One common cliché, but powerful concept, repeated among people in recovery is the need to go through life “one day at a time.” The human brain, particularly one facing many challenges or struggling with anxiousness can often be fixated on regret about the past or worry about the future. Taking things one day at a time means mindfully focusing your attention on the present, taking care of yourself and accomplishing tasks living in the now.
Many people who have faced challenges and pain in their past struggle with anxieties, shame, and remorse as they think about how their life could have gone differently. It is an understable reaction, but one that does nothing to improve your mood, since the past is beyond your control. What you can control is life in the present. Being healed from past trauma means recognizing it as something in the past, realizing you survived, and being able to live a fulfilling life aware of your own strength and resiliency. The mental discipline of devoting your attention to the present moment is a very important part of this healing process.
Moving past hurt
Of course, that is often easier said than done. If you are still in the process of healing from trauma caused by hard events in your past, flashbacks, anxieties, and voices of past hardships and failures may frequently crop up in your brain. These recollections of past hurt can cause you to experience those feelings all over again, and make your present situation appear much worse than it really is. Do not beat yourself up for these presumed “weaknesses” or failures, because that will only intensify your self-hatred. Instead, gently draw your attention back to the present.
When your brain feels out of control, or lost in a maze of reliving the past, find a way to redirect your thoughts. Pause, breathe slowly, reach out to a trusted friend, or do an enjoyable activity. It could be helpful simply to distract yourself in the present, by looking for a particular color or focusing on an object around you. This practice of being attentive to your brain will make it easier and easier to live your life focused on the present.
Schedule to focus on now
Regular routines can be very helpful in “one day at a time” living. Carve out specific times for sleep, eating, exercise, work, relaxation, and relationships. By intentionally working out a specific time for important activities, you are able to approach the day with more deliberation and thoughtfulness, eliminating the aimless time when your mind can wander away from the present.
Start out each day with meditation, prayer, or simply stopping to breath and think about your life. Before anybody or anything else captives your attention, take time to pay attention to yourself and your own mind. Journaling, or doing an artistic activity can often be a great way to assess your feelings and thoughts in a nonjudgmental way that will increase your ability to understand your own thoughts, and think about how to care for yourself in the moment.
Create a manageable goal for the day, a doable and important task that you can spend a limited amount of time accomplishing. If you focus all your attention, singlemindedly on one challenge, you may surprise yourself with the intelligence, strength, and resources within you. As you start to work on that task, you will feel empowered as you face the task and do well. This will cause past perceptions of “failure” to fade away. When you’ve accomplished that goal, take some time to celebrate what you’ve done and encourage yourself for doing it well. In this way, you can develop habits that encourage yourself to bring your attention to what’s right in front of you.