Why It’s Vital You Live One Day At A Time (+ How To Do It)

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It’s amazing how many of us live life with our thoughts fixed firmly in the past, or in the future…

…but pay very little attention to the present.

Dwelling on the past is a trap that many of us fall into, consumed by what might have been or how it was all so much better ‘way back when…’

But by doing this, we struggle to accept the realities of right here, right now.

In contrast, some of us prefer to focus all our attention on what we want for the future. We convince ourselves that we’ll be happy once we’ve achieved X, Y, or Z.

I’m here to argue that you should neither be living your life in the past nor the future…

…but actually start living it in the here and now, taking each day as it comes.

We need to stop letting the days slide on by, and start valuing every single one for the gift it is.

At the end of the day, all we truly have is this present moment… right now.

What we think of as the past is, in fact, our memories of the past, which our brains can, and do, select, alter, and skew. The past itself cannot be changed, much as we might try.

The future is completely intangible and, unless you’re a believer in fate, is as yet completely undecided.

It can only be shaped by the things you do every day, and the decisions you make in the present. Even then, you can never be quite sure what’s coming your way.

Essentially, the only thing you have any influence over is today, so, logically, the present is the only thing you should spend your time worrying about.

Whilst we should all be taking life one day at a time no matter what, there are some situations in which doing so becomes particularly relevant and important.

Let’s take a look at a few different scenarios that we will all face sooner or later.

Let’s consider why taking each day as it comes is the best approach in all these different contexts.

1. When you’re going through a tough time.

Every single human being on this planet, even the most privileged amongst us, will go through rough patches during the course of their life.

It’s just part and parcel of the human experience, no matter how charmed our lives might look from the outside.

But it’s when we’re feeling low that we’re more likely than ever to start dwelling on things that we or others did in the past…

…or set our sights on a time far in the future when things will be different, and we can finally be happy.

What you need to be conscious of is that neither looking forward nor backwards is going to make you feel any better about how things are right here, right now.

Taking one day at a time means not asking too much of yourself, or neglecting your own needs.

Focusing on just today means that you can make sure you nourish your mind and body, taking the baby steps necessary to make changes to your life.

2. When you’ve got a big, long-term goal.

Whether you’re training for an Olympic gold or a long-distance trek, learning a new skill or starting your own business, we all tend to look toward the day when we’ll have finally achieved it.

We forget to enjoy the journey.

Which is a massive shame because the journey is often the best part.

Having a goal that will take a long time to reach means that you can easily lose focus on it if you don’t break it down into tiny goals and intentions to be fulfilled every single day.

It’s hard to stay motivated when you don’t realize that it’s the cumulative effect of the things you do every single day that means you eventually achieve a goal.

Focusing on your small, daily achievements will help you stay grounded and moving forward, slowly but surely.

3. When you’re looking forward to something.

Sure, you’re excited about your wedding, or your big adventure, or your new house… but that doesn’t mean you should be wishing the days away.

If we spend our lives trying to make time pass quicker until whatever it is happens, sooner or later we’ll run out of time altogether…

…and we’ll wish we could go back and live all of those wasted days properly.

Learning to savor the anticipation and look forward to something in a healthy manner without discounting the enjoyment that can be gained every single day can make your life an awful lot richer.

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How To Live One Day At A Time

Now we’ve established why and when we should be living one day at a time, let’s look at how.

This is one of those things that sounds simple, but can be hard to do in practice, especially if you’ve spent your whole life yearning for the past or focusing on the future.

Here are a few small ways to anchor yourself firmly in the present and truly live every single day of your life. 

1. Look after your mind and body.

Tip number one, and the most important of all, is to ensure that you’re nourishing your mind and body every single day.

You can’t expect to thrive if you’re not giving yourself the necessary fuel and care day in, day out.

2. Don’t live on autopilot.

When we get into a routine and start doing the same things every day, it’s easy to stop being aware of those things.

Catch yourself whenever you slide into autopilot and firmly bring yourself back into the room and start noticing the details around you, including the sights, sounds, and smells.

3. Keep a journal.

Recording your thoughts, worries, hopes, and observations is a wonderful way of checking in with yourself on a daily basis, and getting anything that’s been worrying you off your chest.

Each night, grab a pen, open your journal and note down the important things that happened that day.

4. Stop worrying about the ‘what ifs’

Worrying about what might or could happen is, as we all know, a total waste of time.

Worrying about it will do precisely nothing to change the future. It will only make you miserable now and divert your attention from all the good stuff that’s going on around you.

5. Set achievable daily goals.

The only goal in your life shouldn’t be a big, intangible one that’s hovering somewhere in the future.

Setting small, achievable goals for yourself every day – and doing your best to tick them off – will fill you with a sense of achievement and purpose when you go to bed at night.

Try writing these goals on a to-do list or post-it notes to keep things visual and present in your mind throughout the day.

The key here is not to be too ambitious and to not get angry at yourself if, sometimes, you don’t achieve them.

6. Congratulate yourself on the small things.

There are days when even getting out of bed can seem like a huge challenge. So when you do get up, get dressed, and feed yourself… pat yourself on the back.

There are days when you’ll achieve great things, but the days that really count are the ones on which you still show up and get things done even when you just want to curl up in a ball and hibernate.

7. Remember that you only get to live each day once.

When you find yourself forgetting to take each day as it comes, remind yourself that every day that goes by is lost to you forever.

We only have a limited number of days on this earth, so each one should be lived to the full, not spent dwelling on the past or fretting about the future.

About The Author

Katie is a writer and translator with a focus on travel, self-care and sustainability. She's based between a cave house in Granada, Spain, and the coast of beautiful Cornwall, England. She spends her free time hiking, exploring, eating vegan tapas and volunteering for a local dog shelter.