‘I’m proud no matter what because I know I did everything possible to be the best I can be.’ – Carli Lloyd
Life is filled with many wonderful things, but there are also many difficult moments and hard decisions. That’s not news to anyone. Most people, including myself, work on developing skills to negotiate the tough things that life can throw at us. Sometimes we try our very best, and we still make the wrong decision. Other times we choose something we aren’t proud of or we react without thinking and we feel terrible about it later. Whatever we do cannot be undone or erased.
In my “first career” as a psychologist, I spent a lot of my time trying to help people cope with the consequences of regret. They become a prisoner of their past, often reliving their pain repeatedly. But of course, no matter how much we relive our bad moments, we can’t go back and change them. Reliving the past with no power to change it causes an inescapable amount of pain and suffering. You become locked in with no way out. And while we relive the past, we lose the time we have in the present, which also hurts us in different ways. Time is not infinite, and we don’t get the time lost to reliving things back again. The cycle of regret and rumination about the past is incredibly damaging. So how can we avoid it?
I firmly believe that one of the best ways to prevent this unhealthy cycle is having the ability to look back and know (really, truly know), ‘I tried my best’. Of course, sometimes, we might think ‘I tried my best, and it wasn’t enough’. Our best isn’t always enough. We aren’t always successful. If we were, life wouldn’t be very hard. Doing your best and not getting the result you hoped for is often truly painful, but I find it’s less painful than not getting what you want and then wondering what would have happened if you had tried harder. If you’d taken that class, would you have gotten the promotion? If you took a deep breath instead of screaming at your teen before they got in the car, would they have driven more carefully?
I love this simple but powerful quote by recently retired professional American soccer player and Olympian, Carli Lloyd.
‘I’m proud no matter what because I know I did everything possible to be the best I can be.’
We often think about what we want to ACHIEVE in life. We set goals and develop steps to reach them. Obviously, that’s important, or I wouldn’t have a job. But in my experience, the cornerstone of mental health and well-being is knowing that you have tried to be your absolute best at every turn.
The next question is: what’s most important to you? What matters to you the most?
If you look back someday and realize you didn’t do your best at work, at parenting, or at playing the guitar… would it destroy you? To me, what matters most is being the best mother I can be. Before I had kids, I told myself I would always talk calmly to them. I would get down on my knees to talk to them at eye level. I would set limits, but I would do it calmly. I was (am) a natural yeller, but I told myself that I would not yell at my kids. More than 25 years later, I can tell you that I absolutely did not accomplish this goal. I definitely yelled at my kids.
I often think back to those bad parenting moments. Of course, I have regrets. I don’t think that trying your best at every moment means you will NEVER regret a decision, a moment, or an action. But I can rest at night because I know that no matter how many times I failed as a mom, I gave everything I had in every single moment. I truly did. No, it was not always enough. But I could not have tried any harder. I am responsible for the way I behaved, but I also know I did my very best.
It can be exhausting to live by trying your hardest at every turn. It’s often hard enough to figure out what ‘your best’ even means to begin with and which parts of your life are most important for you to try your best in. It involves a clear and deep sense of purpose, definition in your values, and a constant attempt to live your life in ways that are congruent with those values.
It’s not easy, but it’s tremendously worthwhile. With the support of a coach, you can define for yourself who you want to be and how you want to live. You can set goals for achievements, of course, but also for living your daily life in a way that lays the foundations for your physical and emotional health later in life.