When we think about our life, we tend to think of it in the form of a story.
First, you were born, and then you did some things and made some memories, and now you’re here. And you work at Costco or something. In the future you plan on going travelling — seeing the world, marrying the woman of your dreams, and saving up enough money for a fun retirement.
We tend to view our lives in a narrative structure like this, with a beginning, a middle, and an eventual end. Which kind of makes sense because reflecting on the past helps us make sense of how we got here, and having hopes for the future gives us something to look forward to — and helps us endure any present pains or frustrations on the promise of a better tomorrow.
But if you think about what it actually feels like to live life. Like, what it feels like most of the time. It's something more like:
We wake up — kind of groggy. Stumble downstairs to get the coffee. Hop in the shower, wash up and get dressed before getting in the car to “get that bread”… and after you get the bread, you get more bread at McDonald’s because you have an addiction — and then come home to sort of veg out and do whatever because you’re really tired and then you eventually go to bed.
Ahh, yes. That’s more like it.
This is what living life actually feels like, to most people, most of the time. Obviously not every time, but most of the time. Sometimes some cooler things happen, but life in general is pretty... normal, kind of predictable, often monotonous, sometimes stressful and difficult — and most of the time it doesn't completely wow or inspire us or blow our minds. Most of our lives consist of what we call “the day to day experience.”
But is there anything wrong with that? I mean, social media has us thinking that everyone's hanging out on yachts all the time, going on crazy adventures and trying the thousands of different species of bananas in Southeast Asia. And not to mention getting married. Everyone's getting married all the time and popping out the most beautiful, perfect little babies.
But that isn't life. It's a highlight reel. And these highlights deeply influence the story we tell ourselves about our own life.
We start viewing life, at least life lived to its fullest potential, as a life filled with as many of these highlights as possible. And the days when these things aren’t happening, we see this as sub-optimal. We condition ourselves to believe that amazing days are the expectation, and our “normal” days are indicative of an unfulfilling life. A life of wasted potential. But it’s all a lie.
Nobody’s life feels like a highlight reel. Not Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, not Donald Trump, not Elon Musk. Sure, they do a lot of big important things, and have more money than you do — but the majority of their life is the day-to-day grind as well. They still wake up, poop, get dressed, and do a bunch of annoying stuff they don’t want to do. Maybe their agent gets them to pose on a private jet with a catchy title, but you’d be a fool to think they’re not also fantasizing about escaping the stressful, rat race, day-to-day grind and going on vacation somewhere just like us... except when Elon Musk thinks of vacation, instead of the Bahamas, he’s thinking Mars.
The point is, no matter how you slice it, no matter how obsessively we work to make “our perfect life” come into fruition, the truth always settles back into focus:
The truth that life is lived on a day-to-day basis. That relatively monotonous, unspectacular 16 hours between taking our head off the pillow and putting it back down again, is life. The reason your life is boring most days is because pretty much everyone's life is boring most days.
And this can either sound really depressing or incredibly inspiring to you depending on how you look at it.
It could be construed as depressing, obviously, if we don’t like these 16 hours. Many of us are prisoners to our bad habits, or we work jobs that utterly drain us, or we have toxic friendships and zero fulfilling hobbies, crippling debt — the list goes on. So many of us are sitting around, slogging through the suboptimal present, so that one day we can live our “real” lives… And if this is all there is — if this is life — then that’s obviously super depressing.
But there's a silver lining.
And that is that changing your entire life is not as big of a feat as you might think it is. Since life is lived in these little 16 hour mini episodes — that’s a very manageable amount of time to perfect. We can start to build habits that we actually enjoy doing and that are good for us, we can train ourselves to make choices that are aligned with our internal values, so that we gradually become the person that we want to be, every single day. Because a good life is just a series of good days. Not necessarily days where everything went our way, and nothing was ever difficult or stressful — but days where our system was running. We gave life a good shot, we made choices that are aligned with our values, and we did the little things that make us happy. Maybe that’s having a meaningful conversation with a good friend, or putting some extra effort into cooking so you make something memorable and that you’re proud of. Maybe that’s feeling the growth and progress of your side hustles or business, feeling motivated by your gradual gains at the gym. Maybe that’s developing one positive habit at a time, so that the things that elevate your mood and keep you grounded and positive, start to become things that you do automatically. When we start viewing our lives on this micro-scale like this, rather than the macro all the time — we can use this realization to reflect on our values, and the person we want to be, and design our surroundings to best help us be that person. This realization also adds clarity to the choices we make throughout the day as well. If we want to “eventually be a more social person”? Well, that means saying yes to beers with the boys today. Do you want to “become a more fit person?” Well, that means going to the gym today. Because your life is today. That’s all it is. It’s today, repeated.