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Although “living one day at a time” is a basic tenet of sobriety, you may well ask: Yes, but how do I do it? Here are a few ideas.
1. DON’T CONFUSE LIVING ONE DAY AT A TIME WITH SEEKING INSTANT GRATIFICATION
“Live one day at a time” definitely does not mean “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” Besides the fact that anyone in recovery shouldn’t be drinking anyway, trying to cram all the pleasure you can into today leaves you in poor shape for a tomorrow that probably will come. And it’s not a fulfilling way to live in any case— it just leaves you emotionally empty and without any sense of purpose.
“Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time.” –Reinhold Niebuhr, The Serenity Prayer
2. DON’T CONFUSE LIVING ONE DAY AT A TIME WITH COMPLETELY IGNORING THE PAST AND FUTURE
Many people are puzzled by the idea of living in the present. They wonder, “Don’t I have to look at the past to make amends for misdeeds?” “Don’t I have to think about the future to set goals and open a retirement account?”
Of course you do. The point is to not become obsessed with things you can’t control. Learn from the past, but don’t waste time wishing you could change it. Prepare for the future, but don’t fret because you can’t be certain how it will go. This moment is all you have to work with right now, so concentrate on what you can do right now.
3. PRACTICE QUICKLY COUNTERING “WORRY THOUGHTS”
Unhealthy thoughts find their way into everyone’s head, but it’s when we invite them to stay that we get in trouble. When the thought “I always have the worst luck” pops into your mind, don’t agree with it by searching your memory archives for other bad happenings—instead, remember things you’re grateful for.
4. PRACTICE MINDFULNESS
Several times a day, stop and let yourself be fully in the moment. Notice your feelings (physical and emotional), your surroundings and all the sensory impressions they’re sending you.
5. PRACTICE A LITTLE HEALTHY SELF-INDULGENCE EVERY DAY
As noted in Point 1, it’s nothing but trouble to constantly chase instant gratification—but healthy little indulgences are another matter. Soaking in a hot bath, relaxing with your favorite music or slowly savoring a ripe cherry helps you appreciate life, renew your strength and otherwise become better prepared to cope.
“Let us therefore do our best to live but one day at a time.” –Richmond Walker, Twenty-Four Hours a Day
6. DO THINGS JUST FOR FUN
Likewise, have a few productive hobbies or athletic activities to participate in simply because you enjoy them. You’re never more in the moment than when you get into the flow of creating, playing or concentrating.
7. TRUST YOURSELF
If you have an addiction disorder, it’s probably predated by tendencies to see yourself as “odd” or “not good enough.” The truth is, everyone is made to fill a unique and vital role in the world. Affirm yourself daily as being among those “everyones,” and start developing the talents and vocation your deepest gut tells you you’re here for.
8. TRUST OTHERS
Not that you should blindly trust strangers—let alone people already proven unreliable—but don’t constantly watch for anyone and everyone to disappoint you. That’s a good way to kill friendships prematurely: besides, thoughts of “they’ll probably let me down eventually” are hardly one-day-at-a-time-oriented.
9. FIND OPTIMISTIC FRIENDS
Of course, it’s wise to devote your time to people who also expect the best of you. And all the better if they make “expecting the best” a general life principle, whether in assessing the state of the world, believing in long-term goals or just taking it for granted that the store (or another one nearby) will have what they need. Optimistic people are fun to be with, and good at helping you enjoy the moment.
One caveat. Especially if you struggle with depression, “Pollyanna” types who can see only the positive may be toxic to you, radiating “Snap out of it” attitudes and unable to understand your deeper issues. Look for friends who combine optimism with empathy and tact.
10. SEEK OUT POSITIVE INPUT
Choose your media, as well as your friends, for optimistic emphases. Limit your time on “regular” news channels, which, in addition to focusing too much on the negative, are loaded with analyses of the past and speculations about the future. Start every day with an inspirational podcast or some sacred reading. Carry its afterglow with you throughout the day. Every “one day at a time,” lived in a positive mood, is a building block for a positive and effective life!