Improving Your Life by Assuming the Best

Do you believe that people are doing the best they can?


This question was posed to me by Dr. Brené Brown, vulnerability, shame, and worthiness researcher, in her latest book Rising Strong. The question was originally asked of Brown herself by her counsellor, and Brown went on to ask friends, family, strangers, and research participants. At first Brown answered with a resounding “No,” as I did myself. But as she unpacks the story and her research her mind was changed, and I found myself softening as well. Here is how you can improve your life by assuming the best.

Improving Your Life By Assuming the Best

Those Who Answer “No”

Brown noticed in her conversations with people in her life as well as in her research there were commonalities between the groups of those who answered the question with a no and those who answered yes. The people who responded that people are not doing their best often used themselves as an example of not doing ones best. These people struggled with perfectionism and were as hard on others as they were on themselves.


Those Who Answer “Yes”

On the other side, the people who believed that people are doing their best were often more compassionate. They acknowledged their own mistakes, but also noted that their intentions had been good and that they had tried. This showed how they believed in their own self-worth. These people extended that compassion to others by choosing to believe that other people had good intentions and were trying also.


I related to the I’m-not-doing-my-best-so-neither-are-they feelings. My first reaction had been, “I can think of a million times I’ve not done my best, so obviously other people aren’t either.” However, after I read about those who had answered yes, I went back and reflected on the “million times” I could think of not having done my best. I noticed there were so many other factors involved in the situation as a whole, not just my perceived shortcomings.


The One Assumption It’s Okay to Make

Life is complicated. When we interact with another person, there is an entire other world going on for that person that we know little about. All those unknown factors contribute to their behaviour. Maybe they’ve just lost their job, have to care for a dependent family member, are dealing with a health scare, and so on. People do not behave like themselves when they’re under stress. Additionally, we all have different skill levels. Some people simply do not posses the skills, tools, or support system to meet the expectations of their circumstance.


By assuming others are doing their best, it keeps you out of judgement. You focus on what is – presently – instead of what you think could or should be. You will be able to appreciate others for who they are. Projecting your own desires or expectations onto others leads to annoyance or anger when they disappoint or fall short. By seeing and accepting others for who they are as they are, you eliminate the opportunity for resentment. Which ultimately leads to a more realistic and positive outlook.

Seeing and accepting others for who they are as they are eliminates the opportunity for resentment. Click To Tweet

A Note About Boundaries

Assuming the best does not mean that inappropriate or dangerous behaviour becomes acceptable. It is important to know and enforce your personal boundaries regarding different types of relationships and interactions. Sometimes a person’s best does not meet the minimum requirement for these boundaries. In these situations there is a hard decision to make regarding the status of this person’s involvement in your life.


When I screw up, and boy have I screwed up over the years, my hope is that others will be compassionate and gentle with me. I want to do that for others – as well as for myself more in fact. Of course there is always room for growth and improvement. Goal setting and continued learning are important parts of life. On a day-to-day basis, however, I am living with positive intentions and truly trying. In other words, I am doing the best I can with what I’ve got. That is why I am now assuming the best in others as well.


Where do you stand? Do you believe that people are doing the best they can?

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23 Comment

  1. Reply
    Shannyn @ Frugal Beautiful
    October 16, 2015 at 6:08 pm

    Interesting read! I do think that most people are doing the best with what they have. Of course, that’s going to look different for everyone. It’s not fair to assume someone isn’t giving it their all, when everyone has a different method of achieving goals and a different mental capacity for work.

    1. Reply
      October 16, 2015 at 6:14 pm

      Exactly. I love how you mention that it looks different for everyone. Glad you enjoyed the post!

  2. Reply
    Mary-In the boondocks
    October 19, 2015 at 1:54 am

    Food for thought. Grace, it is hard for us to see people as doing their best when sometimes it is obvious they are not. But I will keep this in mind as I am a glass half full type of person. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    1. Reply
      October 20, 2015 at 12:40 pm

      I’m so jealous you’re a glass half full person. That’s such a wonderful mindset to have as a default.

  3. Reply
    October 19, 2015 at 7:21 am

    I definitely think there is validity in assuming the best in people. It makes life so much more positive, and can be a huge help in marriage too. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Reply
      October 19, 2015 at 8:43 am

      I love how you mentioned using it in marriage! That is actually one of the hardest places I struggle with implementing it, which seems so backwards. Somehow I have an easier time giving strangers the benefit of the doubt.

