Over and Under

Over and Under

While I can’t pin down who said it, I’ve heard during multiple occasions that individuals tend to exaggerate what they can do in a single day and underestimate what they can do in a year. I believe this to be true. Thinking this way can have some pretty unhelpful consequences. Namely, we rag on ourselves for not getting enough done in a day while simultaneously fail to appreciate the tremendous growth we obtain over the year. The simple solution to this is to focus less on daily accomplishments and more on long-term developments. Unfortunately, simple is not easy. Emotional reactions and the objective reality that we experience 365 more days than years means that for better or worse, our attention and perception of growth happen in the now, not tomorrow. A mental framework I’ve pick up to deal with this conundrum requires focusing on what is done consistently over the days rather then what is done specifically on each day. It’s a lesson that was brought home through a hobby.


As a hobby, weightlifting is remarkably easy to quantify (set, reps, and mass). Tracking your growth over time is typically a primary part of the programming cycle. Honestly, being able to see those numbers representing strength grow over time is very motivating. Yet when a bad day happens, and they do, you see those numbers fall. You have direct evidence that you did not meet your expectations. It’s easy to catastrophize these bad days as failures and feel like they will undoubtedly keep you from your goal.

But you don’t have too rely on feeling alone, since all that daily data builds into weekly and monthly datasets. Over time it becomes possible to evaluate the effect of missing those daily goals one or two months later. Doing so shatters the initial emotional response to the day. Your lousy day affects that week some, the month less so, and is unidentifiable as you increase your temporal scope. The lapse in the single day was made up by continuing to show up and push yourself after the fact. Your commitment to the long-term goals overwrites the impact of any one given day.

Cool, this relationship between commitment and personal growth is apparent in the fully quantifiable activity of weightlifting. Yet, the most important aspects of life are far more challenging to quantify than mass, sets, and reps. How can you understand that you have become a better spouse, friend, mentor, writer, or any of the numerous qualitative goals you have set for your future self? If we rely on long-term goals alone, we will be shorting our potential because we know that we underestimate our growth over long periods. We need something that connects long-term vision to daily actions.

Your ideal day

To connect the practicality of focusing on the day and the benefit of working towards a long-term vision, I’ve undertaken the effort to define my ideal day using a post by Anthony Ongaro at breakthetwich as the framework. I recommending reading his post if you decide to complete the exercise yourself. I’ve provided a summary of how I applied the concepts he put forward here.

Defining your ideal day

Step 1: Take some time to write out answers to the following questions.

  • Health: What would you do today to maintain or improve your health?

  • People: Who do you want to be around? Write down some names; specificity is essential here.

  • Creativity: What pulls you into a flow state? What activities allow you to express yourself?

  • Long-term goals: What dreams do you have that haven’t become a reality? What habits do you want to develop or, more importantly, drop?

  • Relaxation: What activities recharge you?

  • Location: Where do you want to be?

  • Income: What amount of income do you need to support your ideal day 365 times a year?

Step 2: Prioritize which categories are of utmost importance and which can take the second stage? You can’t always do everything but be sure to understand the things you would hate to miss.

Step 3: With priorities in hand, schedule your ideal day. Yup, it’s a jam-packed calendar in which you define everything present.

  • What time do you wake up?
  • Who do you meet with?
  • When or where do you exercise?

I wrote in some general blocks of time, such as creative activities. To me, this category includes some professional pursuits and hobbies. Being very detailed was not as important as committing to ‘make’ something during that period.

Throughout this process, ensure you take the time to evaluate how these daily activities align with your long-term goals or vision of yourself?

  • If you see yourself as an active member of your community, is your ideal day backing up that claim with action?

  • If your ideal day is to wake up at noon and sit in a beach chair in front of the ocean drinking pina coladas, is your long-term goal to be a very tan alcoholic whose world is thrown to pieces at the first sign of rain?

The back and forth between the daily activities and long-term goals will help you solidify both. Take the time to make a schedule congruent with your ambitions (long-term goals) and short-term desires (daily activities).

Make it a practice

Your ideal day can live in your mind as something of an idol. Individuals who practice a religion strive to become more like Buddha, Jesus, or Muhammad, knowing full well that it may not be possible to get there. Yet, if you try to live out your ideal day as frequently as possible, you will inch closer to those big aspiration goals that define your best vision of yourselves. Without much thought to the specifics, you will be working toward becoming the person you want to be next year by living the day you want to live today.

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