What if I told you that I wanted to share with you the secret to everlasting success and happiness?
Would you be willing to hear me out?
I hope so.
However, what if I also told you that putting this “secret” into action might be the hardest thing that you’ll ever do in your life?
As much as I wish that I could take any credit for the awesomeness of this secret, I can’t.
That’s because I discovered it by accident–and I did it at work, of all places.
Let me explain.
One day while I was teaching a customer service class, I was talking to my students about one of my all-time favorite topics: the importance of choosing the right attitude.
It was at that moment that one of the most difficult students who I’ve ever had the displeasure of teaching, asked me a question that I’ll never forget:
With a smug smirk on his face he said, “Are you telling me that you’re expecting me to come to work with a positive attitude every single day of my career? If so, then you’re full of shit and you know it.”
The rest of the students looked at me in stunned silence as this guy tried to show me up in front of the class.
To add to the drama, he was a pretty big dude too–bigger than me, and I’m 6’2″, 215 lbs. He was an intimidating guy for sure, and I totally pictured him outside of my class as the dime-a-dozen wannabe tough guy who wears extra-medium Tap Out shirts and tries to bully people to hide his insecurities.
As most of you know, I can’t stand people like that.
But that’s beside the point.
The guy asked a question and his question deserved an answer. All of my students deserve at least that, right? So I answered him.
It definitely wasn’t the answer that he was expecting either.
“No, of course not. There’s no way that I would expect you to come to work every day with a positive attitude.”
I noticed a self-satisfied smile creep across his face, so I purposely paused to look him directly in the eyes as I delivered the most important point of all.
“Not every day, just today. And then tomorrow, it’s the same thing: just today.”
The Realization That Changed Everything
Have you ever had a moment where you said something profound, and then moments later you thought, “Where in the hell did that come from?”
The situation with that student was one of those moments.
I still don’t know where “just today” came from, but I’m so happy that it came to me when it did.
Truthfully, I actually didn’t consider it to be “profound” until after class. It was then that a number of students came up to me to say, “thanks to you, whenever I think that I’m not able to give my best, I’ll remember those two words: just today. No matter what I’m going through, I know that I can give my best for just today, if nothing else.”
Maybe I was onto something. Who knew?
Maybe the secret to success in our lives is simply to do something that most people are unable (or unwilling) to do.
Focus on just today.
So, after that class, I decided to do exactly that. Or put differently, I decided to stay focused on the present moment and stay in the now.
It’s much harder than it sounds, believe me. But even so, I stuck with it.
Interestingly enough, I found two very cool rewards that came with doing this consistently.
Not only did it help me to enjoy more success in terms of achieving my goals, but it also made me happier too.
In fact, I’m convinced that living in the now might be the fastest way for us to get to live our best lives.
Sound too good or too simple to be true?
Let’s start with the success part first.
Just Today: A Success Story
There is no doubt in my mind that everyone reading these words has a big goal that they want to achieve.
Maybe it’s getting out from under a mountain of debt and starting a savings account.
Maybe it’s enrolling into school and getting your degree.
Maybe it’s sitting down to write the book that’s been floating around in your brain for years.
Maybe it’s finally committing to getting your health in order by quitting smoking and losing weight.
Maybe it’s repairing the relationship with your estranged parents after a number of years.
Maybe it’s finding a better job that fully maximizes your skills.
Maybe it’s discovering the strength to walk away from a horrifically toxic relationship.
Maybe it’s choosing to get your temper under control and become a happier person.
All of those goals are cool, but do you know the one thing that could derail you before you even start?
The bullshit story in your mind about hard it will be to do those things.
Don’t get me wrong though, it’s very possible that it could be hard. It just won’t be nearly as hard as you think it will be.
If we’re focused on the potential time, work, and difficulty that are ahead of us, what in the world would be the motivation to start?
Take it from me–I focused on “how hard it would be to start” for over 25 years of my life and it’s no surprise that I didn’t get much accomplished during that time.
Everything (and I mean, everything) changed when I shifted my focus to those two magic words:
Every meaningful goal that has ever been achieved in the world’s history all have one thing in common:
Someone found the courage to say to him/herself, “today, I will start.”
Refuse to talk yourself out of your dream by dreading the time and the effort that it could take to get there. For example, if any of the goals mentioned above are your goals, you could say instead:
Just today, I will skip the Starbucks latte and put a little extra money into my savings account.
