I was obsessed with planning. I sought out the best paper planners (the Self Journal is the best I’ve found so far) and supporting iPhone apps (I love Trello) to keep my life in forward motion. I became an expert at setting goals and achieving them or learning from the mistakes of not achieving them. And I prided myself on making weekend and vacation plans far in advance.
All that changed with my mom’s prognosis of terminal pancreatic cancer. I have had to do a 180-degree turn and learn how to live one day at a time. I have had to learn to follow her brave and noble example of how to live one day at a time. A terminal prognosis forces it for both the patient and the family members. We don’t have a choice. We come face to face with mortality and can no longer focus on the future, much less the past and regrets. We must live one day at a time or the sadness of what is happening and what we know is coming will overwhelm and debilitate us. We can become so consumed by what is coming and the little control we have over it that we miss out on the joys that today could bring.
Living one day at a time and viewing each day as a gift has been necessary to remain strong and calm. Don’t get me wrong: There are days when it’s just too much, and the anger and sadness take over. But I have learned over the last few months that waking up each day and worrying only about getting through that day – and absorbing the experiences fully – is healthier than trying to control a situation that will not be controlled. Taking each day as it comes has been such a reversal for me that I wanted to share what I’ve learned. If you are going through a difficult trial or just want to be more mindful throughout each day, maybe these suggestions can help.
- Do morning pages. I’ve been practicing this ritual for six years. Before I do anything else, I do morning pages to clear my mind of its clutter, fears, and worries. Writing in the early hours gives me a sense of gratitude, peace, direction, and perspective. I vent my anger at my mom’s cancer, reflect on what’s happening, recall events, and ask God for help. I sometimes just use the page as a sounding board for my sadness and lack of control. Getting everything on the page helps me face the day.
- Set only one goal for 13 weeks. This is a key principle of the Self Journal. Instead of having multiple goals that I’m juggling for an entire year (a year is a long time in my world right now), I have only one goal for a few weeks: find energy so that I am able to be fully present for my mom and family, rejoice in each day, and be better prepared to handle what is coming. The shorter time frame of 13 weeks is comforting. It helps me ignore the future by staying grounded in today. I’ve been focused on this goal for four weeks by exercising each day, sleeping more, and eating healthy foods. I keep track of how much I’m exercising and sleeping and what I’m eating, and it correlates directly to an improvement in my energy level, which in turn helps me be there for my mom and family. It also helps me look forward to the next day. Instead of dreading the three-mile walk with my dog or the fifteen laps in the pool, I look forward to the release of endorphins the activities provide, to the warm sun on my skin as I hit the pavement, to the cool water as I glide through each lap.
- Use pencil. After morning pages, I fill in my calendar for that day in pencil. I have made it a habit of leaving white space blocked on my calendar. Because my situation is so emotionally draining, I need time to decompress and recover after meetings and deep work in order to remain productive at work and deliver on all my promises there and at home. I move things around to accommodate my energy level and state of mind and take more frequent breaks than I used to. I have become much more flexible with my schedule and have also learned to say “no” to things that won’t work for me right now.
- Use one post-it note for the day’s to-do list. My tasks must fit on a post-it. This is important for three reasons. First, it helps me break down big challenges or problems into small steps that are achievable so I don’t become overwhelmed and paralyzed. Focusing on what I have to do today keeps me grounded in today, in a moment-to-moment mindset. I’m not worrying about resolving problems over an extended period of time. I’m only worried about what I must do today and I do those things one at a time. Second, it helps me prioritize so that I can immerse myself and achieve a state of flow on something important. This is the ultimate positive distraction from grief.Third, and most importantly, it ensures I fulfill my daily work obligations so that I can devote precious time to my mom and family.
- Let go of certain social media conversations and the news. Letting go of certain social media conversations and the negative news is a decision I finally had to make last week. From Trump to Orlando to gorillas and alligators to Brexit to Louisiana/Minnesota/Dallas, the negativity was chipping away at my energy, which I have been working hard to reclaim and build. But there are also so many uplifting conversations on social media. From the shared experiences of friends to the heartfelt wishes of commenters on a story about hospice in The New Yorker to the beautiful advice I received on the Self Journal Facebook group page about how to use the journal during this period, my online expressions of grief and troubles are an important part of the grieving and healing process. While Facebook status updates can’t do justice to what my family is going through, and a Tweet can’t summarize the sadness or fear, and an Instagram image can’t express the pain, I’ve learned it’s okay to turn away from the negative social media conversations and towards the positive, uplifting ones.
Embrace the gift of today. Journal. Look after your health. Treat yourself with compassion. Be honest about the goals and tasks you set. Step away from the negativity. And hug or call your family members.