When you’re caught up in the day-to-day grind of living your life, it can be difficult to recognize growth. This could be growth in therapy or across your life in general – I’m a firm believer that everyone has the potential to grow and develop across the lifespan and in all different areas of life. But it can be difficult to step back and to gain perspective on how far you’ve come. When you’re focused more on schlepping through the mud of daily demands, each day can feel very similar to the one before. However, the days aren’t identical and it’s to your benefit to practice honing in on the differences.
Personally, I find it very easy (probably too easy) to get immersed in my daily activities. I can focus on those things immediately in front of me that, while tedious, are relevant to my day-to-day responsibilities. My “To Do” list often has the same tasks listed for most days – returning phone calls, packing my daughter’s lunch, dealing with laundry, and walking the dog. This list is an anchor for structuring my day and maintaining a level of focus as to what is important.
If I only focused on the checklist, day in and day out would seem very much the same. I’d also be missing out on new opportunities or fun experiences. “Sorry, I can’t join you for dinner tonight. I’ve got ‘fold laundry’ on my list for today.” While that may enable my completion of the daily checklist, I’d be hard pressed to say that it enabled me to live my life in a fulfilling manner. Life is more than the items on the list.
Consider the “daily grind” as the stable foundation from which you can branch out and incorporate new things. When looking at what you’ve chosen to list for the day, remember that it matters more how those activities are approached. Why are they on the list in the first place? How are you completing those items? What impact do these activities have on you, your life, and the people around you? Why do you choose to do these things?
Instead, of putting your head down and pushing myself through each day, try to climb out of the daily rut and see the lay of the land. The futile trench warfare of World War One may not be the best analogy; however, soldiers lived in a maze of muddy trenches, where things looked very much the same regardless of where they were in them. They couldn’t tell if they were making progress and it often felt as though things weren’t changing much around them. But being able to climb out of the trenches and see the paths that had been dug and navigated, they could get a sense of what movement had been made.
Life is never a smooth journey. While we may wish for a straight trajectory of growth, movement, and progress, we are dealt a series of bumps. As we go through the ups and downs, we may be more likely to feel as though there are more downs or points of stagnation. With this in mind, it can be helpful to track experiences each day but doing so with a sense of balance. Having the data can be helpful but it’s the aggregate data, not the minutia of each day that matters. The purpose is to look for overall trends.
One approach that has been beneficial for me is journaling. I track this in my journal, which I use in a number of ways. Primarily, it’s a daily accounting of what has occurred in my life. While reflecting on events that have occurred, I also process my emotions and make connections to larger patterns. I check in on things that I’m looking forward to. I identify three things that I’m grateful for each day. I keep a log of projects that I’m working on as a form of accountability. I list my intentional actions to promote self-care. Taking the time to review, reflect, and record, I’m promoting a mindset that better identifies the changes I’m affecting in my life. The more I notice all these little things, the more it feels like they’re everywhere. I’m better able to see the ways in which I respond to situations a bit differently from how I may have responded in the past. I catch the new perspectives or insights I have into actions (mine and others). I pause and give myself the acknowledgement of when I’m doing a job well done. I also work to identify things I would like to have more of in my life and plan for ways to incorporate those aspirations into my upcoming plans, such as bolstering new friendships by initiating connections. My journal and my to do list are both fluid in how I approach them. There are no rules for how they are used. I enjoy experimenting with format and what I include. Every time I begin a new book (which is 3-4 times a year), I pause and embrace the excitement of what new pathways I can venture down.
Now there are definitely days when it can feel as if you’re drowning. We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t have them! When you find yourself being knocked back by a bad day, it can be useful to think of yourself making your way through the muddy trenches. You may feel overwhelmed by what’s happening in the moment, but you’re on a path and moving in a particular direction. You can lift your head up to peek out above the tunnels and reorient yourself. As you get the lay of the land, your checking in with yourself serves to remind yourself that the overall pattern is not dismissed by one rough day.
Picture the scene from Wonder Woman where she’s crossing No Man’s Land – an immensely powerful scene conveying the strength, focus, and intensity of Diana. Ask yourself how you can channel your inner Amazon and find the motivation to keep moving ahead.
Movement is not negated. The course you’ve already traversed is not erased. The land ahead is waiting for you to venture forward. The journey may not be easy, but you can grow with every step.