Just today, I will start looking to find a college that will meet my needs.
Just today, I will sit down and take the ideas for my book out of my brain and put them into a Word document–even if it’s just the first few sentences.
Just today, I will go to the gym and walk on the treadmill–even if it’s only for 10 minutes.
Just today, I will take the first step in repairing the relationship with my parents.
Just today, I will begin the necessary process of leaving my toxic relationship.
Just today, I will be more mindful of my emotions and my attitude.
Here’s the good news–we only have to do this today.
That’s it. Just today. Forget tomorrow–just worry about honoring yourself and your dream today. We’ll deal with tomorrow later.
For now, focus one thing: Just today.
There is no doubt in my mind that if we shift our focus to simply doing what we can do today, we’ll be able to accomplish so much more than we ever imagined.
And that’s only half of the story.
Just Today: A Happiness Story
There’s much more to the “just today” philosophy than achieving our dreams. It can also make us so much happier too. If you don’t believe me, think about these special moments in your life:
The birth of your child.
The moment when your favorite sports team won the championship.
The best sex that you’ve ever had.
The time when your name was called to walk across the stage to finally receive your degree.
The day the doctor told you that you (or a close loved one) were cancer-free.
The moment when you looked into the love of your life’s eyes and confidently said “I do.”
Or (insert the happiest moment in your life so far).
Do you know what all of those things have in common?
You were totally and completely 100% in the moment.
You weren’t thinking about the idiot who cut you off in traffic a few hours earlier.
You weren’t thinking about how you’re going to finish that project at work before next week’s deadline.
During those special moments mentioned above, you were only focused on one thing:
This is the key to happiness. Staying present. Living in the now.
Just a few hours ago, I was sitting on the living room floor of my condo making Play-Doh masterpieces with my two daughters (ages 4 1/2 years old and 21 months old).
It was beautiful thing to watch the two of them play. They were both blissfully happy making fake Play-Doh food and pretending to feed it to me. It was obvious by their high-pitched squeals of delight when I pretended to devour their food as if I were Cookie Monster, that they were obsessively focused on only the current moment.
Nothing else mattered to them.
And they were happy. Very much so.
But sadly, we’re not toddlers or preschoolers–we’re adults. And as I’m sure you’ll agree, it’s easy for us adults to forget what’s really important in our lives, isn’t it?
That’s why happiness is harder than most people would think. In fact, that’s why I believe that happiness should be considered a full-time job.
The catch is that we’ll only get to keep this job if we consistently stay in the moment.
Like I said before, this is much harder than it sounds.
It is far easier to be mentally tortured by the demons of the past, or to be scared as hell of the ghosts of the future. And ironically, the only place in the universe where we are safe from both the demons and the ghosts is right where we are:
In the present moment. Today.
When your mind is drifting to negative thoughts of the past or fearful thoughts of the future, you don’t have to unconsciously accept these thoughts as your reality for a moment longer.
With effort and practice, you can choose to be aware of your thoughts, and more importantly, refocus them to the only time in the world that matters.
The Only Thing That’s Real
Work drama. Bills to pay. Recent ankle injury. Vacation to plan. Blog post to write. Big presentation to prepare for.
All of the above things are real issues that are floating around in my brain at this very moment.
But there was a time today when none of those things even crossed my mind for a millisecond. Can you guess when that was?
It was when I was playing with Play-Doh with my daughters.
During that time, I was completely in the moment. It was just the three of us being silly on the living room floor and that was all that mattered to me. I was completely blissfully happy.
Not that I needed any further proof of this, but that moment reminded me with crystal clarity of the only thing in the world that’s real.
It’s the moment that we’re currently experiencing. Or more specifically, now.
As they say, the past is just a story and the future is a complete mystery. The only thing that’s real is now.
This moment is all that we have. This is it. That’s why there is no such thing as “happy later.” In order to be truly happy, we must fully be in the moment right now.
Sure, putting this into action won’t be easy. Hell, none of this is easy–but seriously, I don’t give a damn about “easy.” Neither should you.
No one said that it would be easy, but our happiness is worth the fight, even if it’s hard. Especially if it’s hard.
If nothing else, we can all at the very least, do this:
Commit to give it our best, just for today.
And what about tomorrow?
We’ll deal with it when it gets here.
For now, there’s only one day that matters, there’s only one day that’s real, and there’s only one day where we must honor ourselves and our loved ones by giving our best effort consistently.
Are you up for the challenge?