You’ve likely heard the phrase in either of its most common forms — “seize the day” or “carpe diem.” While it’s likely that you also have your own personal definition of what this mantra means, perhaps there’s a bit more to discover. How can you actually seize the day? Is there a right or wrong way?
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If you’re at a loss, or, perhaps you’re confusing this phrase with some sort of modern substitute, such as “YOLO” — we’ll help you set the record straight. We’ll discuss what this phrase actually means, how you can best seize the day, as well as some important people who’ve said this phrase throughout history.
What Does ‘Seize the Day’ (Carpe Diem) Mean?
To better incorporate a mantra, a belief system, a manner of thinking into your life, you must first understand the ins and outs of it. Makes sense, right? You certainly can’t bake a cake — let alone shop for the ingredients — before you actually know what a cake is.
So, when we talk about seizing the day, you can likely presume a little bit about what this means, either from personal experience or as a witness to it.
“Seizing” essentially means taking, typically with force. And, of course, “the day,” can explicitly mean the day you’re experiencing right now. However, more loosely speaking, it can also mean the time, moment, or point in space you’re in.
Key facets of seizing the day
Here are a few other key facets of what “seize the day” actually means:
- Getting in control of your life: That is, taking control of the things in your life you actually can control.
- Not taking time or opportunities for granted: However, this doesn’t mean you can’t let a few moments here and there “pass you by.” Sometimes you have to pause, breathe, recuperate, and pick it all back up later.
- Acknowledging fear, but not letting it rule you: Rather, if you identify and isolate what you’re really afraid of, you’ll be much more likely to move past it. You can’t truly live if you live in fear of death — which is a key part of becoming death positive.
- Doing what brings you pure joy: In essence, you should work on getting down to the root of what makes you feel the most alive. What do you want to spend your time doing? OK, now go make it happen.
- Being with those who make you feel proud to be you: Who do you really love? Who helps you love yourself better? Cling to these people but also earn your keep.
What seize the day doesn’t mean
Seizing the day is not about spending all your time in the shallow end of the pool. It’s about digging deep.
Sure, it may be fun to seize a shallow opportunity from time-to-time, like shelling out for a new pair of limited edition sneakers you don’t need. But, at the end of it all, those sneakers will wear out. And the shallow opportunity will no longer feel invigorating or meaningful or new.
Some believe that many of us modern consumers (or the otherwise impressionable) have forgotten what it’s like to truly seize the day.
It’s not “YOLO,” so much as it is “YOLO, plus you better remember that you’re not the only person in the room (even when you literally are).” Your experience is just as much ruled by your own thoughts, desires, and well-being as it is by those you care about and interact with.
How Can You Seize the Day?
Your unique experience with this methodology will likely vary. The tips below are not exhaustive, and perhaps you’ll relate to some of them better than others. You may feel as though some of the points below are already your strong points, but, hopefully, you’ll find some sort of room for improvement and seizing, if you will.
Work on whittling down that bucket list
Whether you already have a bucket list you’re actively working on, or you’ve yet to write one, these lists are a great way to help you live more intentionally.
What money should you be saving so that you can make these things happen? Who do you want to keep in your life to make these things happen? What minor details do you need to get in order to make the bigger event happen?
There are tons of questions surrounding bucket lists. However, you shouldn’t stress about how seemingly large or sparse your list is. No copy has to be final. Just fill it with your hopes, dreams, desires, and plans — no matter how small. Perhaps you’d enjoy listening to some songs about living life to the fullest while you brainstorm.
Living authentically is easier said than done. Though being your authentic self is likely a collection of others’ influences, it’s still important to be true to the values and impulses that define who you are.
To properly seize the day, you should, of course, respect any rules or terms set in place.
Being authentic does not mean disrespecting others to only worry about your needs. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It’s about recognizing who you are and what you can bring to the table. If everyone pulls their weight, the world is a lot less heavy.
Do you feel some weird impulse to call up an old friend? Compliment a stranger in the coffee shop? Look into changing careers or move? Recognize both the large and small opportunities you’re presented with and run with them.
And, if there’s an opportunity you’re desperate for, but it’s just not happening, it’s likely time to ensure that your foundation is solid. How can you best use your time to reach not only your short-term goals, but also your long-term ones?
Say “screw fear”
Again, this is far easier said than done. However, living a life full of fear and worry about others judging you — or circumstances you can’t control befalling you — you’ll likely never want to leave the house.
And, furthermore, the house you’ll create for yourself with this mindset likely won’t be a very peaceful one. Inner turmoil from time to time is inevitable, as is fear. However, you can’t let negative emotions sway you, nor can you assume the worst of situations or people. Positivity is a powerful thing, and should never be underestimated.
Encourage strength in others
Revealing your true feelings to others is scary. No one likes rejection. But you will surely realize that failing to try is worse than failing at all.
Let the people who matter to you know it, and often. Compliment them. Tell them why they’re great. Do this to your closest loved ones and even acquaintances. In all honesty, you never know what the last thing you will say to someone will be — until it happens.
Make it count. And, furthermore, if anyone in your life isn’t reciprocating your energy, they won’t stick around, and they don’t deserve your energy in the first place. Does this suck sometimes? Sure. But then you still have the people who really want you around and who really matter in general.
Learn and grow
Learning from your mistakes takes courage. The first step to becoming better at something — no matter what it may be — is first recognizing that you’re not the best. And, in the off chance that you are, in fact, the best around, you should still work on how you can improve. Let yourself be your opponent.
Hunger for greatness, and let the definition evolve. If you shift your mindset to compete against yourself rather than others (who, again, may be nothing like you) you’ll arguably never grow tired or feel beaten down. After all, you’ll always be in at least second place, and silver ain’t all that bad.
Be mindful (for your heart’s sake too)
Imagine if every time you had a negative thought you backed it up with a positive one. Or, every time you wanted to do something for yourself, you also did something for someone else. What does this have to do with seizing the day?
Even our smallest thoughts and actions have the potential to have a large impact on something seemingly unrelated — often without our knowledge. Being mindful of what you let yourself think, believe, and do as often as possible can easily influence others, who then influence others, and so on.
Who Said ‘Seize the Day’?
There are a few famous names throughout history who have talked about seizing the day in one way or another. Among the most notable include:
- The Roman poet, Horace, 2,000 years ago: He was the one who coined the term, “carpe diem.”
- The Greek philosopher Epicurus
- A 17th-century poet, Robert Herick
- Andrew Marvel, a metaphysical poet
Feel Empowered with Your Decisions
We hope that, after reading this, you have a bit better grasp on what seize the day means and how you can apply it to your daily life.
If you’re feeling tentative or going through a planning period, remember this: You have to first show up for yourself before you can begin to show up for others. Start small. Take as many moments and steps in the right direction as you can.
And, then, you too can build your own Rome and perhaps coin your own phrase people just like you will be reading about ages from now. If you need a break from all this, consider some movies to watch before you die for further inspiration, and be sure to check out the rest of Cake’s resources.
- Macdonald, Fiona. “What it really means to seize the day.” BBC. 17 May 2017. www.bbc.com/culture/story/20170517-what-it-really-means-to-seize-the-day
- Britannica Editors. Encyclopedia Britannica. www.britannica.com/topic/carpe-diem