What Are Your Best Interests?

Seeing yourself or people you care about act in ways that seem counter to your or their own best interests is frustrating. TV and movies show us many images of people clearly engaged in harmful actions so perhaps we are conditioned to accepting this behavior as routine, but it still hurts when close to home. Although reasonable people can disagree over what constitutes best interests, some behavior seems beyond any possible definition, such as any form of addiction.

Definitions of best interests may vary from person to person, but one that applies across all categories might be “whatever is most productive of good health and well-being” in any area. Using health and well-being as a yardstick in various areas of life and organizing, we might include the following elements:

Body – caring for the health of the body by getting sufficient exercise, play, humor (read Anatomy of an Illness by Norman Cousins if you do not know why this matters), and sleep to heal and prevent disease; eating appropriate amounts of well-balanced food with minimal processing; getting sufficient hydration; following prescribed medical regimens

Emotions – caring for emotional health by ensuring sufficient relaxation, exercise, social interactions, play and humor, inspiration, and time in nature to be emotionally balanced, stable, and maintain perspective; engaging in self-discipline to control emotions and carry out constructive behavior in all areas

Mind – caring for the mind by providing sufficient and varied challenges,  maintaining life-long learning, and avoiding things that decrease mental capacity (many drugs, most TV, sports that can cause head injuries)
Spirit/soul – caring for the spirit by making time for art, culture, literature, nature, meditation and/or relaxation, religion if desired, inspirational reading or talks, and self-expression

Finances – caring for financial health by spending less than comes in each month, paying off debts, saving and/or investing for future needs, and managing credit and bank accounts well

Politics – caring for the body politic by evaluating the short- and long-term effects of measures and candidates on you and others; being a well- informed citizen; not being swept up by bias, scandal-mongering or other trivia or allowing emotions to cloud your judgment; holding elected officials accountable; asserting your needs and insisting that those be recognized; refusing to succumb to cynicism, nihilism, negativity, or name-calling

Nest – ensuring that you have a nurturing and supportive home environment in which to recover from the assaults and insults of daily life by keeping it reasonably clean, comfortable, organized, and aesthetically appealing.

Systems – having sufficient organization to easily access important papers, manage finances, bills, and taxes, and avoid unnecessary legal difficulties; having “homes” for all important belongings; reducing clutter on a regular basis

Many of these activities may seem trivial and mundane, but they are the activities that DETERMINE the quality of our lives. Neglecting any area will have increasingly adverse consequences the longer it is ignored that will undermine a happy, healthy life.

No one scores 100% on any of these measures. We are all works in progress – striving to be better, aspiring to higher things. No one should ever berate themselves for falling short on these or any other scales. What is needed instead is a PLAN, a doable, tolerable, easy, easy plan for consistently improving the most important areas in very small doses every day or close to it to gradually reach the level you want for yourself, and a big dose of acceptance that understands that our world and lives are too full to do it all. (Just don’t do things that actively violate best interests.)

When we do not take care of any part of our being, but especially the body and emotions, our unconscious mind responds by justifying our actions as “oh well, it must not be important”, and that it means our needs are not important, and therefore, we are not important. These conclusions undermine self-esteem and self-worth, but the cure is simple and easy: make self-care, especially of the body and emotions your top priority, even if you do not think you ‘deserve’ it or need it. You will then become more effective at everything else that you need to do because you will not have adverse emotions pulling you down and making you less productive.

So, what interferes with people always acting on their best interests? The most common reasons include

All of these issues can be changed, some more easily than others. Information on all types of health is all around us, although some effort may be required to sort out the good from the bad. Resources for building skills are everywhere, and therapy for the emotional issues is available in many forms.

When you see yourself acting against your own best interests, the situation is yours to correct. You can analyze your behavior from various angles, dig deep to find contributing factors (such as, ‘every time x happens, I do __’) and solutions for each one, set up your environment to make more constructive behavior easier and adverse actions harder (such as, removing unhealthy food from your home and stocking it with delicious, healthy food), establish what James Clear calls “bright-line” rules (such as, “I will not do __ until I have done __”). You can set up reminder notes, computer alerts, buddy systems with friends, the possibilities are limited only by your imagination and determination to change.

When someone you care about is acting counter to their own best interests, your options are clearly more limited. Usually the best thing to do is to ask strategic questions (without grilling or putting the other person on the defensive) and really LISTEN to the responses. Asking follow-up questions without any judgmental tone or accusation may cause the person to reflect on their behavior or thoughts. Pausing the conversation often may help the implications of statements sink in. Expressing support and caring and willingness to accept their right to make their own decisions is also important. If the person expresses a desire to change, perhaps you can help strategize if your participation is clearly welcome.

All of these techniques require steely self-discipline that may be hard to come by when you are emotionally invested in the outcome. Helping someone else requires keeping your ego out of the conversation – a most difficult task under any circumstances. The more concerned and caring you are both in reality and in your approach, the harder it will be to keep your emotions out. If the conversation will require more emotional control than you can muster, perhaps you can recruit someone else to more delicately intervene. Ultimately, you must accept that the only life you are in charge of is yours.


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© Gloria Valoris, 2015

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