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How to do your best

We attend one of the top universities in the country. We expect the best from the institution, and we expect the best from ourselves, too. But that can be a really heavy expectation to meet, and it can sometimes come at a detriment to ourselves. 

Doing your best shouldn’t be a task, it should be an accepted norm. Because, at the end of the day, doing your best is never going to look the same day-to-day. So when we talk about doing our best, we should really be talking about doing what we can manage, doing what seems possible on any given day, and doing what we are comfortable with. 

When I think about doing my best, I sometimes think that all I can manage is getting out of bed and making sure I eat well enough on any given day. Other times, doing my best looks like getting to the gym, completing tutorial sheets, baking, cooking a healthy dinner, attending lectures, and the works. My best varies, and so will yours. That’s not a bad thing, it’s a natural thing. 

My ideas around doing our best are summarised quite neatly via Dale Carnegie:

'Don't be afraid to give your best to what seemingly are small jobs. Every time you conquer one it makes you that much stronger. If you do little jobs well, the big one will tend to take care of themselves'

Dale Carnegie was an American psychologist, writer, and lecturer who spent his career developing self-improvement courses and interpersonal skill development courses. His words on doing our best come from a place of doing his best, and I think they’re pretty accurate. Making a cuppa is the smallest task in the world, and yet when I make a good one and I get to sit down and enjoy my tea, I feel so much better than when the tea is lukewarm and has too much milk. It’s a really simple thing, but when I make the best tea, it sets me up to make the best breakfast, and so on and so forth. The compound interest we see when doing our best is like a rolling tide of success and achievement that can help us in the long run.

Officially, “doing your best” varies across dictionaries. In the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, to “do your best” means to try as hard as you can to do a task. The Cambridge Dictionary defines doing your best as trying as hard as possible. In Colins, “If you do your best or try your best to do something, you try as hard as you can to do it, or do it as well as you can.” And, the MacMillan Dictionary lists doing your best as trying as hard as you can to achieve something.

So, really, doing our best can mean simply trying our hardest. But thoughts of doing our best can be demoralising or motivating. They toe a thin line between appearing at our best of times and our worst of times. Whether it’s thoughts of “I can do better, this isn’t my best”, or maybe it’s “This is my best, and I’m proud of that”. Doing our best is a battle. Each day, it’s a battle. 

So I think we all need as many tools as we can gather to continue trying hard and doing our best, whether those tools come in the form of routine, self care, advice, or support. Anything that helps us all do a little bit better is something worth talking about.

I developed my own set of tools and ideas around doing my own personal best. They may not work for everyone, but I think that if we all shared a little thing that helped us as individuals, we would all be able to come together and do even better as a team. 

Small acts of self care, when you can do them, can really boost our abilities to look after ourselves, and are often the perfect example of doing our best too! Something like making the tea I mentioned earlier, or taking a hot shower, making the bed, or reading and baking. Self care comes in many forms and is a great tool for starting with our best foot forward. Personally, I like a 10-minute sit down with a cuppa in the morning to feel like I’m starting my day well, and the same in the evening with some decaf to feel like I’m finishing my day off well too. It’s small, but it makes a difference to me. And if you can find something that makes that kind of difference for yourself, I would count that as a step on the ladder that is doing our best. 

Or we can strive to do our best through changes in the way we perceive our best. Maybe we don’t always have to cook the healthiest dinners, but instead cooking dinner in itself can be an achievement. Or we don’t always have to get the top grade, but we can view our best in an assignment as trying our hardest and submitting it on time. Do we always need to wake up at 6am? Some days, the extra 30 minutes of sleep in the morning equate to the best night’s sleep we can get that day.

The point is that our best is so different, so varied, each day and each moment. We should never compare our best to our previous bests, let alone to someone else's. And I’m proud of each of us for trying our best each day, whatever that may look like. I’m proud if your best was brushing your teeth today. And I’m proud if your best was a new distance running personal record. You should be proud of yourself for each thing that you can say you truly did your best in, because that’ll make all the difference in your future bests to come. 

By Teigan (she/her)


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