The Best Versions of Us

Last year, I decided to stop setting goals and to live like the person I wanted to be. The post below was originally published last December, and it’s been updated to reflect where I am in my life, one year later. For 2012, I remain committed to the philosophy it outlines, and I’ll be taking The Healing Experiment with me into the new year.

Thank you for all of your support, funny comments, and friendship this year. Wishing you a wondrous 2012 during which you live as the best version of yourself — in that day, that hour, that breath.

I’ve had a weight loss goal since I was 13 years old.

That’s almost 30 years of living with a number hanging over my head. From Weight Watchers summer camp to the rice diet to Kathy Smith’s Fat Burning Plan to Weight Watchers to the Zone to Paleo… with aerobics videos and step aerobics and triathlons and boxing and Roller Derby and half marathons and CrossFit along the way.

My motivations have been many. Fear of being fat. Health concerns. Peer pressure to conquer the 200# deadlift. A personal sense of pride. Unadulterated vanity.

Those motivations shaped my behavior. I ate “right” so I would reach my Weight Watchers goal weight. I set my alarm for 5:00 a.m. so I would some day see my name on the RX or PR board. I was driven by a sometimes debilitating fear that I would never be “better.”

Then a thought began to flicker in my subconscious. It started, I think, in Prague when I realized I liked exploring narrow, winding stairways. I was starting to loosen my grip on “destination” and reveling in the “getting there.” That idea tickled me again when I was upside down at the gym and during a (totally fun, stopwatch-and-music free) run around the lake last week. What if my goals have been backwards?

What if I’ve been looking at this thing from the wrong direction all along?

My underlying motivation for all of it – the weight loss, the physical challenges, the healthy eating – has always been that I wanted to be the best version of myself that I could possibly be. Happy, healthy, fit, strong, attractive. But that pure motivation got bastardized into numbers and external measures that divorced what I wanted from what I did.

So what if I try something different? For the first time in almost 30 years, what if I don’t set a physical goal – no weight loss, no leaning out, no target time on the clock or weight on the bar.

Instead, what if I just behave like the best version of myself? Then I will be her.

The best me eats clean and sleeps well and trains hard and smiles a lot. She’s free of worrying about what number might appear on a scale or a measuring tape. Instead of being intimidated or threatened by stronger, faster, leaner classmates at the gym, she delights in their capabilities. And she remembers to encourage the people around her to be their best versions.

Finally, the best version of me knows that she doesn’t have to eat clean or meditate or practice yoga or lift heavy or get solid sleep. There is no accounting ledger keeping track of exemplary behavior for a reward later. There is no intrinsic value in checking off tasks on a list to earn a metaphorical gold star.

The clean eating and training meditation and lifting and sleeping are the reward. They are the thing.

So I’ve banished my “concrete” fitness goals. I know that “Be the best version of me” doesn’t follow the SMART goal format. I don’t care.

I’ve done it the conventional way. Now I’m doing it my way.

Because the best version of me refuses to be measured by some external yardstick.

20112012: The year of the non-goal.

The year of the best version of me – happily going to bed early, waking up early, eating dino-chow, training hard wisely, lifting heavy things, remembering to take a fun run every week play a little every day, spreading love, looking up, leading with my chin, making up new recipes, singing out loud.

Not because I must.

Because I want to. Because that’s me. The best me.

So, dear readers… what is the best version of you? Not the one you think other people want to see or the one the media thinks you should be… but the one you desire, deep down, to be? Can you live the best version of you, without judgment? Without punishment? Without reward? Can you revel in the you-ness of you?

The Best Version of Ourselves 2018

The post below was originally published in 2011, and it's been updated each year to reflect where I am in my life and the new...

Read More
A Little Respect (Strength Monday 7/8/13)

In my quest for lean superhero-ness, Dave and I are hitting the craptastic gym in our Converse to lift heavy stuff and work on skills...

Read More


  • Nelly says:

    I really love this post. If it's alright with you, I'm going to link to it in my blog.

  • Stephanie Vincent says:

    Love love love love this!!!

  • Melissa 'Melicious' Joulwan says:

    Thanks, Danni!

    Nelly –> Love it! Link away… thanks! So glad you liked this post. I'm excited to see what happens with my body this year; it's all one big experiment!

  • Melissa 'Melicious' Joulwan says:

    Hey, Stephanie! Happy new year! And thanks… glad you love it! Now I'm off to bed, 'cause the best version of me needs some beauty sleep.

  • Chappy B+ says:

    Melicious – that is fantastic. I love it when those things that bounce around the back of our brains finally make it out, whether through our mouths or through our fingers on the keyboard. This is exactly what we need to do; you are absolutely right. The focus isn't on "doing" or "getting there". We're human "beings" for a reason. Thank you for being able to verbalize so eloquently something that I haven't been able to for a while, and something that I really need to do, as well. I struggle with this quite often as a priest and Army Chaplain, since the focus so much of the time is on doing, doing, doing, and staying busy all the time. I'm going to comment on this over on the Whole30 site, as well, because this is real motivation, not to do, but to be.

