Things you should do and think about every day to change your day — and by extension, your life as well.
Why does one day matter? Why does what you do today matter in the scheme of your whole life?
Because our life is made up of days…
Days like today.
The poet Heraclitus said that “one day is equal to every day.” By that he meant that every day is the same length, comprised of the same amount of hours, the same sunup and sundown.
Yet, he also meant it in the sense that philosophers have always meant that same idea — that if you can get one day right, you have a shot at getting your life right (and that you should try to get today right, because tomorrow is no guarantee).
In this vein, here are 13 things you should do and think about every day to change your day — and by extension, your life as well.
Some are easier than others, but each one matters.
• Prepare For The Hours Ahead —
Each morning you should prepare, plan and meditate on how you aim to act that day. Don’t wing it. Don’t be reactionary.
• Have a plan. Marcus Aurelius rose in the morning and did his journaling — preparing himself for what he was likely to face in the hours ahead. He thought about the people he was likely to face, difficulties he might encounter, and what he knew about how to respond.
The morning is the perfect time to journal and to use the pages in that journal to set yourself up for a successful day.
Remember: If you do the tough planning in the morning, nothing can happen during the day contrary to your expectation or too tough for you to handle.
• Go For a Walk — For centuries, thinkers have walked many miles a day because they had to, because they were bored, because they wanted to escape the putrid cities they lived in, because they wanted to get their blood flowing. In the process they discovered an important side-effect: it cleared their minds and helped them make better work. As Nietzsche would later say: “It is only ideas gained from walking that have any worth.”
You should go for a walk every single day not only for exercise but for the philosophical and psychological benefits.
• Experience nature. Experience the quiet of the world around you. Take a break. If you’re too busy, multitask: Take a walking meeting. Do your phone call on the move around the parking lot. Get out of doors and move.
• Do The Deep Work — So much of our day is spent at the surface. Skimming this and that. Vaguely paying attention to this conversation or that one. This is not what we were put here for. You must make time — preferably an hour or more a day — for
the “deep work.”
The type of intense concentration and cognitive focus where real progress is made — on whatever it is that we happen to do, be it writing or thinking or designing or creating.
Elite work takes deep work. The amount of deep work you get done is on you. It starts by closing your browser (after you finish reading me, of course) and getting to it. If you don’t make time for this — if it’s not a box you check every day — it won’t happen.
• Do A Kindness — Wherever there is a human being, we have an opportunity for kindness. Yes, even rude people. Even people you’re in competition with. As well as the people you love and are connected to.
Your co-workers are a chance for kindness. Your spouse is a chance for kindness. The mailman is a chance for kindness. It will make you feel better to take advantage of that chance. It will make your day better if you do. It will make the world better if you do. Only a saint or a sage can fully meet every opportunity and every encounter with kindness. So don’t whip yourself if you can’t muster that. Start with one. Practice one kindness every day. See what happens.
• Read. Read. Read. — Pick up a book every day. Even for just a few pages. As Emerson says, every book is a quotation — of other books, of experience, of the humans and civilizations that came before it. How could you not expose yourself to this? And yes, you do have time! Meals, before bed, on the train, in the waiting room, even on your phone or desktop. Read a few pages, read a whole book, but make a real and unending commitment to reading.
All of these will widen your perspective, help you with problems, give you inspiration and let you benefit from the accumulated wisdom and knowledge of the centuries.
• Find True Quiet — Every single day you should find a way to disconnect and unplug, even for a few minutes. I try to swim as often as I can, not only for the exercise but because nothing can get to me there. I don’t have my phone. There’s no noise. Just calmness and peace. Ask yourself: How often am I unreachable? The answer is: Not often enough. Build some of this time into your daily practice. You’ll be better for it. And the world will not notice, I promise.
Make Time for Strenuous Exercise — It’s become a cliche to say this, but when scientists consider exercise to be the ‘single thing that comes close to a magic bullet, in terms of its strong and universal benefits,’ and it’s the #1 piece of advice to entrepreneurs, it can’t be overstated.
We need it — far more than you think. Don’t put it off. Do it. Be in shape and be healthy. And what I personally find is that it is important to have goals with your exercise. Why? So that no matter what happens that day — at work, at home, in the economy — you can have something that went well.
• You are mortal. How much time do we waste on things that don’t matter? And why? Because we think we can afford it!Live while you can.
• Seize the Alive Time — What does every day seem to be comprised of? People are just killing time. We get to where we were going and walk into the lobby and check our watch. It says we’re a few minutes early, so we reach into our pocket to grab our phones.
Is this act not the expression of so much of what’s wrong with modern life? The entitlement. The resignation of it. How much better we would be and the world would be if we never did this again. If we chose alive time over dead time. There’s so much you could do in those few minutes.
Face fears. Reach out and connect with someone. Do something you’ve been putting off. Expose ourselves to sunlight and nature. Be still and empty. Prepare for what lies ahead. Or just live!
• Say Thanks — To The Good and Bad — The Stoics saw gratitude as a kind of medicine, that saying “Thank you” for every experience was the key to mental health.
• Put The Day Up For Review — We prepared in the morning, now we reflect in the evening. The best way to improve is to review. So, each evening you should, examine your day and your actions. I examine my entire day and go back over what I’ve done and said, hiding nothing from myself, passing nothing by. The question should be: Did I follow my plans for the day? Was I prepared enough? What could I do better? What have I learned that will help me tomorrow?
Find a Way To Connect To Something Big — The worries and anxieties of daily life seem to fall away when we stand next to the ocean or walk through a beautiful park. We shouldn’t wait for our annual vacation to get this kind of relief and perspective. We need to get it every single day. The Stoics had an exercise for doing this. Marcus Aurelius would look up at the stars and imagine himself running alongside them, he’d see them for their timelessness and infiniteness. Try that tonight or early in the morning and try to make it a daily practice. A glance at the beautiful expanse of the sky is an antidote to the nagging pettiness of earthly concerns, of our dreams of immortality or fame. But you can find this connection from many sources: A poem. A view from the top floor. A barefoot walk across the grass. A few minutes in a church pew. Just find something bigger than yourself and get in touch with it every single day.
• Get Eight Hours of Sleep — “Sleep when you’re dead,” we say. Like it’s some badge of honor how little time we allot to it. Bull! The body needs its rest.
Sleep is the interest we pay on the loan of life. Be glad to pay it. It’s what keeps us alive. Guard your sleep carefully, it’s an obligation. All the other habits and practices listed here become irrelevant if you don’t have the energy and clarity to do them.