My Seven Personal Commandments

In The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin lists her Twelve Personal Commandments. Following her lead, I’ve come up with some Personal Commandments of my own. Rubin has mentioned on her blog that she thinks twelve might be too many, so I distilled mine down to seven.

I’m not really looking at these as rules so much as reminders. These are subject to change, and I’m actually kind of assuming I’ll add or subtract from this list as the years go by, should I continue to use it. This list is also specific to me (hence, “Personal” Commandments); it’s not intended as a prescription for anyone else about how to act or what things to consider important.

My Seven Personal Commandments

  1. Be My Best Self.
  2. Assume positive intent.
  3. Love.
  4. Don’t jump to solutions.
  5. Give until it feels good.
  6. Risk looking silly.
  7. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly.

I’ve got roughly a week until I begin to implement my resolutions, so I’m planning to elaborate upon one commandment a day until Sunday, when I plan to reveal my resolutions for August.

Today: Be My Best Self.

Gretchen Rubin’s first commandment is, “Be Gretchen,” to remind her to be true to her values, priorities, and preferences. I considered making, “Be Gretchen,” my first commandment, but I thought it might be better to start out trying to be myself, then perhaps I’d work on being someone else once I get the “me” part down. The phrase, “Be My Best Self,” I got from a blog post Tucker Bradford wrote about a year ago. I generally let things percolate for quite a while before I act on them, and this is no exception. Of course, I have an inkling my actions may have changed as a result of my thinking about this concept, but I’ve not made any conscious effort, as far as I can tell (which I guess would be the definition of a conscious effort).

Being My Best Self isn’t about applying some external ideal to myself. It is, in my understanding, recognizing my personal priorities, preferences, limitations, and values and applying those in each moment. Or at least in each moment that I remember and have the reserves to actually do so.

I tend to get bogged down in doing things I think I ought to do and forget to think about whether these things are supporting my personal ideals. Focusing on “oughts” rather than on Being My Best Self inevitably ends with me feeling resentful and put-upon and like everyone else is making me do all of this stuff I don’t want to do, and why don’t they just leave me alone? And since feeling resentful doesn’t make me happy, it seems like doing the thing that will help me avoid resentment would be in line with my Happiness Project.

Real life example: if I can straighten, dust, vacuum, and mop once a week in a spirit of providing a tranquil, comfortable home for my family, then I’m Being My Best Self. If I yell at the kids and nag my husband and throw things around while I’m cleaning, I’m probably Being My Best Self by just leaving the mess and taking the kids to the library instead.

Another example: living in Salt Lake City, every winter I look up at the snow-covered mountains and hear my friends discussing lift tickets and other ski-related business, and I feel a little guilty that I am not taking advantage of the Greatest Snow on Earth (as my license plates profess). But the truth is that I have absolutely no desire to strap little boards to my feet and surrender myself to gravity. Being My Best Self would involve accepting that downhill skiing (and avalanches, snow tires, chains, and insulating underwear) just isn’t my thing and not feeling bad about avoiding the mountains for the majority of the year. It would also involve not making statements to skiers implying that they’re crazy for engaging in this variety of winter sport.

Being My Best Self is different from the “Good Mom” mantra I’ve tried in the past. I’d always feel like I was falling short when I didn’t live up to the Good Mom ideal. Being My Best Self feels like something to strive towards rather than something I either am or I’m not. Good Mom is a static definition; I’m either “Good” or I’m “Awful,” and there’s not much hope in that for redemption. Being My Best Self is more versatile and leaves more room for forgiveness. If I’ve only gotten three hours of sleep and the cat just vomited on the diaper bag and my daughter is yelling from the bathroom for me to wipe her bottom while the baby is eating out of the cat dish (and then the phone rings), I might Be My Best Self in that moment by yelling back at my daughter to wipe her own butt and just letting the baby eat the kibble until I can dump the diaper bag and submerge it in hot, soapy water. Is that the same as what a Good Mom would do? I don’t know. I’m fairly certain Good Mom has no cats, or at least no cats that vomit. But it’s likely My Best Self in that moment.

9 comments

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  8. Tucker Bradford · July 26, 2010

    Awesome post (and thanks for the link love). I’m a huge fan of self forgiveness and think you are spot on (from my perspective anyway) that it’s critical to understanding your best self. For me this has led to an exercise. Whenever I notice that I’m being some conditional best self, I:
    * forgive myself
    * take note of the stressors that caused the condition
    * think about how to avoid those stressors in the future
    Thanks again for the post, vick and I are enjoying your project.

    Like

  9. Paul · July 26, 2010

    Not much wiggle room between Good and Awful, and I confess with a sigh that I spend a lot of time on that knife-edge. For that matter, sometimes my best effort yields a poor result, housekeeping being a case in point. Perhaps being one’s best self is not about Right Effort but Right Attitude, to crib from the Buddhists.
    Just thinking aloud.

    Like

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