  • Anonymous says:

    I get it! I stumbled upon your blog on xmas day and the whole 30 website too. Amazing, things come along at the right time in your life – for sure! You know I think I saw her, the best version of me, in the summer. But like a mirage she slipped away. Leading to much frustration and despair, the harder I tried to find her again. The worst my eating and exercise got. Calorie counting then binging, hammering myself at the gym then slacking. Hating it all. But the storm is over, I woke up this morning and I knew that way forward. One step at a time. That person I was in the summer, I know how to find her again. I am starting by doing the whole 30. But I am also just going to enjoy today. Thank you for your post(s), I want to let you know that your words have inspired me. Irene(the invincible)

  • Melissa 'Melicious' Joulwan says:

    Chappy B –> Thank you SO much for your comments; I'm glad this post resonated with you. I'm looking at this new attitude as an experiment: what can I feel like and be like and accomplish, if I just be? I'll keep y'all posted on how it goes. I'm excited!

    Irene the Invincible –> Welcome! I'm so glad you found my blog, and I'm excited for you to start the Whole30. It's such a great investment in yourself. Please stay in touch here and on the Whole30 community — I'd love to know how you're doing!

  • Lydia says:

    I've been working on this mentality for the past few months. I'm to a point where I feel…okay. I'm not having horrible reactions every time I eat, I don't ache in the morning, most of the time I get a good night's sleep. You know. Okay. And that's huge, and I'm grateful.

    But 2011, I'm shooting for Better Than Okay. I'm shooting for GREAT. I read on someone's blog earlier this year (was it here? maybe Whole9?) the statement "Before I do anything, I ask myself 'Is it awesome?'" I think that's a good way to approach pretty much everything in life.

    So here's to living awesomely, in 2011 and beyond. Wishing you, me, and everyone here lots of fantastic awesomeness.

  • Trixie says:

    This is a keeper!! Thank you:)

  • AllieNic says:

    Ditto everything you just said. I'm also guilty forgetting what my hard work is for (happiness?)…and focusing too much on the hard work. Will getting a PR make me happier? Maybe in the short-term…but it really is about enjoying every day– the journey. I tend to get lost in the work and forget to have fun along the way. Here's to a non-goal 2011! Let's just have fun instead…

  • Barbara says:

    Quite possibly my favorite post ever. 🙂

    The better version of me stops trying so damn hard and overcompensating.She goes out and lives life…eats healthy and enjoys her fitness. She realizes that a number or weight or clothing size doesn't dictate happiness.

    I'm going to find her soon!

  • Melissa 'Melicious' Joulwan says:

    Lydia, I LOVE that question. I'm totally going to adopt that right now. "Is it awesome?" Love it.

    Trixie, thank YOU. Glad you like it.

    AllieNic, I find my biggest challenge is enjoying the present, rather than working SO hard for the future. It's a balance, isn't it? Yay for non-goal 2001. Fun is the name of the game!

    Barbara, favorite post?! Sweet! Thanks! I've seen your best Barbara… just about everytime I see you. She's with you all the time — you just need to give her a warm welcome 🙂

  • themurr says:

    I always enjoy when other people have similar thoughts as me; makes me feel less alone in where my mind goes. I enjoyed the post though I am unsure who the best me is, and that's just looking internally. I amble between the Eastern letting go of the self and the Greek Knowing thyself. I stumble over doing good works and mastering what I do to define who I am.

    The one thing I come back to is Whitman's "Do I contradict myself?/Very well, then I contradict myself/(I am large, I contain multitudes)" Which is probably the only poetry I can spout offhand. The best me can run all day and out sprint the wind. He lifts heavy things and doesn't completely fall apart when he gets away from the routine, be it eating or exercising or whatever. He competes like his life depends on it but walks away win or lose grinning ear to ear. He's smart and quick and witty and only ever snaps at people that deserve it. He goes on adventures that look beyond him but somehow comes out relatively unscathed.

    I don't know. I can't narrow down what the best me would be, and more I think I don't want to. A handful of things stick out, mostly that I'll throw myself into new things, be it new recipes or a day long trail run in Pennsylvania when I train in pancake flat North Dakota and things like that. And I have now rambled on for a long while without even touching on getting to where I pay no attention to times or weight without a struggle (I keep fighting the urge to use a heart rate monitor, too scientific) so yes, thank you for this, and good luck being the best you you can.

  • Melissa 'Melicious' Joulwan says:

    TheMurr –> Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us! And for dropping some Whitman, too! Sweet!

    I love this: "He competes like his life depends on it but walks away win or lose grinning ear to ear. He's smart and quick and witty and only ever snaps at people that deserve it." Those two points alone would make you an A+ in my book.

    Best wishes for a kickass 2011!

  • Bethany says:

    Brilliant. Brilliant, brilliant. Precisely what I've been thinking, but not sure how to say – and also applies to so many areas of my life.

    The best me focuses on the journey, not the destination; eats clean, wakes up early to work out, and gives herself a break once in a while; remembers how to relax; has energy because she sleeps well and enough; can give patiently and with love to all those around her; and is really and sincerely happy.

