It’s that time of year again. Even if you haven’t put away the decorations, I suspect you have spent the past few weeks putting away enough food and drink for the both of us. And I’m right there with you. Now, it’s time to get back to work, back to school, and back to the gym.
January 1st is a logical day to set goals for the coming year. Whether it’s work goals, financial goals, or Netflix shows to binge, the first of the year just feels like the right time to set a new course. If nothing else, that new wall calendar is screaming to be used for something significant—not just birthdays, book clubs, and dentists’ appointments. The problem with this approach is that every day is an opportunity to schedule something significant.
So, what is a driven, goal setting, Type-A, go-getter supposed to do? Well, as an anti-driven, goal avoiding, Type-D, stay-here-er, I have no idea. But I do have a simple suggestion that has unlimited possibilities and is not based on an arbitrary day like January 1st: Take one day at a time.
I know what you’re thinking: I was expecting so much more from you. Welcome to my simple world. I’ve built a career on deeply shallow thinking—so you should never expect more from me. But I do understand where you’re coming from. It’s easy to view “one day at a time” as a narrowly applied cliche because it’s more commonly used by those dealing with addiction, grief, or other ongoing challenges. But when it’s applied to our everyday life, it can be one of the most powerful approaches we can embrace.
First of all, one day is what we have to work with. And at the risk of being a bit morbid, we don’t even know if we’ll make it through the whole day. You see, we can’t predict what will happen from one minute to the next. And it’s so easy to get lulled into thinking that we always have more time. Yet, whenever we hear about a natural disaster or a tragic accident, we realize that there are no guarantees. But the one thing we will always have is this moment right now or in a broader sense, this day. As author Sam Harris put it, “It is always now.”
So, if it is always now, how does this affect our goal process for being the best “we” that we can be in 2022?
Well, everything we want to accomplish happens in this moment. The more we focus on that, the easier it is to take advantage of the time we do have. You won’t accomplish anything by just focusing on the future. It doesn’t mean that you can’t set goals. It just means that the key to achieving those goals happens in the moment. Here’s an example.
When parents travel with small kids, the most common question they hear is, “Are we there yet?” When a child is confined to the uninteresting prison of the back seat, every trip seems endless. They just want to get to wherever they’re going. Harley Davidson, on the other hand, has created ads that focus on the value of the journey rather than the destination. While every journey has a destination, if we’re only focused on the endpoint, we miss the rich moments along the way. One of my favorite Harley Davidson ads asked that if you look back at your time on earth will you say that you “kept a crabgrass free lawn?” If so, the ad suggests that your focus is on the wrong thing.
“One day at a time” is about keeping the focus on the journey.
The second reason for a day-to-day approach is that it’s just more manageable. Year-to-year goals can be overwhelming. The reason the one-day-at-a-time principle works is that it gives us a bite-size chunk of time that feels doable. For instance, if I decide that I want to read twenty books this year, that may seem like a reasonable goal. But if I get to the end of January, and I haven’t read a single book yet, then I have to go into catch-up mode and that feels unreasonable. I might even ditch the entire goal for fear that I won’t accomplish it. On the other hand, if I know that I want to read more books, then I can decide to read for an hour today and simply accomplish that specific goal in the moment. If I don’t do it, I can start fresh the next day. Each day and each moment become opportunities to grab a win rather than getting mired in the onslaught of accumulating losses.
When people are fighting addiction or grieving the loss of a loved one, coping for days, weeks, or years seem unattainable. But getting through today seems possible. The same is true for our routine lives. We can achieve a greater sense of calm while accomplishing something significant by being focused on the day.
In a world that throws enough stress our way, it seems that it might be less stressful to embrace one day rather than three hundred and sixty five of them. We can still have our goals. And we can still set a course for our life. But in the process, we want to focus on the moment. If we don’t, we might just miss it. And if we miss the moments in life, we never get them back.
Here’s to a meaningful and fulfilling 2022…one day at a time.