The Best Version 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?

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  • Joe says:

    Be your own hero.

  • ashley hibbitts says:

    Wow, just wow! Thanks for the inspiration. This is exactly where I am right now too. ANd it feels REALLY good! CHeers to your best year yet Melissa!

  • Judy says:

    Thanks for the pep talk! I’ve being trying to let go and do this for half of 2011. I enjoyed reading your take on it because it’s something we’ve heard but not really heard. I think I’ll remember the “narrow, winding stairways” in Prague when I need to.

  • Nicole Ryan says:

    This post is a breath of fresh air. Happy New Year and here’s to be being the best you!

  • Linda Sand says:

    For the last two weeks I’ve been trying to give myself a vacation from following the rules. It has not felt good. I keep telling myself I can take a vacation as long as I do what I need to do the other 50 weeks of the year but I don’t seem to believe me. It reminds me of your comments about eating what you wanted in Prague and Paris–it was fun but your body didn’t feel as well as it normally does. How do we balance our lives so as to have both? Or do we?

  • Nancy Kennedy says:

    I’ve been focusing on “be me” for a year now…it totally aligns with what you’ve been doing. I hadn’t thought about the “destination” vs. “journey” angle and really appreciate reading about your parallel experience.

    (When I need to, I ask myself “Am I being the ‘me’ I wish I was?”…and if the answer is “no” then I make a change!)

    ~ Thanks for sharing

  • Great post. I am totally tracking with you.

    The best version of me is living in the moment. In 2012, I am throwing out the clock. I am going to eat slower and enjoy every bite. I am going to play with my kids and not care about the load of laundry I should be folding. I want to see the beauty in every moment of the day. I know I will be happier and have a full life when I pause more often.

    I just wrote a post about this. 🙂 You have truly inspired me Melissa.

  • Lane says:

    I like the way you think. I’d like to be the best me, 2012 too.

  • ms jane says:

    This is my motto for 2012:

    Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. Courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference. Yep it’s the prayer that NA/AA etc use but how cool is it?!

    Thanks Mel for all your great info, recipes and inspiration. I am glad I stumbled upon you in cyberspace and look forward to sharing 2012 with you!

  • Scott says:

    Love it. Works for me. Wishing you and yours and awesome New Year.

  • Gaby says:

    Very inspiring post. Even when I don’t do new year’s resolutions I’m always too hard on myself and the people that surround me. Gotta take it easy and enjoy the process.

  • Marinka says:

    What an inspiring post! I was trying to figure out the same issues, how I could reach my goals this year (instead of not reaching the same goals I had last year(s)). Letting go could be the best thing to do! So instead of focussing on what goes wrong, I’m going to let go and just live the way I want to live. Thank you!!

  • Annie says:

    Thank you! What a refreshing look at life and such a wise take on living it! Here’s to a great 2012 as the best version of ourselves 🙂

  • Kate says:

    So awesome! It is the reward – so true. Thank you souch for this gift! Happy 2012!

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  • Chia says:

    Best. Post. Ever. Thank you for sharing it.

  • Amanda Arthur says:

    I loved this blog post so much last year and re-read it several times over the past months to remind myself that the journey IS the destination. Thank you for reminding me again.
    I still find myself thinking things like “January 31st will be so awesome because I will have finished my Whole30 and I will be feeling great” or “I can’t wait until March because hopefully I will have lost __ pounds by then and I’ll be feeling better.” When am I going to learn to live in the moment?!
    I think you wrote about this previously, but I need to focus more on my actions (completing the Whole30/eating clean, Crossfitting twice a week, doing yoga once a week, sleeping 8-9 hours every night), which are things I can actually control, instead of focusing on the results, which I can’t control. What can I say? This 28-year-old is definitely a work in progress…

    • Mel says:

      Amanda, we’re ALL works in progress. I think as long as you keep chipping away at it and challenging your own thinking, you’re on the right track.

      Happy 2012 to you!

  • Krista says:

    Thank you SO much for this. 🙂 Just this morning I smiled because I felt peaceful, truly peaceful and content with myself after a lifetime of feeling not good enough. The last year has been so wretched but so good because I’m getting stronger, I’m figuring out who “me” is and I like me. 🙂 I so identified with your delight in being comfy with yourself so that you can really cheer on the accomplishments of others without feeling insignificant. You cheered me greatly today. 🙂 Thank you!

  • Jordan5 says:

    I love this! Thank you for sharing!

  • jessica says:

    this is a true challenge to me…it honestly scares me to let go of “external” rules and just be with myself and see where that leads me…i fear so badly rejection of those close to me that that fear keeps me from answering this question honestly “what is the best version of you”…of course diet is a good starter (what led me to your blog) but there are so many other issues in my life…it feels so complicated dark and scary to approach them with “no” rules/authority telling me the “answer”. I am going to sit with this question for a while today…or in the days to come (because it’s answer is not something you can “force”) i was not expecting to find this here …but then i was not expecting to cry when i read your paleo story in the free download of your cookbook. Your paragraph on being teased and withdrawing into books and yet still longing to be like the athletic kids in some way…. all of it hit so close to home for me, and i just cried, because i identified so closely and hearing from someone else seems to have been somehow part of a healing experience…i was going to message you seperately concerning that, but after starting this comment, i will just leave it as that. Thank you, really. These are burdens that have been with me my whole life and i really want to be free of them (thanks again…)

    • Mel says:

      Hey, Jessica!

      I totally applaud you for exploring this topic. It really isn’t easy, and even though I’ve been at it a loooooong time, I’m still a work in progress. So be kind to yourself, breathe deeply, and let your feelings flow across your awareness without judgement — that’s when you can really get down to what’s what.

