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Monday, April 8, 2013

Monday Morning Check In: Do Your Best

Written by Paula E. Bird ©2013

Recently I found myself listening to someone tell me why he had failed to meet a particular set of requirements to finish his degree program. During our conversation, the young man said something like, "I didn't realize that everything would just depend on this one thing." My response at the time was, "Really? You didn't realize that this was a possibility that you might have to meet this requirement?"

My next thought was to assume that what the person said to me was true, that he had not realized that everything would hinge on meeting one requirement. So my next question was, "Would you have done anything differently if you had known?" I actually did not want the person to answer that question, because if he were to come up with something that he could have done, then that meant that the he was not doing the best work that he could do.

When I was a fledgling teacher, I observed a difficult group class that was led by the fine teacher, Vicki Vorreiter. I say that the class was difficult because there was one child in the group who displayed many inappropriate behaviors. As I watched this child in action, I noticed how infectious the child's disruptive behavior was to the rest of the group class members. I could almost see the energy of disruption spread outward from the source point of this one child.

Vicki found casual ways to be close to the child during the course of her class activities. Every time she was working with this child, she would follow up their encounter with, "Do your best." At some point, her suggestion to "do your best" became the question, "is this the best that you can do?" I saw the child respond each time in a positive way to these reminders, even if the change lasted for just a few minutes. It struck me that this seemingly little expectation was important as it reminded the child to rise to the occasion.

"Do your best" does not mean that we will be perfect in everything that we do. The phrase instead suggests that wherever we are at the moment, we should do the best that we are capable of doing. We should not be turning in less than what we are capable of doing. We should not settle for mediocrity, a C+, or just getting by. We should strive to give the utmost that we are able to give.

What keeps us from doing our best? I suggest the following things will interfere with our ability to turn in our best work, and therefore, I believe we should diligently keep a lookout for these interferences. Many of these things are related to each other, so by addressing one item, we may have a positive effect on other areas as well.

Sleep Deprivation. We do not perform well when we are physically or mentally tired. The human body needs adequate rest in order to function optimally. Although sleep needs vary across the populations, the research definitely supports the fact that we all need sleep in order to be alert and healthy.

Stress. We do not perform well on a long term basis if we perform continually under stressful conditions. Although we may need to function on occasion under pressure-cooker circumstances, if we have a steady diet of stress and problems, our work product will ultimately suffer. Stress is also related to health problems, so it is important to structure our lifestyles in ways that will minimize the amount of stress that we encounter. For more information about stress and handling it, read some of these previous articles:

Time. Many of us set ourselves the task of doing more than our time will allow us to adequately handle. Closely related to stress, our time or lack of it will cause us to feel pressure to perform under less than optimum conditions. I find that regularly reviewing my calendar and my priorities will help to eliminate overscheduling problems and the stress that comes from taking on too many activities and responsibilities for the amount of time that I actually have.

Poor Health Habits. By now, we are all aware that obesity is one of biggest problems that face us in the world. I struggle with these issues too, as I am sure most of us do. Many of our problems stem from our making poor health habit decisions or from our creating obesogenic environments, in which poor health habit decisions are easy to make. Adequate nutrition will give us energy to sustain physical and mental effort. We will look and feel better. Regular exercise will keep our heart and lungs healthy, aid our efforts to maintain optimum weight, reduce our stress, and enhance our moods. Getting adequate rest would also fall into this category.

Attitude. Overall, I think that our attitude and approach to life have the biggest impact on our ability to do our best. Attitude also colors our thinking about each of the areas discussed above. Probably the most important thing that we can focus on in order to build our ability to do our best would be to address our attitude. Here are some examples of attitudes that would adversely impact our ability and desire to do our best.

  • Mediocrity. Let us revisit the discussion I had with the young man. He revealed his attitude to be that he would not have to give his best, and that he would be passed along with his giving less effort. I find this attitude to be prevalent in many folks, that somehow it is alright to give less than the most that we can and that others will or should cut us some slack or give us some leeway. This attitude expects others to be gracious and allow us the freedom to be less than we are capable of being.
  • Entitlement. This attitude reveals that the person expects others to provide, and in fact  that the person is entitled to receive something, whether the person has done the work to deserve it or not. When folks complain about the need for welfare reform, I believe that they may be complaining about this type of attitude. I bump into this attitude in the university classroom on occasion when a student expects a certain grade just for showing up to the class without anything more.
  • Negativity. A negative attitude includes complaining, whining, and being inappropriately critical. We have all had our share of complaints, but there may be some who have practiced the ability to complain to a high degree of skill. If you complain to the person who has the ability to address the complaint, then your complaint may be warranted. If you complain to someone who does not have the ability to address the problem, then you are suffering from a negative attitude problem. Whining is another form of making noise with no expectation of resolving the problem. Criticism is not necessarily a bad thing, if it is given for the purpose of improving a situation. I have met people who are highly skilled in the art of finding something wrong about everything, and many of these people begin a conversation with criticism. Criticism ultimately builds distance in a relationship, so being highly skilled in the ability of distancing oneself from others is a negative attitude. For another look at negative attitudes, visit this previous article: Are You a C, W, or E?
  • Excuses. Excuses seem alright at the time, and most of us have had to make them at some point. However, making excuses can become a habit, and excuses keep us from dealing with the underlying issues that cause us to make excuses in the first place. Excuses remove the responsibility from us and place it on someone else. Because excuses sound plausible, they are easy to make. The habit of making excuses though will encourage the lack of personal responsibility. For more discussion about this area, visit this previous article: Excuses, Excuses!

I think that it is important that we do the best that we can do at all times. As teachers and parents, we have a very important purpose and responsibility. We are responsible to raise and influence future generations. We impact the lives of our most important treasure -- children. I believe it is imperative that we hold ourselves to the highest standards of what we are capable of doing, especially if we wish to raise a future generation of highly functioning adults.

In order to do your best, start by focusing on the changes that you need to make to improve the areas I have discussed above. This week, let us all look closely at whether we are doing our best and at how we can tweak our lifestyles in order to raise our level to be the best that we are capable of doing. Let us be firm in our purpose in life, which is to do the best that we can to raise children to be the best that they can.


  1. Thank you, Paula! Excellent reminders. I have been considering this very subject for a little while now and appreciate the specifics you mentioned.

    1. Thank you, Erin! I remind myself often about these things.