Best Ways to Approach Living One Day at a Time

Posted on July 30th, 2012

Newcomers to recovery are familiar with the advice to live one day at a time, to be in the present, and to avoid spending precious moments worrying about or living in the past. That all sounds well and good, but when it comes time to actually act on the advice, it may be a lot tougher than you think.

It doesn’t have to be. Here, gleaned from observations and time-proven strategies spoken in the rooms of recovery, are some of the best ways to approach living one day at a time. Don’t worry. These are easily achievable by anyone who’s serious about embracing recovery-and even those among us who are a little bit leery that they can actually do it.

Pace Yourself – It’s Easier That Way

Of course you have a lot of things on your to-do list, goals you want to achieve and plans you’re eager to make. But it doesn’t do you any good to overwhelm yourself, especially in the early days of recovery, trying to tackle too much, too soon.

Just as a long-distance runner has to learn how to modulate his or her pace, just to ensure there’s enough stamina and energy to withstand the long haul, when you’re in recovery you just need to learn how to take things in moderation. That means not overpromising and feeling disheartened because you’re unable to deliver. Under promising and recognizing that you have to walk before you can run has to be first and foremost in your thoughts as you make daily schedules and assign projects to yourself pertinent to your recovery.

Pacing also takes into account the recognition on your part that you need time to acclimate yourself to being clean and sober, time to learn and practice various coping strategies, and time to become more comfortable in your skin now that you’re seeing life without it being clouded by drugs and alcohol.

So what if you don’t get everything done all at once, if you miss one or two items on your list today? As long as you tend to the most important things, you will be doing yourself and your recovery a huge favor.

It may be tempting to heap more tasks on your plate, just so you feel like you’re making a great deal of progress, but if you’re shortchanging yourself in the process, then it’s just an exercise in futility. It’s a lot easier when you pace yourself. Know your limits. Recognize that the smart move is to take it slow.

Setting the Standard – And Do It Now

You have to start somewhere, right? It might as well be from a position of understanding. This refers to the understanding you have about yourself and your commitment to sobriety, to doing what it takes to strengthen your recovery, and to absolutely, never give up on yourself.

Setting the standard, and doing it now, is one of the best ways to approach learning how to live one day at a time. It isn’t always going to be easy, since there are countless drains on your energy, demands for your time and attention and action that may be counter-productive or stand in the way of doing what you need to for your recovery.

Insist on maintaining the highest standards for yourself, but not to the extent that you obsess over getting everything perfect. There is no such thing as perfection in recovery. Each person in recovery is always learning, always in process of becoming stronger and gaining new knowledge about his or her strengths and abilities, or where they may need to shore up skills with more practice or additional research and study.

If you keep living in sobriety at the uppermost of your thoughts, you will be helping ensure that you set and maintain the highest standard. This will help you gauge and embrace new ideas and recognize opportunities as they arise. It does take an openness and a willingness to admit that you don’t yet know everything there is to know about recovery, but that’s certainly nothing that you can’t get comfortable with.

Don’t Miss the Moment

With the crush of daily duties, going to work or school and tending to loved ones and family members, it’s all too easy to let things slip, to ignore the wonderful moments of precious interaction that will never again be repeated.

This happens when we allow ourselves to get so caught up in what we’re doing that we are oblivious to what’s going on around us. We miss the smile of our children as they make an important discovery or the chortle of joy from our babies as they see us and radiate love and contentment.

We also miss the moment when we’re so consumed with worry or fear or are anxious about doing all the things we’ve set out for ourselves today. It requires discipline to stop and take a deep breath, to pause and reflect on life and what’s real right here and now. But if we do take this time, we maximize not only our appreciation for life and its bounty and blessings but also our ability to live one day at a time.

Besides, think about the dying man who looks back on his life. Such a man (or woman) never says with a sigh, "I’m glad I let all those moments slip away." Rather, it’s far more likely for someone who’s been consumed with doing too much at once to lament that "If only I could do it all again, I’d take the time to appreciate what I had instead of worrying about what I didn’t have."

Set Priorities

How do we get to the point where we are doing what we need to do for ourselves in recovery but not taking on too much at once? One proven method is to set priorities. Yes, making a list of priorities and learning how to adhere to them – but not too rigidly – is one of the keys to learning how to live one day at a time.

