If you try to live by proverbs, you soon learn that life is full of paradoxes. Many hands make light work, but too many cooks spoil the broth. Out of sight out of mind, but absence makes the heart grow fonder. Look before you leap, but he who hesitates is lost.
THE MIDDLE ROAD
All these bits of wisdom only seem contradictory because reality is too complex to be reduced to aphorisms. While decision-making would be easier with more “this is always right or wrong” truths, trying to live like that only encourages the sort of “I’m right and you’re wrong and I’m going to make you do it my way” thinking that is responsible for much of the hard feelings and violence in the world.
Aristotle had a much better idea with the “Golden Mean”—the principle that going to extremes in either direction (absolutely-no-exceptions vs. rules-were-made-to-be-broken) is almost always a bad idea, and the secret to success is to steer a path between—using situation-specific discretion to map the exact route. While this takes more work, it hones the responsibility that lies at the heart of success—in life and sobriety.
Let’s take a closer look at the road between “one day at a time” and “planning for the future.”
The principle of staying sober one day at a time was intended to guard against preoccupation with “I can never have another drink in my life”—which could lead to becoming overwhelmed with the length of the road ahead, or to an unhealthy focus on feeling “deprived.” However, no one ever meant to imply “don’t attempt to anticipate potential relapse temptations.” In fact, a vital part of sobriety is understanding when one is likely to be tempted and why—so one can avoid being caught off guard and unprepared to resist the temptation.
- Create a relapse-prevention plan early on—and a relapse-recovery plan just in case. (No, the latter won’t increase your relapse risk: it’s simply a form of “despair insurance.”)
- Attend support-group meetings regularly.
- Plan some projects to keep your hands and mind busy.
LIVING LIFE MINDFULLY
Sometimes, even one day at a time seems too much to handle, which is probably why “living in the moment” became another aphorism. The key to successful in-the-moment living is mindfulness: allowing yourself to be fully in the present and to experience it with all your senses. Mindfulness has its dark-side extremes too—banishing all thoughts of past and future can become a road to chronic procrastination or impulsiveness—but in the “golden mean” range, it nurtures gratitude, self-knowledge and acceptance.
- Avoid rushing and multitasking. Whatever you’re doing—from editing a report to sipping coffee—give it your full attention and allow yourself to get fully into the experience. Any time “lost” will be more than reimbursed through reduced stress and improved focus.
- Practice using all your senses, including the “inner ones” such as balance and temperature.
- Several times a day, pause for a few minutes to just be aware of your surroundings and feelings. Make sure to relax your muscles.
- Learn the art of meditation (there’s a form for every faith tradition).
- Set values and priorities before making to-do lists.
- When you finish something, take time to congratulate yourself and (if you can do it without zeroing in on “room for improvement”) admire the results.
GOALS AND DREAMS
Most professional life coaches recommend setting one-year, five-year and ten-year goals. To which many people respond with, “The way things are going, the world as we know it may not last a year!” Or, especially with people forty and up, “But I’ll be fifty, sixty, seventy-five by the time I finish!”
Obvious implication: “Unless there’s an absolute guarantee I’ll finish this in full and have years left to enjoy the results, there’s no point in starting.” Sounds pretty silly when put like that, doesn’t it? Why not go ahead and start on some long-term goals? At the least, any progress you make will be a happiness-and-success improvement over just passing time for the next decade.
- Write down your goals, or make a “vision board” collage of them. A goal put into material form feels more real and has a better chance of being achieved.
- Map out the steps to your goals. Create a timeline and add each step to your personal calendar.
- Don’t wait until you reach the actual goal to celebrate. Congratulate yourself on daily progress, and treat yourself to something special upon completing a significant step. This too shall be reached one day at a time!