Don’t count the days

The title of this post is borrowed from the first half of one of my favorite quotes. It was Muhammad Ali who once said, “Don’t count the days. Make the days count.”

I do not remember where I was when I first learned that Muhammad Ali died, but I do distinctly remember seeing the news on the cover of a paper in a yellow newspaper box on the streets of San Francisco in the summer of 2016. It was while taking some time to watch old videos and read about the “The Greatest” after his death that I discovered the quote. I have never been one to put inspirational quotes up around my desk, but that summer I wrote Ali’s words on my mousepad so that I would remember every day not to count the days but to make them count.

Counting down the days until the weekend is a widely accepted norm. Most people do it some of the time and some people do it most of the time. Over the course of my life, I have certainly been no exception. People count down the time until other things as well, like the number of days until summer as a kid, or Thanksgiving and the extended break from work that comes with it, or Christmas, vacation, a birthday, or retirement.

It is totally fine to look forward to things. In fact, I think life benefits from a sense of excitement in thinking about the future, but not at the expense of spending the interim with a “get through” attitude in which one is simply counting down the days, wishing they were going by faster, or worst of all, complaining that they are not going by fast enough.

It should seem obvious that counting down the days is not a good way to live, but still, most of us do it anyway. Why? Because we do not feel that we have a choice. To be fair, sometimes we may not, but most of the time we do. Most of the time, we simply prioritize certain things more highly. We want things more than we want not to count the days. We do not like changes, especially when they carry a lot of unknown and would not be guaranteed to change the fact that we are counting down the days in the first place. We get tired of thinking about the things that we could change to solve the problem because it is a hard problem to solve and most everyone else is dealing with it so we can deal with it too, we reason. We find some satisfactory justification for counting down the days without feeling bad about it or at least an excuse to stop thinking about doing something to change it. In doing so, we can usually kick the can down the road and put the problem off another few weeks or months or years until eventually we get so accustomed to counting down the days that the alternative becomes too foreign to even imagine anymore. It becomes only a dream we once had. This, of course, is speculative on my part. I am too young to have had all of that happen and unfold in my life personally, but that is how I could imagine things might play out. I hope and trust that they will not play out that way for me.

Instead of living of a life in which we are counting down the days and putting off doing anything to change that, I would argue that we should take action when, for too many days, for too long a time, we find ourself counting down the days. If we cannot change our thinking in our current circumstances, which we may well be able to do, then we need to change our circumstances in whatever ways we can, small or large.

Days are simply a unit of time, and a useful one to think about since it is about as natural as they come with the rising and setting of the sun. After a certain number of sunrises and sunsets, we all die eventually, and the question of whether we would like to count down the days until then, or to make them count, seems to be one with an obvious answer.

I know when I am making my days count because I feel like there is not enough time in the day, not to do the things that I have to do or the things that make me feel stressed or negative, but to do the things that I want to do, the things that make me feel purpose or pleasure or positive.

To me, Muhammad Ali shared with us a fundamental way to go about our days, and for that I am grateful to The Greatest. I am far from perfect at it, but generally I do my best not to count the days and to make the days count. At a time like this, it is especially easy to fall into the trap of counting down the days, to the end of this month when social distancing guidelines are in effect in the US, or to a fictitious future when everything will suddenly go back to normal. There may be nothing worse to count the days until than a miracle.

Some days are flat out bad and sometimes those days can stretch to weeks and months and during those times it is much harder to make the days count and much easier to remember that the worst times get better. That is okay too. But if you think about your circumstances and cannot think of a way to explain them to someone in which they would feel sorry for you, then this is probably as good a time as any to start thinking about what you can do to make your days count instead of counting them, and to do it.