ADYB: Always Doing Your Best
When I was growing up, the people around me told me that I was not doing my best. My mom, the major force in my life as a child, told me that a lot.
She not only told me that I was not doing my best, she told me why I was not doing my best.
She told me I was lazy. I was selfish. Defiant. Ungrateful. That I did not care. Or I did not try hard enough.
I came to believe those things.
I have no doubt that my mom and the other people who told me those things loved me.
I have no doubt that they believed that they were telling me that for my own good. (They told me that, too)
I told shit like that to my kids, also for their own good.
I’d like to believe I did less harm to them than my mom did to me. She did me a lot of good, but also harm.
But who knows. I believe she was doing her best, as I did.
(Sorry, kids, I know better now.)
What I now believe
I now believe that I am always doing my best. Right now.
I believe I have always done my best.
I believe that my kids always did their best.
I believe everyone does their best.
Of course, “the best” does not mean “the best possible.” It means “the best, subject to the constraints of reality and your .”
That’s what I believe everyone does.
All the time.
I believe no one can do anything other than their best.
I hope to bring you to understand that it’s true.
I hope to bring you to believe that realizing it is true will make a difference.
I hope to bring you to understand why we came to believe what we did and that it’s harmful, and how to be free of those harms.
Does it matter?
Let me start by describing the difference between the two approaches: the Always Doing Your Best (ADYB) approach and the Not Doing Your Best (NDYB) approach.
Imagine that you’ve been convinced that ADYB is true, and someone is doing their best.
Imagine that you’d still like them to do better.
(The fact that someone is doing their best now doesn’t mean that they can’t do better in the future)
What can you do that will help?
Anger and punishment will help
Seriously. They sometimes will cause someone to do better. You’ve seen it. You’ve probably lived it.
This is part of why we’re convinced it’s effective.
Anger and threats of punishment work for a different reason than you might think and have costs you might not consider.
Remember, under the ADYB assumption, they were doing their best before you got mad. The best that they could under the circumstances of reality at that time.
So how did they do better?
The answer is: you’ve changed the circumstances. Before, their best might have been meeting their own goals—whatever they were.
Now their best includes avoiding your anger or your threatened punishment. So they trade satisfaction of their own goals against the threat.
It works, sometimes. But nothing comes for free.
I sometimes did better when my Mom threatened me or got angry at me. Or when teachers, or bosses, or customers did.
And I sometimes did better when I threatened or got angry at myself.
I did do better, but not always. But always there were costs. Depending on the situation, the costs included one or more of these, in greater or smaller amounts: frustration, shame, depression, bitterness, anger, hostility.
I did the best that I could do to avoid anger and threatened punishment—not to do the best job I could.
I’ve used that approach with others—notably my kids. They’ve undoubtedly benefitted, as I did, and undoubtedly paid a similar price.
And as the active agent, I paid the price, making those threats and making good on them.
I’m sorry for not knowing better, but like my parents, I was doing my best.
I’ve gotten over the harms I’ve experienced, but it took time, and there was a cost to do that.
Better not to have paid the cost of the process and the cost of repair.
Removing constraints will help
Uner the ADYB assumption, people do their subject to constraints and other conditions of the environment.
If you want them to do better, you change the constraints or other conditions.
Ignorance is a constraint that’s often easy to change.
Little kids do stupid things despite ADYB because they don’t know better. So we teach them.
When they appear to be defiant, under ADYB, it’s because they don’t understand something. So we teach them.
When grown-ups appear to not do their best, it’s usually due to a lack of knowledge. So we teach them.
You first must determine what they don’t know, or misunderstand, or are unaware of. Then you provide them with the knowledge that will remedy their lack. Then, when they do their best, they will do better.
Someone’s lack of knowledge might be immediately obvious, or it might take some inquiry. If it’s not obvious, then you lack knowledge, and you need to remedy that.
It might be easy to teach someone what they don’t know, or it might be difficult. (Or you might be teaching them the wrong thing)
If it’s difficult, the ADYB framework says that you are doing your best to teach them (given your own constraints), and they are doing their best to learn (given theirs.)
So if things are going poorly, more inquiry—with the recognition that you are both doing your best—will ultimately get to the root of the problem and lead to success.
That’s the theory.
The difference between the two approaches
Both work. In both cases, you’re trying to help someone. The reason that you are angry or making threats is to help.
If you’re trying to help someone, you’ll do your best to learn what they need and then teach them what you’ve learned.
A person can teach and learn even if they are upset, frustrated, angry.
But there’s ample evidence that in most cases, teaching and learning go faster in the presence of patience, calm and caring.
Not always. Navy SEAL training would probably not be as effective with patience, calm, and caring. But that’s the exception.
You don’t need to believe the ADYB theory to consider these two approaches: anger and upset versus patience and calm.
Anger and upset work—sometimes. The costs—outside of SEAL training and the like—are resentment, fear, and hostility.
Patience and calm also work. The costs—in general—are only time. It takes less time to threaten someone to do better (when it works) than to patiently find out what they need to learn and then teach them.
So consider: even if you don’t believe the ADYB model is correct, you might help someone do their best if you behaved as though you believed they were already doing their best.
I’ll explain why we are convinced that people are not always doing their best and why NDYB seems obviously true in a follow-up post.
In the meantime, why not act as if ADYB is true?
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