    2011 is going to be fantastic, and I will be reading this post frequently to remind me of all the ways I can make it so.

    Thank you for giving words to my thoughts! 🙂

  • Melissa 'Melicious' Joulwan says:

    Bethany –> Hooray! I'm glad this post is workin' for you. I love your description of the best you — especiaqlly this part: "…gives herself a break once in a while; remembers how to relax.."

    That is genius.

    Happy 2011! Keep us posted on how you're doing!

  • nickjunk1 says:

    Wow – I agree that things come as we need/are ready to hear them. As a lifelong eating disorder SURVIVOR, this is my biggest struggle: being the best me verses what society SAYS is the Best Me. Love the blog and look forward to the journey we're all taking this year. Please don't stop!! Blessings.

  • Melissa 'Melicious' Joulwan says:

    Nickjunk1 –> Glad you like my blog, and that up
    you're here to keep me company on our joyride to being our best. Happy almost 2011. Keep us posted on how you're doing!

  • Catherine Hart Rebholz says:

    I got behind for a second on my blogs so I'm just reading this today. Probably one of my favorite posts ever! I will carry this with me and I have a feeling this idea will continue to have a very positive impact on my thoughts for some time. THANK YOU!!!!!

  • Boone says:

    Awesome post! It tears me apart when people can't appreciate their journey and daily victories because they are too busy obsessing over some pie-in-the-sky goal. I wish more people could learn to think this way and enjoy the day to day. Thanks Mel!

  • Melissa 'Melicious' Joulwan says:

    Boone! Is that really you?!

    Glad you liked the post… look for a whole new attitude from me at the gym. I'm smiling the whole time! 🙂

  • Melissa 'Melicious' Joulwan says:

    Catherine –> Hi, pretty girl. Consider this post a thank you for all the beautiful wisdom you drop on YOUR blog. Love you!

  • Paleo Loko says:

    Love this post! I'm new to paleo but I think about this a lot. I do skincare for a living so I meet a lot of people who are obsessed and unhappy striving for "perfection." It's a losing game- it's restrictive rather than productive. Besides, someone out there will always be more perfect than you. So I strive for and recently wrote about "my own best approximation of perfection," but I love thinking about it as you and a commentor have, of acting like your best self now, and choosing to do things that are awesome. Great goals for 2011!

  • Melissa 'Melicious' Joulwan says:

    Koko –> "my own best approximation of perfection"… love that! Best wishes for a very happy, healthy 30-day paleo adventure. We're starting ours officially on Monday, January 3, and I can't wait! Keep us posted on how you're doing!

  • Kyle says:

    Loved this post. Thanks!

  • Anonymous says:

    So, so love this. I just found your blog the other day and it's great! So, inspiring! I am going to share this post with everyone I know!

  • Melissa 'Melicious' Joulwan says:

    Dirthuckster –> Wow! Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed the post… and love that you're going to share it. It's a big experiment for me to try this approach, and I'm excited to see how it goes. Happy 2011!

  • Melissa 'Melicious' Joulwan says:

    Kyle –> Happy New Year! I'm glad you liked the post and hope it helps you have a kickass 2011.

  • Lindsay says:

    Hey Melissa, I love your whole blog, but I especially love this post. Amen, sistah!

  • Melissa 'Melicious' Joulwan says:

    Lindsay… comments like yours are totally crack to me. Thank you; I'm really glad you like my blog. Happy new year!

  • Anonymous says:

    Brilliant. Plain and Simple. There are not enough words I can say to thank you for posting this, because I honestly needed it so much today. Thank you.

  • Melissa 'Melicious' Joulwan says:

    Anonymous –> Glad to know the message helped. Good luck and happy new year!

  • jeanyemercer says:

    Just reread this fabulous post. It speaks to my soul. Thank you, Mel!


  • Melissa 'Melicious' Joulwan says:

    Jeanye –> So glad it's working for you! Thank you for letting me know. I remind myself every day that this is the year of the Best Version of Me. So far, so good 😉

  • Lizzie says:

    brilliant … I know how much I weighed when i was 11 .. because that i when i first started to diet .. tragic …
    can I steal this page from your book, too ??
    I am just starting at CrossFit, because, for once, I just want to be strong and fit and not care about “the number on the scale” – it makes me want to cry that it has taken 35 years to get there !!!!!!!!!

    • Mel says:

      Hey, Lizzie. I can tell you my weight during every year of my life… terrible, isn’t it?! Congratulations on starting CrossFit — and hooray for banishing the scale. The number is completely irrelevant to anything that matters.

      Keep me posted on how you’re doing!

  • Juni says:

    I’ve been loosely following your blog for a while and just yesterday bought your cookbook. From page one I thought to myself, “here is a woman I can relate to”. We have a lot in common, foodie families, thyroid hell, healthy aspirations and blunt bangs…So today, a slow week at work, I decided to check out more of your blog. I found this post. It is awesome. I’m pretty sure you stole it from my diary…Thank you