Living as if today was your last

What would you do today if you knew it was your last day on earth? This scary thought exercise is a key part in my favorite wake-up ritual (borrowed from here). The idea is that every morning after you’ve reflected on what you’re grateful or excited for in your life, after you’ve set your major goals for the day, you pause for a second to think about how you would live today if you knew there was no tomorrow.

The first thing this practice offers is an opportunity to double check that your goals are in alignment with your higher purpose in life. If your goals look more like a to-do list than a list of aspirations, then they’re not moving you in the direction you want to head. It’s hard to build up the motivation to make improvements in your life when you’re not excited about the things you’re trying to change. If you find this is the case for you, it might be time to revisit your goals.

The second thing asking this question will accomplish is letting you clear the clutter off of your agenda. If, on an average day, you spend an hour doing something you hate (like commuting, putting on makeup, or arguing with your spouse) would you stand to waste that kind of time if you knew your hours were numbered? If today was your last day, would getting the final word on who should load the dishwasher really deserve your time, attention, or energy?

Our perception of time

In our daily lives we become biased by how we perceive time. Because it seems to move slowly, we allow some things to continue or never initiate those things we want to begin. We don’t prioritize the things we think we have unlimited time in the future to accomplish. Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn how to dance, but because you think of time as an unending stream, you don’t prioritize signing up for dance lessons. If you knew, for example, that your future was truncated to just a few hours though, dancing (lessons or not) might rank very differently on your list.

The example of dance lessons is probably an unfair one because in truth, the things we most want are far more challenging to put a finger on. Scheduling dance lessons is easy, goals like “finding more time for intimacy” are vague and challenging, making it even harder to prioritize them highly. The less specific a goal is, the more likely we won’t schedule the time towards it. And the less time we give to a goal, the less attention it receives, the further away it begins to feel.

And this is especially true for those goals that have more to do with feeling than with doing. It’s easy to schedule time to do something–to work on a project we’ve been putting off, to take a cooking class together, to visit the park or the museum or the neighborhood we love. Those things, with their limited time spans and immediate payoffs, are easy to prioritize. We know once we’ve painted the stairs or finished our dinner date that our task is done and we can feel the relief of having accomplished something. But what about taking care of our relationships? When we don’t have a definitive goal in mind we can’t know that we’ve reached it, therefore there’s no immediate feelings of reward. At best we can hope for our efforts to pay off down the road, at some undetermined date when we’ll finally feel closer, more intimate, more in love.

So what if today was your last?

Would you want to spend time with your significant other? How would you spend it? Would you spend it bickering or strolling hand in hand? Watching Netflix or making love? Ask yourself these questions and then reflect on what, ultimately, makes today any different than your last? Maybe you don’t prioritize your time together because you assume you have more of it. In making that assumption, you presume not just that your time is unlimited but that your partner will continue to be there in the future. This is how most of us move throughout our lives, unconsciously failing to prioritize the things that are most important to us.

So, if today was your last day, do your plans and goals for your relationship reflect that?

A lot of people are afraid to think about their relationships as something that can be worked on. They might throw around the term, but when push comes to shove, they shy away from putting in the real work that a happy romantic partnership requires. They prioritize the dishes, the dog, even the dance lessons. They schedule things to do together, instead of time to be together. And they put up with time wasted being unhappy because they assume they have more time to be happy later.

What would it mean to prioritize creating intimacy? Would it give us more reason to schedule time to work on our relationship? Would it give us the freedom to get creative, to give fully, to set and work towards goals? Improving our relationships doesn’t have to be scary. It can be a rewarding experience, one that allows our days to start reflecting the reality we want to create.

If your relationship (to your partner or to yourself) could benefit from more intimacy you need to prioritize it. Devote the time necessary to realign your goals and then give the energy necessary to start meeting them. If you’re not sure where to begin, contact me. Together we can work to make every day’s goals serve your greater life’s purpose.

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