bill’s responsibility, nor is it within his power, to change Bernice’s day into a good one.

It’s quite likely that Bill will sometimes fall short of his best behaviour. On those occasions, when he hasn’t acted with the respect that he believes he could have, Bill can assess what he did and consider how he might do things differently next time. For example, Bill might learn that it’s better to avoid talking to Bernice when he is hungry, tired or impatient.

Why should Bill have to make all the changes? He doesn’t have to. But if he wants to improve his own satisfaction with this relationship, he’s the only one he can change.

We can always strive toward improving whatever we are doing. Choice theory values self-evaluation: assessing the results of what we are doing for ourselves. Is the situation better or worse? Is “our best” improving as we practice doing it?

How do you assess what your best is?

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