What if the Good Ole Days are Now?

Sep 19, 2022

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We tend to reflect on certain things in the past as being better, aka “the old good days”. That reflection typically revolves around experiencing things a certain way that we no longer can now. An example is one I’ve been thinking about lately: how much has changed since the pandemic. Things I had once taken for granted, such as going out to eat or making vacation plans aren’t as easy or certain anymore.

As I reminisced a little, I was reminded of a technique involving reflecting on current times as being the good old days. This technique involves imagining your future self thinking back on today. And it is a powerful method for focusing on what you might miss in the future if it were (or when it is) gone. This exercise harkens to both Hedonic Adaptation and the Stoic Philosophy of viewing events and processing emotion. And it holds some potential framework for cultivating positivity and gratitude now.

“Picture yourself in five years or ten years or twenty years, forty years… What might you wish you had appreciated more now? What might you miss in the future that you, perhaps, are taking for granted now?... Can we live today with the appreciation that one day, this is gonna be one of the good old days?”  – Dr. Sara Dill

What You’ll Learn

  • Reflecting as the future you
  • Hedonic adaptation
  • Appreciating your current ‘good old days’
  • Stoic philosophy
  • Cultivating gratitude and awe

Contact Info and Recommended Resources

Connect with Sara Dill, MD, The Doctor’s Coach


Dr. Sara Dill: I’m Dr. Sara Dill, and this is the Stress-Less Physician podcast, Episode Number 32. Welcome to the Stress-Less Physician podcast, I’m your host, Dr. Sara Dill, MD. Using my unique combination of coaching and mindfulness tools, I will teach you practical ways to reduce your stress level, feel happier at work and create a better balance between your medical career and personal life. If you are a busy practicing physician who wants to design a life and medical career that feel good to you, you are in the right place.

Hey, everyone, welcome back to the podcast. Hope you’re having an amazing day and an amazing week. I have been thinking about doing this episode for a little while. And I’ve been practicing reminding myself of this subject. So, I guess it was maybe last year, I was listening to another podcast and I got introduced to the idea of stoicism, and stoicism in particular, as a modern technique. So, looking back at the philosophy of the stoics from centuries ago, but utilizing some of their techniques to actually produce more happiness, and basically, a more enjoyable life.

And I might just do—there’s a couple of different exercises that I really like. Today, I wanted to talk about the meditation or the reflection on the fact that we often talk about the good old days, right? The good old days in the past, when something was a certain way, or we were having an experience typically, that we are no longer having. And I was thinking about this, in particular, with regards to some of the changes that most of us have experienced since the beginning of COVID, way back in January or February 2020.

So today, the day I’m recording this is August 29, 2022. So, it’s been a while regardless of when you’re listening to this. And I remember thinking about how I didn’t really appreciate, at the time, the ability to go out to dinner, and to make plans with friends, and to see family and to not worry about whether you’re sick or whether you’ve been exposed to COVID. I was thinking about the freedom that a lot of us experienced. Not everyone, of course, but a lot of us, regarding travel and making plans and sort of assuming that when we made vacation plans, most likely, they would actually happen.

Since then, I think a lot of us have experienced the opposite, where you make vacation plans, and then you weren’t really sure if it’s going to work out or not. But I was introduced to this idea about reflecting on today and the current days, your current life as the good old days. So, it’s a way of thinking about future you, you in the future, reflecting back on the current times. And it’s a way very intentionally to reflect on what you might miss in the future. What do you want to be maybe more appreciative of now?

And so often the stoics had a very interesting way about engaging in what some might say is sort of intentionally negative thinking, right? Thinking about maybe having children that grow up and are no longer at home. Are you going to look back on these days? If you have young children, particularly in your house? And think about these as the good old days. And when you think about that, does that make you more appreciative now of some of the chaos and loudness and all that goes into having young children in a house? Can you sort of take the perspective of future you, looking back on your current life, and notice, what are we maybe failing to appreciate?

And so, there’s something that I think is relevant to this called hedonic adaptation. And I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I really like to reflect on this principle, or this idea that basically, we’re wired in such a way that after positive or negative events, something good or something bad, however, we’re going to label it, happening to us. And then we have an increase in positive or negative feelings. We tend to return to a relatively stable baseline level of an effect that we often get used to so called good fortune, right?

