You know who you are when you’re your best self. You’re you, but better. You’re sharp, you’re quick. You see solutions, you create results. You’re a dream to be with and you ooze contentment. If only you could be this person all the time.
Cathryn Lavery is a company founder on a mission to make everyone the best version of themselves. Her company, BestSelf, provides top productivity tools to help its customers achieve their goals and has sold over $30 million of products to customers determined to improve.
I interviewed Lavery to hear her tips on consistently, unequivocally, being your best self.
Be a lifelong learner
“Create a habit of making time for learning,” advised Lavery. To become your best self, get better. “Read books, do courses, adopt a growth mindset of improving.” A way to start is by looking at what you already know and then bolting on new knowledge and skills, “like a web designer who learns how to code.” Read for fun, not because you have to, or “because you’re trying to get a certificate.” Lavery explained she would much rather hire someone who has learned how to do a job versus has a degree and emphasises the value of “soft skills; habits, structure and being an organised person”.
Before founding BestSelf, Lavery was an architect in New York, with a hunch that it wasn’t the path for her. Rather than quit right away, she pledged to read twenty-two specific books before deciding the way forward. Those twenty-two books changed her trajectory. One included the $100 Startup, by Chris Guillebeau, that planted the seed from which businesses including BestSelf would grow. Lessons taken from the $100 Startup included, “the business you start doesn’t have to be your forever role.” It’s good to experiment, be curious and see where it takes you.
Become a morning person
Lavery explained that she had always thought of herself as a night person, not a morning person. Then she read a book that explained it’s nothing but a label that can be changed. Assigning arbitrary descriptions can be damaging because humans act consistently with their self-identity. A few early morning alarms later and Lavery was converted.
“I like to start my day in an intentional way. The first hour of the day is so important. I spend mine reading, doing exercise, a five-minute meditation. It’s nothing crazy but it helps me get off to the best start.” Being awake and improving when everyone around you is still snoozing brings benefits that compound daily for beautiful results. “I can get more done between 7am and 9am than I can for the rest of the day.” Avoiding distraction is a huge part of doing your best work and creating your best art, and waking up early is a simple way of making it happen.
Control your circle
It’s well-documented that you become a combination of the people you spend the most time with, so make sure they reflect the person you want to become. Lavery’s advice is to “be around people who inspire you to be the best version of yourself. People who see opportunities, who do things you want to do, who eat healthily and have healthy relationships.”
Variety of friendships is important too. “Sometimes I would only be around entrepreneurs, and I didn’t always want to be talking about work.” Hanging out with different friends, who know different versions of you, can “make you well-rounded.” When discussing why she moved from New York to Austin, Texas, Lavery explained that “in New York, everyone is always busy, so you’re always in catch up mode with friends.” She prefers the experience in Austin where she has developed richer and deeper friendships with people she sees regularly, including at their houses, which happens less in New York because “rent is so expensive that people don’t have as much room to host.”
Expand your comfort zone
“Sometimes we make decisions and we don’t know why they feel off,” explained Lavery, “but it’s likely because they conflict with our core values. Everyone has them, but they might not know what they are.” Lavery explained that curiosity is a key core value for her. “Last year during covid-19 I dealt with lots of issues; business partner issues, and so on. But with every new situation, including that this would be my first pandemic, I chose to say ‘I wonder what this will be like’ instead of fearing it.” She explains that silver linings can come from anywhere, as long as you have curiosity, “something seemingly negative in the moment can turn out to be a gift.”
Approaching life with curiosity means Lavery forces herself out of her comfort zone, for example participating in bike races or publishing regular videos on her YouTube channel. During one year Lavery ran a “100 days of challenges” habit, where she wrote down small challenges for herself, consisting of “stuff I wouldn’t want to do.” Then she made herself tick off one per day for one hundred days and said it ended up creating her “a whole other life.” She explained that we have to fight to get out of our comfort zone, “our brain’s only goal is to keep us safe.” But times have changed, “we don’t always need to be on the lookout for sabretooth tigers, but we’re still running on this ancient hardware that keeps us fearful.” She advised to “make it a habit to move out of your comfort zone, put courage over comfort.”
Put progress over perfection
Lavery recalled an experiment testing quality versus quantity, in which two groups of people were set the task of taking photos. One group had to prolifically produce, keep taking photos and putting work out there, with a high quota to hit to get an A. The other group were only allowed to submit one photo in the same time frame, which had to be perfect to score an A. The result? Even though the second group had honed and perfected their masterpieces, those in the first group took far better photos overall. You take care of the quantity; the quality will take care of itself.
“The first video I ever made was awful, even my brother said so,” laughed Lavery. “People expect themselves to be good at things straight away, but it stops them progressing.” Looking back and being embarrassed by your first video means progress. Looking back and not being embarrassed by your first video might mean you never improved.
Get away from technology
On your quest to become your best self, Lavery wants you to put away your phone. “Getting away from your computer and your phone is a really good thing.” She explained that we “don’t give our brains time to be bored or think” and it’s costing productivity and ideas. “It’s no surprise that we get our best ideas in the shower. It’s because you’ve found a meditative state and let your mind wander.” Lavery advises that you “go for a walk, purposefully spend time away from your computer and let yourself be bored.” When away from technology, “take a notebook and write stuff down. Answer questions, including ‘what would make today a win?’ and become more self aware.”
Lavery is a fan of “Adding friction to bad habits and taking friction away from good habits.” She designs her environment accordingly and incorporates small hacks to get around activities that don’t create her best self. “I’ll hide the remote or take the batteries out. I’ll put my alarm clock on the other side of the room. I have all notifications turned off on my devices.” All are ways of tricking your mind into better processes until they become habits.
The best version of every individual exists and shows up in varying frequencies. The easy part is defining the best you. The hard part is bringing them to every scenario. The hard part is keeping them in control of your thoughts, actions and words. Lifelong learning, becoming a morning person, controlling your circle, expanding your comfort zone, putting progress over perfection and regularly escaping technology are some of the ways your best self can be summoned.