One Day at a Time

What are you dwelling on? I recently wrote a post on Chris LoCurto’s blog entitled, the Leader’s Prayer, my take on the Serenity Prayer for leaders. Part of the prayer calls for “Living one day at a time…” But what does living one day at a time look like?

One Day at a Time - Living in the Present

There is immense freedom in accepting the world as it is, not as you would have it. (Click to Tweet)

We choose to live in one of three time periods: the past, the present, or the future. Living one day at a time means living in the present.

Dwelling on the Past

When you dwell on the past, you are saying, “There I am…still.” You are effectively relinquishing control of your present, binding yourself to the past.

Your thoughts will center on words like:

“If I only had done that.”

“Why did I do that?”

“How did I end up here?”

Those last two questions are not inherently evil actually. More on that shortly.

There are three responses to the past:

  1. We ignore it. When we ignore the past, we are destined to make it out future. History does indeed repeat itself when we ignore it.
  2. We get stuck in it. This is “If I only had done that” thinking. When you allow yourself to park in the past and relive events in real-time, you are stuck there.
  3. We learn from it. The past becomes a tool. Our biography to date becomes our greatest book from which to learn. That is why those last two questions are useful when asked the right way.

Dwelling on the Future

When you dwell on the future, you are saying, “When I am…

Everything becomes:

“One day I will”.

“If only that happens.”

“I can’t wait until I have _____.”

It’s just as dangerous as living in the past.

A healthy vision of the future is necessary. You must have goals…something to aim for. But an unhealthy dwelling on the future usually results in one of two things:

  1. Delusions of Grandeur (Not necessarily in the clinical sense). Dwelling on the future in any regard often produces unrealistic or unhealthy fantasies of future events. By all means, dream big. But remember, that dreams with commitment (action) are just fantasies.
  2. Worry. The opposite of a fantasy with a positive outcome is worry. Worry is a substitute for faith or action. (Click to Tweet) Rather than have faith or take action, you worry. Why? Because it is usually easier, even when you know that it will kill you.

Living in the Present

Living in the present is saying simply, “Here I am.

There is immense freedom in accepting the world as it is, not as you would have it.

I believe that each individual has incredible power. Power to “change the world.” But there are two things we cannot control or change: The past and other people.

Jesus, the only perfect being to walk this earth, knew the world was not as it should be, but He accepted it as it was. Even for Him, the past was unchangeable and He chose not to control the future.

Living one day at a time means living in the present. It means not getting stuck in the past, but learning from it. It means planning for the future without fantasizing about it. It means accepting events as they happen and accepting others for who they are.

It means giving up control, having faith in the process, and attacking today with all that you have.

Where do you most often find your focus? The past, present, or future?

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  • Great post Matt. It is so hard sometimes to stay focused on the present. I’m learning to accept where I am, and to work on building the bridge to where I want to be. Much more effective than worrying or dwelling on missed opportunities. Thanks for a good Friday focus.

    • I like the analogy of a bridge…you will end up somewhere else, but without focusing on the very spot where you are, the bridge will fail.

      • Exactly. The idea of the bridge is one of the key things I learned from Chris Brogan and his Brave New Year course and book “It’s Not About the Tights.” It has really changed how I view things now – and made my goals so much more reachable.

  • So true: it’s all about TODAY. NOW. There’s nothing we can do about the past (except learn from it) and, indeed, the future should have goals and plans associated with it. Without a road map, we simply bump around in life. And, to me, that’s a huge waste of time, energy and God-given talents. We’re all smarter than that, right?

    We should pour ourselves into today and do all we can with the 24 hours we’ve been given. Sure, the phrase ‘today is a gift’ has been cliched so much it sometimes loses meaning. But…it is SO TRUE.

    Today should be a day of good choices, encouragement, love, gratitude, and grace. [With a big dose of fun and laughter thrown in.] : – )

    Now, I have to get busy with living, laughing, and serving. It’s a new day!

    –Michael

  • Nice lesson. I spend most of my time in the future. I’m finding meditating and journaling is helping me learn from my past and keeping me from worrying to much about the future.

    • I have been reminded constantly lately about the importance and power of journaling…think someone is trying to say something to me?

      • Honestly I thought I would never, never, never do it. But I took the advise from Micheal Hyatt and used Evernote and said that I would do it for 20 days. Now I’m hooked. Do it for 20 days in the AM for 15 minutes, see what happens.

  • Thanks for the good post, Matt. I find that one of the best ways for me to move forward is to leap so far out of the boat that all I can do is hang on–be ‘in the moment,’–and ride on through. If I survive, I’m changed, usually for the better.

  • I have the tendency to lean toward the future. I like to daydream and image what things could be like. Here lately, I’ve been able to focus more on the present and put things into action to help make those dreams a reality. Thanks for contribution to this, Matt!

  • I’d add “Worry is a POOR substitute for faith or action”. That’s all I’ve got today.

  • Laura Johnson

    At work I focus on the present the way you describe to. Outside work, I probably focus equally on the past, present, and future. Guess I’ll have to work on changing that :)
    Thanks for the great post, Matt!

  • The book The Present taught me that no matter what I am doing, I need to be PRESENT for it. I’ve found everything falls into place much better that way versus trying to change the past or worry about the future. Great post – I need to read this tonight.