      Feel free to write me email if you want — although I love you sharing your thoughts here because you never know when what you say will help someone else.

      Virtual hug to you!

  • Michelle says:

    Love your thinking, love your style Mel. Love this…

    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.

  • Jessica W says:

    Love this post. I’m just discovering your blog and checking out the “fave posts”. Now that 2012 is coming to a close, I wonder how you feel you did on your non-goal. Were you able to let go and just be? How has it affected your life, your happiness, your relationships? It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately and I wonder if it’s truly possible for someone like me, who has always measured my life against others, to just let go of all of that and just be the best version of me. Thanks for a great blog post and I’m looking forward to seeing more of your wrtiting!

    • Mel says:

      I’m glad you found me! Hope you have fun checking out my other fave posts.

      2012 was a pivotal year for me. I found out in the spring that I needed to deal with some fairly significant health issues — adrenal burnout and associated thyroid complications — so my focus had to shift from “training to be a superhero” to “recovering my health.”

      I put an emphasis on eating well because it made me feel good, rather than my old “because I want to lose weight” and I committed to a meditation/kundalini yoga practice. By making a conscious decision to meditate and learn to be present, I’ve felt a lot more content and peaceful.

      And by going easier, physically and mentally, rather than constantly pushing myself and trying to be ultra-disciplined, I think I’ve been easier to be around. I’m definitely feeling happier and healthier than I was a year ago.

      I’d still like to lose the 15 or so pounds I gained because of my adrenal/thyroid meltdown, but I’m not distracted by it the way I was even 6 months ago.

      Right now, I am the best version of myself I can be: I’m only half-broken 😉 and I’m feeling upbeat and optimistic about the coming year.

      I will say that I’ve spent the better part of my life being super disciplined (for the sake of being disciplined, in many cases) and for the last two years, I’ve taken a more relaxed approach. The outcomes of those two philosophies haven’t been very different from each other. I weigh about the same, I look about the same, I physically feel about the same.

      But mentally, the difference is remarkable. I enjoy myself more. I feel more light-hearted. I’m able to be more present, rather than always thinking about some time in the future when I’ll be “just the way I want to be.”

      I am what and who I am now. And that’s great. And I have things I want to work on, but today is today and it’s awesome.

      That’s some groovy thinking, I know, but it’s also so freeing.

      I hope this helps. Happy holidays to you and best wishes for a wonderful 2013.

      • Sharona Zee says:

        Bring on 2013, and our best selves! Your story resonates with me. I was working out daily like it was my job at the coal mines until someone said to me, “I have a bike, but I only use it for joyrides”. WTF?!? That’s what I want to use mine for too…all joyrides!

  • Turbo says:

    I love this post, as these are the same things I am struggling with RIGHT NOW. When you practiced being your “best version” without a number over your head, did it generate all sorts of anxiety that drove you to find meditation and yoga? I am having a hard time letting go of the goal, and the number, and all the self-measurement of success that go with it. In the end, it all still circles back to the low self-esteem that drives me to discipline-hell and back.

    Thanks for your insightful blog.

    • Mel says:

      Re-training our thinking is never easy, and I had a few bumps along the way with this thinking. But I really stuck to my guns. There are times when the scale, the measuring tape, and the stopwatch can be valuable tools to track progress, but when the TOOLS become the GOAL, that’s where I think trouble starts. It might help you to think that you’re not using these measuring sticks “right now.” Tell yourself, “For right now, I’m living as the person I want to be, and I’m not holding myself to any external measure… just for right now.” That might help you soften into it.

      Also, you might try applying your “discipline” to this new way of thinking. I had a similar issue where I thought I was doing everything right if I was super disciplined and “wrong” if I was “lazy.” Then I decided to apply that commitment to taking care of myself. I approached meditation and rest with the same passion I approached my workouts. I did everything with deep commitment. When I was resting, I was RESTING. It doesn’t fix everything overnight, and it’s not always smooth sailing, but it does get easier and feel more natural after a while. Good luck to you!

  • Linda says:

    Oh, Mel… I started 2014 with a similar outlook after feeling like death and being VERY overweight for a VERY long time. I am on Day 20 of my first Whole30. It has been mostly effortless (I had already eschewed sugar, dairy and flour in January). I am also dealing with a newly diagnosed autoimmune disease and was two weeks into an aggressive round of prednisone when I began my Whole30, so some of the benefits of the program have been sorely challenged by drug reactions and just not feeling my best. What has gotten me through this roller coaster is KNOWING that I am treating my body better than I have in years. I dutifully put my scale on a high shelf on Day 1 because I knew that checking my weight on a daily basis would have been where I cheated. Your fabulous recipes and funny/kind/inspirational insights (along with the Whole30 site and daily emails), have also let me know that this isn’t a DIET, it’s a lifestyle–and the end of a long and convoluted journey with food. Thanks for being a pioneer and clearing the path. LOVE this post! I haven’t missed my scale TOO much (though I will be checking it at the end of my Whole30 and then putting it away for another 30 days :). I appreciate you/your blog so much.

    • Mel says:

      Thank you so much for stopping by to leave me this super sweet comment… I’m really happy to know my site is helping you on your Whole30 ride. Congratulations to you for tackling the Whole30! Feels good to treat your body so well, right? And good for you for putting away the scale. I know how hard that can be, but you did it. AWESOME!

  • Jen L. says:

    This post is life changing. I am so empowered. I would love to share this with my clients as motivation, giving you credit of course. I fill different already. THANK YOU!