There are priorities and then there are priorities. What this means is that not all priorities are equal. Some, of course, need to be done today – like making sure we eat nutritious meals, get adequate sleep and exercise, go to our daily meetings (especially in the first few weeks of recovery), and other things. Then there are mid-range goals, those that require some research and planning, take time to implement, or require taking classes or learning a new skill. Finally, there are long-range or long-term goals. These are the ones that many in early recovery have the most trouble identifying, but that’s okay, too. In time, the desire to progress beyond a certain point will become self-evident. The more you learn, the more you will grow. With increased knowledge comes a broadened horizon and many opportunities that will present themselves along the way.

At first, it may be helpful to just sketch out what you think are your goals and assign them a number ranking from one to ten, with one being the most important, most necessary to do today. Keep in mind that your list of priorities can’t be all ones, nor should they be all tens, either. Maintaining a balance is important.

It’s also good to remember that priorities will change over time, just as your goals will naturally evolve. For this reason, recovery experts recommend getting out your list of priorities and goals and regularly revising them. Some you will achieve rather quickly. These should be replaced with new goals, requiring a new ranking of priorities. Some will be discarded after a while, as they no longer apply or you’ve gone in a different direction based on knowledge you’ve gained or an opportunity that you’re pursuing.

Setting priorities helps you to maintain the necessary balance in your day-to-day life so that you’re better able to live one day at a time.

Do What is Compatible and Doable

Maybe you’re trying to accomplish something that isn’t quite right for you, or perhaps you’re just not ready yet to tackle the project, assignment, task, problem or issue. It could very well be that you’re spinning your wheels, getting increasingly frustrated in the process when you don’t see measurable results, when a more practical approach may not only increase the likelihood of success but also make you feel a whole lot better about yourself and your abilities.

Think about compatibility here. Not necessarily how compatible you are with another person, although that could certainly figure into the mix as well. No, here we’re talking about your current skill level, your interests and rudimentary knowledge about whatever it is that you’re attempting to tackle.

Let’s take an example. Say you want to carve out more time in the day to do the things you have on your daily schedule, but you seem to always wind up wasting time on unnecessary or complex projects that eat up the hours. At the end of the day, you feel like you’ve accomplished nothing, and that leaves you feeling unsatisfied and unproductive. What should you do? Are the things you’ve spent all your time on areas where you have enough expertise? If not, you may not be compatible with them—at present. Try to identify these particular roadblocks, since they may give you an indication of where additional training could be a huge benefit.

What about the easily-accomplished items on your list? While they may seem insignificant or not very exciting, sometimes the best way to make some headway is to get to work right away on some quick, simple and easy projects. This also helps you make some space in your day-and on your to-do list-since you’ve removed or crossed off one or two items that have been sitting there waiting for attention.

This gets at the second point: do what is doable. Maybe you have a great deal of interest in a particular project, task, or job, but it’s too complex, involved, requires much more time than you have right now, or necessitates additional learning, honing skills, establishing a working group or interacting with individuals you either don’t know or have had difficulty communicating effectively with in the past. Instead of pushing yourself on a project that isn’t doable, veer towards those that you’re fairly confident you can complete.

An easy one is participating in daily or several times a week 12-step meetings. This is a high priority item in your recovery journey and it’s one that is not only doable but is also compatible with your goals and commitment to sobriety. The bonus from going to regular meetings is that you get more out of it than simply showing up in the rooms. You’re doing something positive for yourself and you’re gaining knowledge and firming up your foundation in recovery.

Embrace Who You Are – Instead of Trying to Escape From Yourself

How many times have you remarked about someone else that he or she is not acting like himself, or that the person seems like someone else? Turn the mirror inward and think about whether or not you’re doing the same thing.

Maybe why you’re having difficulty living one day at a time is that you’re always frantically trying to escape from who you are, trying to be like someone else instead of looking inward and working on strengthening the abilities and maximizing the talent you already have.

Embracing who you are isn’t always an easily achievable goal. It can be painful to scrutinize who you are, and you may not like some of what you uncover. But this gives you a clear idea of areas where you can improve. For example, suppose you’re a procrastinator, and you hate that about yourself. You know you should be doing this or that, and maybe you even tell yourself that you will get to the items on your daily to-do list sometime today, but you secretly know that you’re not really going to do so.

