“Your days are numbered. Use them to throw open the windows of your soul to the sun. If you do not, the sun will soon set, and you with it.” – Marcus Aurelius
“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” – Hebrew poet
I’m writing this as of my 11,290th day alive. For the past ~1200 days I’ve been numbering each one, ever since August Ritter, a brilliant conservationist and incredible friend,* introduced me to the idea in a 2013 conversation. That evening, among other “Amazing Things That Happened Today,” was “1. Great chat with August.” and “7. I lived another day, day #10,097.”
We typically count our lives in years, or fractions of years. But years are long and abstract. Days, on the other hand, are more manageable. They’re short enough to wrap our heads around, yet long enough to do something with. Days are the things that lives are made of, and we must take advantage of them.
“You will only get one shot at today,” writes Ryan Holiday. “You have only twenty-four hours with which to take it. And then it is gone and lost forever. Will you fully inhabit all of today? Will you call out, ‘I’ve got this,’ and do your very best to be your very best? What will you manage to make of today before it slips from your fingers and becomes the past? When someone asks you what you did yesterday, do you really want the answer to be ‘nothing’?”
As I shared above, one of the ways I remind myself to take advantage of each day is to number it – literally. I started by looking up my age in days (find yours here). Then, every day, after writing the date in my journal, I write what day it is for me.1
As each day arises, it helps me, in the words of Seneca, “welcome it as the very best day of all, and make it your own possession. We must seize what flees.”
Every Day Anew
Writing just the day’s number helped me to start appreciating each 24 hours more fully. Over time, I started adding other elements to bring the point home.
The first addition was a vertical line, followed by a “0” (zero) on the other side, like this: “Day # XX,XXX | 0.” The zero reminds me that every day presents an opportunity to start anew. No matter what had happened previously, that moment was the beginning of the future. And, just like number lines don’t start at 1, but at 0, I wanted to remind myself that I was truly at the beginning.
Over time, that too evolved. When the 1,000-Day Epic Optimizing Challenge started, I added a “+1” to the end, making it “Day # XX,XXX | 0 + 1.” The +1 reminds me that every day presents an opportunity to do, serve, and be a little better. It also reminds me that the choices I make throughout the day will decide whether I’m moving forward or backward. My days lived total is going to grow by one either way, but given a chance, I’d like to make it a +1 I’m proud of.
Recently, I also started adding an “∞” to the beginning of the Day’s #. It reminds me that a lot happened before I even got to start counting my days and that I wouldn’t be here without everything that came before. Even though the days I can number are infinitely important to me, and the only allotment of time I have, they still pale in comparison to a much bigger picture. From the big bang (or according to recent theories, the big expansion), to the evolution of matter through stars and supernovas expanding and exploding, to the creation of this planet, the evolution of life over millions of years, of society for millennia, and my own family history – a lot had to happen in order for me to experience being alive and aware in this moment.
Putting it all together, every day, after writing the date, I write “Day # ∞ + XX,XXX | 0 + 1.”
It’s a small but powerful amount of text that reminds me of a lot. How much has come before me and how much bigger the world is. How blessed I am to have each and every day. That my life is made up of days. That each day is a new day, and the opportunity to start fresh. That the decisions I make that day will contribute to who I am and what becomes of my life when I have no days left.
Days as Data
As we go about appreciating and taking advantage of each day, it’s important to remember both to schedule our priorities and to use each day as data. In this way, each day that gets added to the total becomes fuel to make all of the days to come a little better.
If the day went well, note what made it that way and do more of that in the future. If the day didn’t go so well, note where it could have been improved and make the changes.
Iterate, grow, and learn with each day that passes. Over time, you’ll amass an invaluable collection of data on what works and what doesn’t.
Here’s the roughly 1200 days worth of data that’s helping me craft more masterpiece days:
What day is it for you?
“You don’t have an infinite supply of days to make a difference in the lives of your loved ones, family, and friends, and in the world. The wise know their days are numbered and act accordingly.” – Michael Hyatt
- Funny story. I went to the above calculator and put in my birthday, and was pretty surprised when it was three days off from the number in my journal. Turns out, between day 11,188 and 11,189 I misread the 8 for a 5 and went to 11,186. I’d been off by three days since then! Fixed now. [↩]