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Making the Most of Today

Carpe DiemThis blog has been formed from some nuggets of wisdom I’ve collected over the years and I thought I’d share some of these with you.

They’ve mostly come from my learning the hard way that I really should try to make the most of today, rather than dwelling on the past or focusing on the future. In some ways, mindfulness is all about this concept – tuning in to the present and staying in one place and focus long enough to notice what’s really going on.

So, here’s a few pointers for making the most of today:

1. Avoid procrastination

Procrastination can sometimes feel like a good idea, after all, if you can make today easier by putting tasks off until tomorrow then surely that’s a good thing, right? Well, maybe, but unfortunately after a while tomorrow ends up catching up with you.

Those tasks you’ve been avoiding all suddenly need doing today (or even yesterday!) and it can feel overwhelming as you look up at a mountain of tasks that you’ve piled up over the days and weeks. Now I appreciate that often there are two types of people when it comes to deadlines – those that like to get on with it asap and have the task completed well before it’s due, and then there are the last-minuters, that need the momentum of a close deadline to encourage them into action to get the job done. However, if procrastination means that you’ve ended up with an overwhelming pile of tasks, then all you’ve done is create stress for yourself that I’m sure you could do without!

So how about focusing on today a bit more… what could you get done today? Spreading out tasks so that each day is a bit more carefully paced can make a big difference to your anxiety levels. Even drawing up a plan of what you need to do and scheduling tasks into a calendar can make things feel much more manageable.

2. Living with uncertainty

Having said all the above, this next paragraph might sound contradictory (but it’s not quite, I promise!). There are times when some things can’t be resolved now. Some things are either out of our control or we must wait, for whatever reason, before we can make a decision or take any action. Some people can easily find a way to live with things being open-ended and uncertain, while others (like me) would just love to have it all sorted out and concluded immediately and it plays on our mind until it is. We have to deliberately discipline our mind to manage thinking about uncertain and un-concluded situations so that it doesn’t keep bugging us.

It’s a bit like the old-fashioned filing trays on people’s desks – there were 3 trays, an in tray, out tray and ‘pending’. I’ve never liked the ‘pending tray’ as I love to see everything dealt with and in the out tray by the end of a day. So, pending is often because I’m waiting on someone else to reply, hear of a result or decision, before I can complete a task and this requires my patience. If I focused on the pending tray a lot, such as twiddling my thumbs and thinking ‘why can’t this just get sorted out now?!’ Then I’ll end up feeling annoyed and irritated.

Accepting that some things will just have to wait is a part of my challenge in life. I think our consumer lifestyles now are very much fixed on having everything immediately, some businesses can now offer same-day delivery so that at a touch of a button we can have whatever we want. Our mobile phones mean that we can contact anyone anywhere in the world within seconds, and don’t get me wrong, it’s lovely and convenient to have all this, but one disadvantage it’s tended to cause is the inability to be patient. If we can take a deep breath and just accept that some things have to wait and focus on our ‘in-tray’ and what is in our power to do then we’ll be far more productive.

3. Go easy on the disaster planning

One of the challenges with living with uncertainty is the dreaded ‘what-if’s’, trying to live out in your mind the next few days, weeks, months, or even years. You know what I mean, it’s the ‘what if something dreadful happens….’ ‘what if I won’t cope with….’ ‘what if this worst-case scenario actually happens….’ In our attempt to prepare ourselves and plan ahead we can end up crossing a lot of bridges in our head that we never actually have to cross.

If you think about it, how many times have you worried about something and then it never happens? The old saying ‘I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it’ still holds true, because in a world where we’re all so busy, is it worth investing lots of time and emotional energy into disaster planning, when the disaster may never happen? Especially when if something bad happens, chances are you’ll figure something out to cope with it at the time anyway?

4. One day at a time

I think that whatever we believe about the creation of the earth and how it came to be, one thing I think helps us all is the rhythm of day and night. There’s a time when the sun comes out offering light to go about our daily tasks, and then the light fades away to night and our minds and bodies are encouraged to switch off too, to unwind, relax, sleep and start afresh in the morning.

There’s a time to do, and a time not to do, if our minds are busy trying to deal with tomorrows, next weeks or next months challenges then we will struggle to relax and recharge. If we can find wherever possible the techniques and self-care strategies to go along with the rhythm of day and night: rising and doing, resting and sleeping, being content to just try and manage only today’s tasks and challenges and leaving tomorrows where it belongs, then we will save ourselves from a lot of worry and stress.