This is an area where you can definitely make some changes. How? For one thing, it helps if you can find something exciting about a project, task, or item on your list. Think about the successful completion of it and how much better you’ll feel. There may be some sort of recognition by others as a result of you completing the task, but even if it’s only you that knows you’ve done what you had on your list to the best of your ability, that is something worthy and productive right there.

Recognizing that you’re trying to escape from yourself is the first step in working out a plan to make changes in your behavior, your outlook and your attitude. Keep in mind that it isn’t a bad thing that you don’t like certain things about yourself. Rather, look at this as an opportunity to make adjustments so that you find you fit better with who you want to be. In the meantime, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with you. After all, you’ve made the commitment to recovery. You’ve gone through a lot of hard work to get here. Embrace this courageous and determined individual and go from there.

Recognize that Anger, Worry and Unnecessary Stress Lead to Burnout

You know when a light bulb simply goes out that it’s reached the end of its useful life. The same principle holds true when you allow yourself to be consumed with anger and worry or become embroiled in non-stop stress that you’ve accepted as a way of life. What happens in each case is that your strength is sapped, depleting you of energy and motivation to continue.

Who can think about tackling various items on their recovery list or working to overcome issues or take advantage of opportunities when they’re full of anger and hatred, eaten up with worry, or so stressed out that eating and sleeping are negatively affected?

The problem is that many individuals in recovery fail to recognize that anger, worry and unnecessary stress will make themselves known and will rob them of precious time. It isn’t that you can forestall these from happening, but you can recognize them when they start and then do something about it.

If you are frequently or mostly angry about something, you should try to root out the source of your anger. Why are you so upset at this person, this situation, yourself or life in general? Once you identify the reason, you can work on changing it, modifying the situation, or learning how to accept what you cannot change. If your anger doesn’t dissipate, some counseling may help you better sort out what’s going on and learn how to manage it.

In a similar manner, constant worry is counter-productive to your continuing sobriety. Being overly anxious and painting a negative picture in your mind about what may or may not occur is debilitating to your mental as well as your physical health. If worry continues for more than a couple of weeks without abatement, consider getting some counseling to identify the underlying factors.

Overcome by stress? Do some stress-management techniques or buy or borrow some books on the subject. Go on the Internet to research how to minimize stress. If you keep at it, you’ll be able to make the necessary changes so that you can live each day as it comes, without endangering your health from undue stress.

Learn How to Deal with Tough Issues Step-by-Step

Probably the biggest problem that many individuals in recovery have is learning how to deal with the really tough issues or problems. And we all have them, that much is certainly true. The other truth is that we never know when we’re going to encounter something that we find almost too difficult to handle or manage.

It could even be that we wake up and dread facing the day because of an intractable problem, something we know we have to deal with but just don’t know how. In cases like this, as with all seemingly difficult or tough problems and issues, the best approach is to take it one step at a time. You cannot just dive in and expect a quick fix to a problem. That almost never works. Temporary fixes may be okay in an emergency, but you’ll need a long-term strategy for effectively dealing with some problem areas.

The key is not to obsess over troublesome areas. Get help trying to work them out whenever possible, but recognize that if it’s an issue for you, you’re going to be the one who’ll have to do the work. Talk things over with your sponsor and fellow group members in the rooms of recovery. Likely they have experienced something similar and may be able to offer some suggestions you may wish to try. If nothing else, their support and encouragement will help you to get through the day. You’ll also be helping yourself to live one day at a time.

Have Faith and Take the Time to Dream

Finally, it’s important to recognize that life in the present isn’t all about work. Include time today to firm up your faith-in your Higher Power, in yourself and your abilities-and also take the time to dream.

Envisioning possibilities is as important as ticking off items on your daily to-do list. You need to be able to look at yourself in different situations, achieving certain goals – almost as if you’re trying them on for size before going after them.

Dreaming gives you a respite, a welcome breather as you live one day at a time. It’s like nourishment for your soul and this is something that every person in recovery needs.

Bottom line, if you try all of these ways to approach living one day at a time, you should find that it gets a little easier every day. Try to give yourself a break and not be so hard on yourself, especially if you don’t get everything done on your list. In the end, it isn’t how much or how hard you work, but what you get out of it that counts. You’re in recovery for the rest of your life, so you’re not in a race but a journey. Enjoy the journey and embrace the here and now, living in the present one day at a time.

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