Surely, everyone knows the self-help exhortation to “dance like no one is watching.” Good advice, I’d say. But, it can also be life-altering to behave as if everyone is, in fact, watching. To clarify, I’m not talking about trolling on Facebook or Twitter. More to the point: Behave as if those you most deeply respect are paying very close attention. Let’s break it down into a few steps.
Truly take your time to list people for whom you have the utmost respect
Everyone has acquaintances. Everyone has folks who once played an important role to them but, for one reason or another, have moved on. Who is currently an influential presence in your life? Whose opinion matters most to you? Are there friends or other loved ones who have set a motivating example for you? Write down the names of those you’d feel most shameful about disappointing. Keep them in mind as we move through these the ensuing steps.
Recall a time when you let down any of the people on your list
We all screw up. It’s an inevitable part of the human condition. But you can learn from these episodes. For this step, focus on any time when your human fallibility caused someone you respect to feel hurt or let down. You may have experienced guilt or shame at the time. Perhaps you still do. Accepting that perfection is never the goal, you can still commit to being as mindful as possible to never let that happen again.
Act as if the people on your list are watching
It may be something mundane like cleaning your apartment or writing a reply to a casual e-mail. It may be something that feels more important, e.g. tucking your child into bed, making a meal for another person, or taking the time to lift the spirits of someone else. All day long, you are performing tasks. All day long, you are living through experiences. How different would each of these moments be if you knew someone were filming them and sharing the video with the people you most respect? What changes would you make in how you approached and fulfilled each obligation, effort, or chore?
Some of you are probably thinking that we shouldn’t be so worried about what other people think of us. I’ll push back and say that in any society, the perspectives of others must be factored in to some degree. While it most certainly is crucial to create and adhere to your own moral compass, I’d posit that you (and most of us) would be more motivated by the existence of a video than by your moral compass. And there’s yet another factor to consider:
Act as if this may be the last time you perform this act
There is a chance that something you did today will turn out to be the last time you’ll ever do that particular thing. You didn’t know it at the time. But maybe one day, you’ll be able to recognize and reflect on this reality. Why not, then, perform each act if a) the people you most respect are watching and b) with the awareness that you may never do it again? Suddenly, you’ll be fully imposed into the present moment. Washing the dishes or replying to a comment on Facebook becomes sacred. Saying good night to a loved one is a veritable sacrament — because, after all, all such behaviors are finite.
To reiterate, the goal is not “perfection.” No one can always be at their best. That said, by consciously and consistently raising your standards, you set the bar higher and higher. Every act, every word, every moment can thus be recognized as the blessing it has always been.