  4. Reply
    October 19, 2015 at 11:45 am

    Very well thought out and written article that everyone of us needs to read. Judgement? Which one of us doesn’t fall into that every now and then. Thanks for the reminder that at any time, we are each doing our best, whether it looks like it to others or not. Thank you.

    1. Reply
      October 19, 2015 at 11:58 am

      I’m so glad this resonated with you. Have a great week!

  5. Reply
    October 20, 2015 at 2:41 pm

    I do try to give people the benefit of the doubt. All in all I do think people do their best. Sometimes, though, they need to be taught they are capable of so much more than they believe they are. Then “best” changes. Thanks for the food for thought!

    1. Reply
      October 20, 2015 at 2:42 pm

      So true, there is always room to learn and grow further.

  6. Reply
    Chelc | Inside the Fox Den
    October 22, 2015 at 7:54 am

    How neat! Thanks for sharing at Merry Monday, hope to see you again next week!

    1. Reply
      October 22, 2015 at 8:34 am


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  8. Reply
    Sofia @ Currentlylovingsimplicity
    October 31, 2015 at 12:57 pm

    I never heard of this, so interesting! I also initially thought: Well, I haven’t done my best a 100000 times, so no. But then again, often it was the best I could do at a given time, even though I had higher expectations of myself. Seems that I should work on my perfectionism…

    1. Reply
      October 31, 2015 at 2:49 pm

      Get insight. Perfectionism is definitely sneaking and easy to let control us.

  9. Reply
    November 6, 2015 at 9:21 am

    This is something I have thought of quite often in recent years – at least when it came to my own situation. Choices made in the past may not always have been the best choices. But due to what was happening at the time they were the best. Who is to say what is best for someone else when so often we don’t even really know what might be best for ourselves.

    Great article and lots of food for thought!

    1. Reply
      November 6, 2015 at 9:50 am

      I’m so glad this resonated with you as well. I like how you mention that we rarely even know what’s the best for ourselves, so we can’t put expectations on others. That’s so true. Compassion for others and ourselves is so important.

  10. Reply
    Emma Lions
    November 6, 2015 at 6:18 pm

    This completely resonates with me. For years I’ve been very hard on myself, believing I was lazy and not good enough (this was driven in part by family who also said these things to me). As I’ve gotten older and especially now that I’m a mother, I find myself saying all the time “‘but they’re trying their best”. I’ve been able to say that now about my mum who I though hadn’t done a very good job raising me. I can now see that she was doing the best she could with the skills, knowledge and resources she has available at the time, so who I am to judge her now for her decisions then?

    1. Reply
      November 6, 2015 at 6:46 pm

      Wow, I’m so happy you experienced such a strong connection with this post. You’ve made some deep insights, and that’s awesome. Your experience sounds similar to my own growing up and my feelings towards my mother, so I can totally relate with your story as well.

  11. Reply
    November 8, 2015 at 7:57 pm

    Grace, growing up I was a very shy and unsure person where people used to scare me and thought people judged me and longed for acceptance. So I used to be very judgemental towards people and naturally thought people were either not doing their best to be nice to me or it was for me to make an effort to be nice to them back. That caused me no end of relationship problems.

    But inside I was suffering a big personal struggle with self-confidence. Just like you say, I believe everyone is struggling with some personal challenge and so we cannot be at our best always.

    Today I have developed a compassion towards others because I have learnt how to accept and love myself. I think loving and accepting ourselves as we are is the key to accepting and loving others as they are. It all starts with us and how we feel about ourselves.

    1. Reply
      November 8, 2015 at 9:31 pm

      Thank you for opening up about your own experiences. I can definitely relate to your struggle with self-confidence and how that affects relationships. I’m glad to hear you’ve learned how to accept and love yourself – that can be difficult, but it’s so important. I know I’m still working on it myself. I appreciate your sharing these wise words.

  12. Reply
    Al Clunnie
    November 11, 2015 at 3:51 am

    Great perspective. Recently I’ve been more and more aware of the need for me to separate myself from the emotion of situations. Everyone’s going through their own stuff. And little things, like getting cut up in traffic. I’m learning to rise above, don’t make assumptions. Focus only on the things that you can control. Thanks for the post!

    1. Reply
      November 11, 2015 at 9:57 am

      That’s so great. Speaking of traffic, whenever someone passes me like a crazy person or cuts me off I try to think to myself, “Maybe they have a personal emergency and that’s why they’re rushing off/driving recklessly.” Like you said, everyone’s going through their own stuff.

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