Of course, there are times when we go through some really tough valleys and there’s a high risk that significant and unwanted changes or losses are coming our way, these aren’t so easy to switch off from, so it may be that you need to talk these through with a counsellor, to help you unravel your thoughts and feelings and get the professional insight and support to manage this stressful time.

5. Yesterday’s gone

Another way we can ruin today is by fretting over yesterday’s mistakes. The truth is that we all make mistakes and I’m going to cite two quotes here because they’ve inspired me.

The first one is from a small, but very wise and powerful jedi master, Yoda, when talking to Luke Skywalker in Episode 8 The Last Jedi, he says: ‘The greatest teacher, failure is’. Most of what we learn in life comes from making mistakes. I remember when I was studying for my degree and one of my first essays got a low mark, I was understandably disappointed, but the feedback I received from the tutor who marked it gave me lots of guidance on how to do better next time, and by taking his, and other lecturer’s, advice along the way, from there I went on to get increasingly higher marks because I was continuing to learn and improve from all the constructive criticism I was given. In fact I strongly believe that constructive criticism is a gift (when offered gently by well-meaning people) and, if we can accept it as guidance to greatness, rather than feeling slighted, we can use mistakes and failures to our advantage. So rather than ruminating on what we did wrong, maybe we can reframe it into ‘what have I learnt?’

The second quote is from Anne of Green Gables, a story I absolutely loved growing up: ‘tomorrow is always fresh with no mistakes in it yet’, meaning that we can always start again tomorrow. If we can learn from our mistakes and know that tomorrow we get a clean slate to try again, then we won’t carry so many regrets around heavily on our shoulders. Now, I appreciate that this isn’t easy, because some mistakes are small ones, and some are huge and life-altering.

It may be easy to shrug off the small things but the bigger ones can take some time to let go of, and this is where counselling can make a difference, it can help us talk things through and find ways to come to terms with past events and regrets, helping us to work through the pain, guilt and shame of things we’ve done wrong and finding a way to release ourselves from a sentence of mental self-punishment.

6. Seize the Day

One film that I’ve been inspired by is Dead Poets Society with Robin Williams, who plays a schoolteacher and encourages his students with a Latin term ‘Carpe Diem’, meaning ‘seize the day.’ It’s a call to make the most of what today can offer. Have you got goals or dreams you’d love to become reality? Yet in your mind it’s been filed under the header ‘one day’… ’One day I’ll take that trip’… ’One day I’ll finish decorating the house’… ’one day I’ll take up that hobby’.

There’s a song I like by a band called Casting Crowns, some of the lyrics to their song ‘The Very Next Thing’ are:

I spend all my time
Dreaming what the future's gonna bring
When all of this time
There's a world passing by right in front of me
Set my sights on tomorrow
While I'm tripping over today

The truth is that if you’re always thinking that some wonderful day far off in the distance you’ll magically have more time, more money or somehow fate hands out the realisation of the dream on a plate somewhere up ahead in life, then the chances are that the goal will always be off in the hazy distance, never actually within grasp because the goalpost is always moving further and further away. 

Now I appreciate that in life there are times when things are tough and all we can manage is just to get through the day the best we can, and that’s OK, but a lot of the time, are we wasting time scrolling Facebook or playing games on our phone, when we could be pursuing goals and dreams?

So if you’ve got a dream or goal you’d like to fulfil, I would encourage you to think about how you can carve out a moment or two today to think about this a bit more, even if you’ve just got 2 minutes spare in a hectic day maybe ask yourself: OK so here’s what I’d love to do, what would be my first step in making that happen? And then perhaps thinking about when you can take that next step, and put a date in your diary as to when you are actually going to take that next step, as this provides a self-made deadline for when you’re going to do something proactive to start making the dream come to life.

7. Treats

One last little word of advice: today is all we have – yesterday has passed and tomorrow may never come, so I would encourage you to make today as good as it can be. How can you add treats into your day to help it be an enjoyable one? (And I don’t mean just chocolate!).

Having lots of fun things to do, friends to talk to, places to visit, activities to enjoy, new skills to learn makes life more pleasurable, so why not try to do at least one nice thing for yourself every day, even if it’s something simple like cooking yourself a nice meal, or soaking in a hot bath, make today a good one. And of course, that works for the big things too, if you’re in a job you don’t enjoy, or in a relationship that’s not working out etc. is there anything you can do about this today? Can you start working on these things to make positive changes?

If you’d like some support and guidance with anything mentioned in this blog then I’d really like to help. The reason I became a counsellor, after years of being in jobs I didn’t enjoy, was because I love to help people and make a difference, and it would be an honour to help you. So, feel free to get in touch.