Be Your Best Self Every Day

“One of the biggest tips that helped me transition to a life of good decisions was this: Praise the effort, not the outcome”  By Daniel Dowling-

My best days are defined by my best decisions—decisions that make me feel proud. I entertain the devil on my shoulder. I think about taking the easy way out like anybody does. But when I buckle down and make the hard right, I’ve never regretted it.

Take this morning, for instance.

You wouldn’t believe the morning I had. I woke up feeling as refreshed as a two-week-old pile of dog vomit. Exercise usually cures this sad state—not today. Still, I meandered to my writing desk as I do each morning after breakfast. And I sat. And I sat.

I couldn’t think of an interesting word to say. I thought to myself—”Eh, maybe I’ll just take it easy today. I’m not really feeling it.” But then I thought of the old line from a famous writer:

If truck drivers and garbage men are expected to do their work every day, why should it be any different for me as a writer?

I forced myself to think of things that’ve been useful for me and to present them in a way that would benefit an audience. I pecked a few keys at first. Then I strung together a few sentences. Soon I had penned a flourish of ideas that presented a plan to reclaim one’s health through diet, as I’ve done.

When I sealed the article with my final period, I felt pride beaming from my chest. I thought about how difficult it was to get started, how easy it would’ve been to just not show up to work. But I did. And I’ve never felt prouder of myself. I’ve never felt more professional or worthy of claiming my title as a writer.

I thought back to similarly defining moments: times when I sacrificed a creature comfort to pay my bills on time; times when I forgave someone instead of holding a grudge; times when I put the needs of others before my own. All of those decisions have led me to become the man I am today—and the brother, and the friend, and the son.

I’ve never regretted doing the right things. Because even when I don’t seem to benefit immediately, there’s always that flicker of pride. And that pride helps me to feel confident in myself. And that confidence emboldens me to make even harder decisions. And those decisions are the reason I’m happy and successful.

I haven’t always been like this. My decisions used to be calculated for a maximum of ease and a minimum of discomfort. But that approach didn’t get me far.

I couldn’t maintain a relationship for more than a year, or a job, or any positive change. When I turned 25, I was living on my mom’s couch—the embarrassed owner of an unremarkable life. I didn’t have the mortgage or the marriage or the money that my peers had. I didn’t have any of their confidence either. But I did have one trait in common:

I had the same ability to make good decisions. And when I started getting into self-improvement, I learned from people like Tony Robbins and Zig Ziglar how to increase my likelihood of making good decisions. One of the biggest tips that helped me transition to a life of good decisions was this:

Praise the effort, not the outcome. 

It’s never easy to make the hard decision. But when I condition myself to do what’s right, when I praise my effort, it feels more natural: I’m more likely to do it. And if I delay tough choices for any length of time, the perceived effort of completing them only grows. That’s why I front-load my day with the hardest things.

I exercise first thing in the morning. I put in several solid hours of writing right after my exercise. And after I’ve slain those two giants, after I’ve praised my efforts, my other good decisions for the day seem like a cakewalk.

It’s important to praise your efforts because it takes time to reach your goals. And if hitting a certain goal is a condition for you feeling good about yourself, you’re going to feel bad until you get there. But that’s the catch-22: You need to feel consistently good about yourself in order to put the effort in to succeed. If you don’t praise your efforts, you won’t feel good about yourself in the present. And if you don’t feel good about yourself, you won’t have the motivation to put your best effort in the next day, and the next day, and for however many days it takes to reach your goal.

But when you praise your efforts, when you feel pride for doing the right thing, you receive an instant reward that inspires you to keep pushing. That’s how I learned to accept myself. And by the time I reached my goals, I realized that I never needed the goal to feel good about myself. I just needed to do my best.

I encourage you to think about your life in terms of good decisions. When you’re confronted by a difficult situation, or if you don’t know what to do, think “What can I do that will make me feel proud of myself?”

Then do that.

Your life will develop in proportion to those good decisions. So make them your first priority.

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