We've all been there, things are rough, and the common phrase, "Take things one day at a time", comes up. For the most part we generally get what it means, but I think a lot of us actually don't know how to do what it says. So, let's talk about how to actually take things one day at a time. What does it really mean and how do we do it?
When I was having a particularly rough time dealing with my mom's death, people would say, "Just take it one day at a time, it will get easier." I would then nod my head, and laugh inside because, in my opinion, that seemed silly. How on earth could I not take it one day at a time? Life was only lived one day at a time, I couldn't live a whole year or even a whole week at once no matter how hard I tried. So, I would often feel like Captain Obvious had just spoken and shake off their advice.
The truth is, their advice was solid. I just don't know if most of us giving those words of encouragement really know how to do it ourselves. Living one day at a time can be looked at as risky, never planning for the future, and only living in the now. That's not what I think this advice means. I think it means focusing on what you can do right now to further yourself along. Then little by little, the steps you take add up to a full journey and you look back and can see how far you've come.
So, how do we do it?
1. Accept that we cannot live all the days we want to live at one time, and have to allow time to pass the way it always has and always will.
The one thing about time is that it will pass no matter what. You can't make it go more quickly, and you can't stop it from happening. Often, when going through hard things, we just want to skip the time that needs to pass and get to the end result. Since none of us have time machines, and if we skipped all the middle days, we'd miss out on the knowledge we need to gain by going through things, we just have to let each day pass as it will.
2. Instead of focusing on the end result, focus on the next step.
When I was grieving my mother's death pretty heavily, I wanted to feel whole again instead of like a grieving, depressed, slob. So, what could I do right then that would bring me closer to my goal? I had to take it one day at a time as my friends and family said. So, how did I do this?
I would wake up in the morning and tell myself the following, "Today, I will get up and do all the things I need to do." It was easy to sit on the couch, wallow, and avoid life because I was sad, but that led to feeling like life was staying as depressing as always. So, today I would get up and do everything I needed to do. Once I had finished those things, I was free to wallow if I wanted. Sometimes, I would need my precious wallowing time, other days I would feel great for getting my tasks done and want to do more.
I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine who has been through hell as a result of their own choices. They're suffering from substance abuse related problems and are in the process of becoming "clean". Becoming clean to them feels like an end result that will take so long that the tunnel is still dark where they're standing. The light that so many others see at the end of the tunnel is so far from this person's vision, that it feels like they're going into a pit of darkness.
We were talking about this, and ultimately I said, "It may be too hard to take it one day at a time when you're having your cravings. Maybe, you could take it ten minutes at a time. Choose sobriety for the next ten minutes. Then when that ten minutes ends, you can choose again what you're going to do with the next ten minutes after that. Suddenly you've made it through an hour, then half of a day, then a full day, then a week, then a month. All of that combines to a year, and then a lifetime. "
There are times in life where we have to really break things down to simple increments. When we are trying to change our lives completely, we may need to do just that. It's much easier to focus on a piece of the puzzle than looking at all the pieces at once and having them put together in one fell swoop. We put together puzzles piece by piece, such is the way of life as well.
3. If you failed today, try again tomorrow. If you didn't fail, give yourself a high five and do it all again.
So, if you're taking it one day at a time, is there room for mistakes? There will have to be, you're a human. Maybe you're taking things ten minutes at a time, and you failed. Try again the next ten minutes. If you failed to get things done today and instead watched a full day of tv and wallowed, then forgive yourself and move on tomorrow to your task list. It's all about a fresh start every day.
One of my favorite quotes for taking it one day at a time is the quote pictured to the right by Emerson.
All we need to do is try today. Do your best today and suddenly you've put together a chunk of days that have gotten you through what's ahead.