Where to start? Where on Earth to start??
And, no, I didn’t just start this post with that because I didn’t know how to start it. I started this post that way because when starting literally anything else these are the exact questions I’ve asked. (Although, I’ll be honest, I do ask these questions when coming up with posts sometimes too.)
So often we find ourselves in places where our only options are to try things that are brand new. We may be used to living life a certain way, but at the drop of a hat every bit of plan we had is turned upside down and we run blind for a while.
You may face a sudden career shift or alteration to the life plan of your dreams, or maybe your day started with sunshine and BAM! you’re standing in a downpour with no umbrella. No matter how big or small your shift may be, there comes a time when your only option to move forward is to try something new. A new job in a new field. A new house or a new family member. A new shelter until you can find a good umbrella…
And you might be asking yourself, what does any of this have to do with sustainability? Everything. EVERYTHING. Seldom is anyone, especially in the U.S., born into a sustainable life. We spend our entire young lives producing waste from tiny snack packs and toy’s we outgrow in under a year (unless you have an eco-conscious parent). And finally making that shift when we can for ourselves to being more eco-friendly can be tough. It can seem inconvenient, and we begin to wonder “I’m just me, what impact could little ol’ me possibly have?”
Time and time again, two things have stuck in the back of my mind when moments like these arise.
“The only thing you can control is yourself.”
“Take it one day at a time.”
These two principles are the key to just about every door. Even though they feel disgusting at first, they’ll get you through just about any everyday scenario.
“The only thing you can control is yourself” has honestly got to be one of the hardest things I continue to have to relearn daily. As human beings we are most comfortable when we feel we have control over the situations we’re in, but we just about never actually do. No matter what path you may be running down, thinking you’ve got everything figured out, that path may become impassable in an instant. No matter whether you thought your had everything figured out or not.
To some degree you might say if you have control over yourself and only yourself then you should be able to control your circumstances, but the truth is you only have control of how you react to them.
You can take being fired from your job as a crushing blow and quit trying, or you can learn from that experience and find something new. In the same way, you can learn more about the global climate crisis and sit back saying there’s nothing you could do, or you can begin taking steps to live more sustainably.
This principle can sound discouraging in so many ways. The biggest reason I was upset with it at first was that I thought,”what’s the point of running down any path then if it’s inevitable that the situation will change and I’ll have to react whether I want to or not?” And that’s reasonable at first. But, there’s no real way to live a full life when you allow this mindset to rest within you.
A good way to avoid feelings of discouragement is to set personal goals for yourself that you can accomplish through every day actions. These are goals that don’t have to change just because something in your life that you couldn’t control changed.
For myself these goals included a lot of personality and mindset adjustments. First, I wanted to meet a daily goal of showing kindness to everyone I met. I never have to worry about the world changing this goal for me, I know that if I show up with the intention of being kind to others I am much more likely to accomplish it over time. Another is that I wanted to be friendlier to the planet and therefor friendlier to others (luckily this goal helps me accomplish the first one I mentioned for day’s where I have limited contact with others.) The world may change around me, but I can make daily decisions to be a conscious consumer and waste producer along with so many other practices.
“Take it one day at a time” is, likewise, something I really wasn’t ready to accept when I first heard it. Like so many other college students (and people of all ages really), I had been encouraged to plan my entire life out. We frequently get asked, “where do you see yourself in 20 years?” and expecting the answer to that question to actually come to fruition is often foolish.
If we can’t control anything outside of ourselves, then how can we expect that each day will go exactly as we want it to for us to move forward. Taking things one day at a time can not only help with the existentialism that naturally comes from these kinds of questions, but can also provide a way forward that will ultimately bring you greater peace.
Yes, you can still plan for a vacation that’s months away, or set a date for an event in advance that you’re looking forward to. But the biggest thing you shouldn’t do is set expectations.
To take things one day at a time and still be reasonable it can be necessary to make plans in advance, but that doesn’t mean you have to let that consume your daily mentality. When you focus simply on the day, or even the next hour, ahead of you, you’ll find you’re living much more successfully in the moment. You aren’t clouded by the plans of the future that may seem daunting or cause you anxiety. You can focus on what’s in front of you which ultimately will allow you to be more successful in accomplishing it. You’ll be able to set a better foundation for that future without actually having to stress yourself out about what exactly that future will look like.
Thankfully, I came to terms with taking things one day at a time before quarantine, and before my graduation was postponed, and before hiring rates plummeted. I was able to adjust and accept life on life’s terms much faster than I expected and find some of the joy ahead of me even in this odd and unexpected season.
And EXTRA thankfully, it’s never to late for you to learn either.
I found that the best ways to adjust to a “just for today” attitude were simply to really focus on my mental inventories. Every morning I start the day by journaling in a gratitude journal. In doing this I can both let go of worries for future issues and set intentions to be grateful for what I have right now. Once I’ve established things to be grateful for, I find myself noticing them much more often in my day, and, from there, since I’m so focused on what is bringing me joy in the moment I don’t have as much time to worry about what comes next.
That being said, these things are much easier said than done. It took me quite a good amount of time to learn these lessons, but once I learned them they stuck like glue to my mind. I will never forget all that I’ve learned by allowing these two principles to guide my mindset, and I hope in time you won’t either.
Wherever you may find a road block, inconvenience, or life altering shift, remember “the only thing you can control is yourself” and to “take it one day at a time.” In the long run you’ll be able to find more joy in productive practices that may seem small or commonplace, but can have a huge and healthy impact in the long run. Simply, they’ll help make restarting feel more like a fresh start.
Let me know: Have you used these two principles in your own life? When do you find it most challenging to accept these truths?