Skip to content

Does “one day at a time” mean we can’t plan for the future?

The initial reaction when someone tells us to “take it one day at a time”

It’s easy to think we should live 100% in the moment when we hear “take it one day at a time.” We learn that this means the future will take care of itself, and we should take care of today’s problems today. We shouldn’t worry about future problems if there’s nothing we can do about them.

These statements are all true for the cliche one day at a time. However, some people may find it too all-encompassing. Does it mean that we shouldn’t save in a 401k? Does it mean we shouldn’t plan for 5 or 10 years down the line?

In short, no: one day at a time doesn’t mean we should live with reckless abandon at the moment. It doesn’t ask that we stop planning and preparing for the long term, such as building up a nest egg, getting more education, or planning a vacation.

One Day at a Time in Practice.

One day at a time is about focusing on the moment. We can’t work on sobriety in the future, but only on the day we have.

So the focus becomes what we need to do at this moment to stay serene and sober, not fearing problems that arise in the future.

For example, we might have a job interview in a week that brings us anxiety. Instead of skipping meetings or calls to fret over the interview, one day at a time asks us to put it aside and engage in the activities we need to do today.

Today we have a routine that will keep us sober. We shouldn’t destroy the time we have today to make an interview in a week go precisely to the outcome we want. We will tackle the interview the day it arrives.

One day at a time doesn’t say, “ignore the future.”

At the same time, one day at a time doesn’t mean we should skip practical preparation altogether. Getting back to the interview example, we can take some action now to make sure it goes well without going overboard with anxiety.

For instance, we can find the directions and drive to the interview location, so we aren’t late to arrive the day of. We can print a few copies of our resumes, so we have them on hand. We can get a notebook and pen to bring us to show that we care and take notes.

“One day at a time” doesn’t say that these preparations are somehow against the principle of living in the moment. They are wise steps to make sure the future runs smoother.

Instead, “one day at a time” says that once we have completed the preparations, we should put aside unnecessary worry and continue with the day. Any additional anxiety isn’t going to do us any good.

Planning for the future without struggle

Some plans require long-term planning. Saving for retirement is one example. We have to determine how much we can set aside each month and choose safe, steady investments we can rely on. This may mean getting someone else involved, such as a financial planner.

This planning is what responsible adults must do. We can take the precautions that prior generations have successfully implemented in years past and continue on that path over an extended timeframe.

Long term planning is healthy

The planning might be for a future decision 20 or 30 years down the line. We can’t always know what will happen between now and that time, but we’ve taken steps that put us on an automatic path along the way.

Surely some confused people may think this invalidates the meaning of one day at a time. However, the more wise know that these preparations are part of living a comfortable life in the future. The practices can help ease fear and worry over the long haul. We can make the best of life ahead by taking prudent action today.

Avoiding fear of the future: “Future tripping.”

The trap that many alcoholics (and even ordinary people) fall into is trying to predict future outcomes, also known as future tripping. We falsely assume that if we brood and fret over every little possible scenario, we can protect ourselves from the worst outcomes.

Worry is a waste of time

However, this wheel spinning only spoils our serenity now. We can’t enjoy the moment if we wrap ourselves up worrying over an event we can’t control 100%. We have to let the event come and arrive at its outcome. We can sometimes make for possibly the best development, but any more than that has to be left up to fate.

The perfectionists spend much time worrying about outcomes when it serves no good purpose. This is what the cliche “future tripping” refers to, this constant worry about what we must say and do to get the outcome we want. The result is usually outside our control because it involves other people or the environment to guide it.

Future tripping is the brain gymnastics that spoil the present moment, which the expression “one day at a time” recommends we avoid. You can liken it to the expression: If you have one leg in the past and one leg in the future, you’re crapping on today.

It’s possible to plan without anxiety.

It’s not responsible to treat life with a constant YOLO mentality. Spending all of our money today, for instance, could bring suffering when there’s an emergency. Avoiding a look at our 5 or 10-year plan can spell misery when we grow older.

Even skipping practical actions we can take now for an event a few weeks or months in the future could prevent the chances of a better outcome.

One day at a time only recommends we don’t drift into a morbid reflection of all possible outcomes. This morbid reflection often feeds on itself in a vicious cycle, to where we can’t even draw ourselves away from our thoughts to engage in the life in front of us.


Let us take all the planning and preparation we need now without fear that we’re going against the moral of one day at a time. Comfort in the future demands we plan well but get back to our daily lives when we’ve done all we can.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *