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Dating, Living, and Being Your Best Self

Dating, Living, and Being Your Best Self

Dating, Living, and Being Your Best Self

    In a comment on my post last week about living your life as if you were on a date, a reader named Jean posted this comment:

    Thanks for this article! But regarding the ‘be yourself’ advice… I’ve always wondered, which self? I have a best self who is on time, considerate, well dressed, brave, follows my dreams, etc. I also have a worst self who is late, selfish, lazy, a slob, and a scaredy-cat. The rest of the time I spend climbing away from one and towards the other, but frankly I spend more of my time near the ‘worst self’ end. I used to have a long-distance boyfriend who only saw my ‘best’ self and therefore had an unrealistic view of me. I got tired out trying to keep up his good opinion of me, and the relationship crashed because I wasn’t comfortable.

    Jean raises some really interesting questions, and I thought it would be instructive to consider them in a longer form than is really practical as a blog comment.

    My immediate thought is that the goal is to be our best selves all the time. But that shouldn’t be exhausting; in fact, I think that when we are truly being our best selves, it’s invigorating. Think of that energy we get when we meet someone and fall in love – you find yourself suddenly “on the ball” throughout your life, not just the parts that you spend with this new person. Or consider the creative person’s “flow”, that state of mind and action where everything just seems to come naturally, where we lose track of time, where ideas and their execution seem to blend together into a seamless, effortless whole. What is that if not us being our best selves?

    What’s exhausting is faking that. Pretending to be our best selves. Because usually we aren’t really being our best selves, we’re being someone else’s idea of what our best self should be – or what we imagine their idea of our best self is. Think about it: if you love doing something, if doing it feeds and fulfills you on a fundamental level, how hard is it to do that thing, to be that person? Usually, it takes a serious effort to keep us from doing it!

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    This is why I hate books like The Rules, a dating guide for women that essentially smothers the best self and replaces it with a facsimile self crafted to avoid offending anyone and to secure a mate at all costs. Look at some of their “Top Ten Rules”:

    • 2. Show up to parties, dances and social events even if you do not feel like it.
    • 5. If you are in a long-distance relationship, he must visit your three times before you visit him.
    • 8. Close the deal. Rules women do not date men for more than two years.

    Frankly, that sounds exhausting to me. The constant focus on marriage (that is, living towards the future instead of living in the now), the constant self-censoring to make sure you don’t put more into your relationship than your partner, the constant denial of your own feelings and state of mind – is that your best self, or the authors’?

    I don’t know anything about Jean or about the situation with her long-distance ex, but I have to wonder: was she really being her best self or the idea she had of what her best self should be like. I know that when I first found myself in the dating pool in my early 30s, I found it exhausting all the time – wearing clothes that I wasn’t all that comfortable in because I felt they were the “right” clothes, acting a social role that I wasn’t entirely comfortable with (as a gender studies professor, traditional gender roles leave me flat), putting on an “all is well in the world” attitude when sometimes I was nervous, overworked, or even flat broke. It took me years to realize that I wasn’t doing myself, or my dates, any favors by trying to be someone other than I was – even if I somehow managed to impress them, it wasn’t really me they were impressed by but some other guy whose part was played by me.

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    My own dating life took off when I started being as honest as possible about who I am, what I want, and where I wanted things to go. I dress nice, but I don’t dress out of character. I do those “chivalrous” things because I feel like it, not because it’s expected – and I expect the same kind of small considerations from my date, or I let her know that I’m really not the right kind of guy for her. I share my goals and aspirations, my values and beliefs, even my feelings on religion and politics (oh no!) freely, and encourage the same openness from my date.

    I’m not saying Jean or anyone else should be their “worst self”, on a date or anywhere else. I’m saying that there’s a good chance Jean’s strengths and the weaknesses she describes go hand in hand. For instance, she talks about being a “scaredy-cat” – but we’re all scared, to be honest. Not just in dating, but throughout our lives. What’s exhausting is to pretend we’re not, or to live our lives avoiding the things that scare us. Being our best selves doesn’t mean not being afraid, it means being honest about being scared, accepting that fear, and forging forward in spite of it. Jean talks about being lazy – but we’re often lazy out of fear, fear of failure, fear of being imperfect, fear of letting people (including ourselves) down. I’m not saying “be lazy”, I’m saying that laziness can easily arise out of a desire to do well by ourselves and by others and the worry that we can’t live up to that desire. When we open up to others in a real, honest way, those fears often dissipate – or at least become things we can deal with rather than things that control us.

    Do you see what I’m saying? When I say “be yourself”, I don’t mean cave in to your worst impulses, I mean put your real strengths on display while being honest – with yourself, especially – about how those strengths and your weaknesses fit together. Or more to the point: let yourself be human.

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    Here’s the thing: in dating as in business, teaching, marketing, writing, and just about everything else, it’s good to offend people, if you come by it honestly. I don’t mean you should start swearing at strangers, of course, but that the goal is to draw to yourself the people who are actually compatible, whether as partners, business associates, audiences, or customers, and avoid the ones who simply are not. Take a lesson from Apple, whose “I’m a Mac” commercials work precisely because they offend – they offend people who would never buy a Mac, and create a sense of community among the ones who would and do.

    To bring this down to the concrete, I would wager that Jean’s relationship – like so many others – failed not because it was simply too exhausting to be her best self, but because the person she was being when she tried to be that best self wasn’t really her. Maybe the relationship itself was on shaky ground, maybe she didn’t yet have the confidence in herself necessary for a strong relationship, maybe her partner wasn’t ready to accept her as her whole self. This is speculation, of course, but I think if the “best self” Jean put forward had really been her, she would have found it energizing, not tiring.

    I don’t pretend any of this is easy. I struggle to live up to what I’m saying here every single day, and I fail about as often. But they’re instructive failures, interesting failures – and with each one I feel a little closer to my best self. Hope this helps!

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    Last Updated on July 8, 2020

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

    This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

    Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

    When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

    This is why setting priorities is so important.

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    3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

    There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

    1. Eat a Frog

    There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

    Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

    When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

    2. Move Big Rocks

    Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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    You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

    If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

    For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

    To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

    In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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    3. Covey Quadrants

    If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

    Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

    1. Important and Urgent
    2. Important and Not Urgent
    3. Not Important but Urgent
    4. Not Important and Not Urgent

      The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

      Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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      You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

      Getting to Know You

      Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

      In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

      These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

      More Tips for Effective Prioritization

      Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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