7 Ways to Become Your Best Self
Rabbi Dov Heller, MFT
The goal of living is to become our best self. There are many counterfeit expressions of what this means, such as power, success, fame, status, popularity, and wealth. Here are seven ways to insure that you are on the path towards becoming your very best self.
- Be self-aware.
A fundamental dimension of self-awareness is being aware of our feelings and having the ability to process them and make sense of them. Feelings are information; they’re windows to self-discovery. Every feeling we experience has a unique meaning attached to it. Someone who is emotionally mature becomes more and more curious about his or her feelings and less afraid of them.
The meaning of our feelings arises out of the specific context that we experience them.
Perhaps I feel jealous of someone. It would be important to ask, why do I feel jealous at this particular moment, in this particular situation, and about this specific person? Feelings are like emails. I can choose to delete them and ignore the message or open them and read the message. To become the best me, I must know me. And the surest way to self-knowledge is by listening to and learning from our feelings.
- Be self-accepting.
To be my best self, I must accept myself with all my imperfections, limitations, character flaws, weaknesses, bad habits, etc. Self-acceptance frees one to grow and change. Comparing oneself to others, feeling “less than,” deficient, and beating oneself up paralyzes and entraps one in a prison of shame and self-loathing. In such a constricted state, one is unable to initiate any kind of real growth process, wasting precious energy that should and could be used for self-improvement. Shame is the basis of low self-esteem. Self-acceptance, on the other hand, is the emotional basis of healthy self-esteem.
I can never become my best self wishing for a different reality and a different me. The mantra of a self-accepting person is, “I am doing the best I can with what I’ve been given to work with.”
- Be self-forgiving.
When I am unable to forgive myself for making mistakes or failing, I lose vitality. When I am forgiving and compassionate towards myself, I feel alive. In the Bible, Cain is a tragic example of someone who destroyed his life and his brother’s life by not being able to forgive himself for a mistake he made.
To become self-forgiving, we must embrace and celebrate our humanity. We must embrace imperfection and our finitude. From Adam to Moses, page after page, the Torah tells us about great people who make big mistakes. How noble and glorious it is that we have the potential to struggle towards the heights even as we fall. King Solomon tells us, “The righteous fall seven times and rise.”
Theodore Roosevelt powerfully captures the nobility of living a self-forgiving life:
It is not the critic who counts, not the person who points out how the strong person stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again because there is no effort without error and shortcomings, who knows the great devotion, who spends herself in a worthy cause, who at best knows in the end the high achievement of triumph and who at worst, if he fails while daring greatly, knows her place shall never be with those timid and cold souls who know neither victory nor defeat.
- Be self-defining
There will never be another person in all eternity like me. To become my best self, I must become my unique self. Uniqueness is life. Imitation is death. There is no other option and yet it is so hard to do. Dr. Eric Fromm suggested that every real step towards freedom, authentic being and selfhood is filled with anxiety.
There are so many voices telling us who we should be and what we should do. The challenge is having the courage to listen to our own voice. I must learn to trust myself and my sense of what’s right for me. Opinions and suggestions of others are certainly important, but in the end, I am alone to choose who I want to become.
Imagine the challenge Isaac had to differentiate from such a towering figure as his father, Abraham. Yet, Isaac struck his own path, listened to his own voice, and found his unique place in history. If he had settled for being a wannabe and tried to be a copy of his father, he would have lost his place in history – even worse, he would have lost himself. The world already had one Abraham. What the world needed was an Isaac.
An important aspect of becoming differentiated is to find satisfying work that fits one’s temperament, skill set, and unique creativity. There is an ancient Jewish piece of wisdom that says, “Just as each animal was given specific means to gather food, so each person was given unique talents and skills to make their living.”
- Be self-navigating.
There are so many decisions to make in life, big and small, that impact the quality of our life and the lives of others we impact. When does one give? When does one take? When should I speak up and when should hold my tongue? Is it always right to tell the truth? When have I crossed a boundary with a person? What is considered stealing? What is the definition of a good person? How do I find balance in life?
In order to make consistently good decisions, we must have a clear and reliable moral compass. We must have a clear sense of what is right and wrong. I can never hope to become my best self if my moral compass is broken.
Where do we find such a compass? On the college campus? On Madison Avenue? In the media? Doing what’s politically correct? Does one turn towards our “leaders” and use them as models of moral clarity and excellence? Or should each person decide for him or herself what’s right and wrong? Or perhaps, the most reliable moral compass may be found in Judaism, our ancient spiritual tradition. How well is your moral compass working?
- Be self-building.
To become our best self, we must constantly be growing, becoming a more refined person who is striving towards greatness. Greatness is not measured by accomplishments, fame, or status. Greatness is defined by how refined our character is.
Building character means striving to perfect one character trait at a time. It is necessary to isolate a specific character trait, define it, and work on it daily. The gold medal champion in figure skating achieves a perfect score only through diligent, committed, and disciplined daily practice. We perfect what we practice daily. To perfect our character, we must practice a given character trait daily with specific behavioral and mental exercises. Self-development is about character building. The ultimate work of a human being is to build a human being.
- Be self-transcending.
The great Hillel said, “If I’m not for myself, who will be? And if I’m only for myself, what am I?” The ultimate goal of self-development is self-transcendence. A life of self-indulgence and self-absorption is a life of emptiness and despair. There is no greater emotional suffering than being a self-absorbed person who is unable to give. And there is no greater pleasure than self-transcendence and being of service to others.
On a micro level, self-transcendence means giving rather than taking. Being a giver means taking pleasure in consciously choosing to give people pleasure and not causing pain. A giver sees the world through the eyes of others. On a macro level, self-transcendence means discovering what your gift is and then giving it away to the world. Each of us is here to make a unique contribution. Our unique contribution to humanity is our eternal legacy.
A third dimension of self-transcendence is to strive to connect with G-d, the Eternal Source of Being. To lovingly be in service to “the One who spoke and the world came into being” is the ultimate experience of self-transcendence.
I hope these seven pathways clarify a truer and more meaningful understanding of what it means to become one’s best self.