“Do your best” is one of those phrases that paradoxically implies you could always be doing better. Someone says it, and whatever you do next, no matter how great it is, feels lackluster. We compare our “best” from the situations that allowed us to do that best, and when the circumstances change, the results aren’t necessarily going to follow.

For example, picture a basketball player. In the middle of the training season, putting in the extra hours, with well-worn shoes, healthy relationships, and with the right mindset, their best might be 50 successful free shots in a row (Please have a flexible mind with the analogy, it’s not the numbers that matter). Now take that same player, exhausted in their 13th game of the season, with strained relationships, with new shoes, who under the clock is told to, “Do their best”.

It’s not going to be the same. Perhaps the best record that player will get is still down the road. Our “best” is inherently relative from within our circumstances.

Furthermore, it’s hard to judge what “best” means in the first place. We want to achieve the maximum amount of productivity, not over one day, but in the long term also. Most adults in their 50s don’t pull all nighter’s to prep for the next day of work because it’s not sustainable.

If you can physically do more, you might not be mentally there. If you’re mentally there, you might be distracted emotionally. Maybe you could still put in an effort, but you’re incredibly tired and that effort would be subpar. It’s hard to do where the line is, between working too much and giving up on how much you could accomplish.

This is the line of thinking that tends to drag people into losing sleep. They think, even if it’s not my best work, if I stay up three more hours, I can get this project finished up. But say you do stay up, and you end up getting four hours of sleep. Your body will try and force you awake so you might feel alert but you won’t be mentally there. From there, it’s so easy to continue into falling into an unhealthy sleep schedule where you’re tired all day and trying to make up for it at night.

Rest is needed. Work is needed. Vacations can be so frustrating because too much nothing is the opposite extreme. When we miss out on work or rest, we struggle. We become miserable because humans need purpose and the ability to relax.

When someone says to, “Do your best”, it’s more of, “Do what you can”. This is one instance in a whole slew of moments that make up your life. We need to balance “right now” and “later” in a way where neither gives us regret. Your best will change. Be patient with yourself.

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