This is the first of thirty lessons I’ve learned from my chronic illness.
Thirty is an arbitrary number—I’ve probably learned more than thirty things over the past few years as a result of having an unrelenting mystery illness. Or maybe I’ve learned far fewer than that, and by day 14 I’ll have to start making stuff up.
But thirty is a nice round number. It’s about the length of one month. It’s manageable. I can commit to doing something for a month.
Today is also an arbitrary day. It’s not a special holiday or the first day of the month.
So, why start today?
Because today is the only day.
Yesterday is already gone. Tomorrow isn’t here yet. Today is all we have.
I’ll admit, it’s the kind of “life-changing” idea that gets boiled down to a slogan and slapped on an organic cotton t-shirt or a piece of framed calligraphy for sale on Etsy.
As flippant as I may be when I talk about motivational phrases, this “start today” thing is real. It deserves more reflection than it gets.
Before I became ill, there was always a good excuse for putting off changes I wanted to make and goals I wanted to achieve. There were always new things to fill my time, and if I had a few bad habits, who cared?
The consequences were small. I could always work on my sleep habits later in life, or kick my sugar addiction if I started getting diabetes.
Sometimes I was actually successful in making changes, and sometimes I wasn’t. “I’ll start tomorrow, after I finish this chocolate cupcake,” was my rationalization.
Now that I’ve been living with a chronic illness for several years, the connections between my actions and my well-being have become magnified and thrown back in my face. If I keep putting off habit changes, life goals, and chores, my situation won’t likely change.
Having a chronic illness is also a constant, unwanted reminder of your own mortality. When your body works reasonably well, you tend not to notice it. You go about your day, head to work, go to the gym, eat dinner, have fun, sleep.
When you can’t do the things you used do and are plagued by frequent and unpredictable symptoms, you are reminded that your body is a vulnerable system. If you keep putting something off until tomorrow, you might not have any tomorrows left.
Or, tomorrow you might feel like shit.
If you’re chronically ill, it’s easy to fall into the trap of, “I can’t start doing that while I’m not feeling well.”
Yes, there are some things that you shouldn’t do or might be incapable of doing, depending on your condition. Some days, you have to rest and put off certain activities.
But if you break down your goals or habit changes into small pieces, it’s likely that you can start them today in some way.
I’m not yet the physical embodiment of “carpe diem,” but I’m getting better at starting things today. Usually they are little things—doing my least favorite chore first, setting up a pill organizer, doing five minutes of meditation every morning.
Mornings are my favorite time to start something. I’m still relatively fresh, and I’m more likely to do something new before I’ve started the rest of my day.
I like to pair my new “starts” with a set point in my day that I enjoy, like breakfast. This helps ensure that I’ll actually follow through with them.
When you start something today, all your excuses fall away. You feel a sense of accomplishment. You’ve started, and often that’s the hardest part of doing something.