This is commonly explained by looking at lottery winners. So, people win a great amount of money, and they are happy and do all the things that they plan to do. But if you check back in with them later, they tend to go back down to their sort of baseline level. And the same is true of people who experience unfortunate events, or maybe illnesses or accidents, who lose the ability to do something, they might experience, even depression or a decrease in their positive feelings, an increase in negative feelings. However, if you check back in with them, typically what happens is people again, get back to sort of their baseline, right?

I think this often, typically, is a reason that we get bored in practice sometimes, is that our brain gets used to it and we sort of forget maybe how enthusiastic we were when we started seeing patients or did whatever specialty you do for the first time or the first year. So there’s no one thing that will just by default, make you happy forever, because you get used to it. And then your brain is always seeking something new, some novelty. Sometimes just reflecting on this can be almost an antidote for it.

And that’s what I like about this good old days, sort of meditation. What if these are the good old days for you? What are you maybe failing to appreciate that if and when it’s no longer available to you, if and when it’s taken away from you, or it’s just not part of your life, or someone in your life is no longer part of your life, are you going to miss them? Can you create an intentional sense of appreciation and fondness and gratitude, using this sort of good old days reflection now? Because that’s what we’re looking for. We’re looking for how do we intentionally manage our mind and thus, manage our emotional state to be happier now.

So, it’s a little bit paradoxical that reflecting on the loss of something in the future, maybe we reflect on no longer being able to drive even. I’ve been around some elderly folks. And I remember when my grandmother was no longer able to drive and how much she missed that. As someone who very much likes my freedom, I will miss not being able to drive at some point in the future, most likely is going to happen. Can I reflect now, on my freedom in my lifestyle, being single, being employed, being successful, being a coach, being someone who also does consulting, and I currently see patients.

In the future, there might be a day where I look back on doing all of these different interesting activities as the good old days. Can I appreciate it more? Can I, again, sort of appreciate it with the sense of impermanence. This practice of doing a sort of meditation or really just sort of a mindfulness or awareness activity on these being the good old days, was something I was introduced to by someone named William B. Irvine, and I believe he’s a professor and has written several books on stoicism. I’ll put a link in the show notes, but I heard him on a podcast and on a meditation app called Waking Up that Sam Harris is in charge of.

And again, it was just very interesting to think about, what I generally think of is a little bit of negative thinking that not everything will last and time is passing, people get sick, I will get sick at some point. But doing that, and titrating it intentionally as a way to create more positive emotion now to appreciate these as the good old days. I think this is very relevant for people in relationships or people who are single. I am single, in the sense of not being married, but I have a boyfriend. So, I’ve been told that that’s not actually single. So, I just want to correct that. I am not married. I live on my own. I am in a committed relationship.

And can I reflect on these being the good old days, regardless of what happens in the future? Can I appreciate being single when I’m single? Can I appreciate being married if and when I’m married? Can you appreciate when you don’t yet have children? Can you reflect on all the things that allows you to have in your life as the good old days, and then maybe when you have children, also reflecting on that as the good old days at some point in the future.

So again, this is a practice. And I would just say, play around with it. Notice your reaction to it. Notice if you have a hard time thinking of the current situation, your current life as the good old days. But then picture yourself in 5 years or 10 years, 20 years, 40 years. What might you wish you had appreciated more now? What might you miss in the future that you perhaps are taking for granted now? Can we live today, with the appreciation that one day this is going to be one of the good old days? I think there’s even a song as to this effect.

I’m going to keep this short, just because I think this is a useful practice. But maybe just play around with this. What is it about your current life, your current work, your current relationships, current anything that is going to be the good old days? You can always look back now. What do you think of as the good old days now? What did you maybe not appreciate then? And can you make sure that you are practicing that now?

So again, I like to think about how much I appreciate being able to go out to dinner with folks. How much I appreciate planning my next vacation, how much I appreciate being on vacation when it actually happens. All of that. It’s really about cultivating a sense of gratitude and awe and working against the default function of our brain, which is to sort of get bored, sort of lose perspective, and always be looking for what next, what next. It doesn’t mean that we don’t move on to what next, that we don’t have goals and aspirations, but can we appreciate the journey? Can we appreciate what we have right now to the fullest?

Let everyone go out there and just wonder: what if today is the good old days, what do you want to do more of? What do you want to do less of? What do you want to appreciate more? Thanks so much. I will talk to you next week. Again, if you have any questions, if you want help with this, or anything like that, please feel free to reach out anytime. You can email me at [email protected], and I answer all my own emails. Have a wonderful time and enjoy the good old days.

If you are a busy practicing physician, ready to start feeling less stressed, enjoy work more and learn how to create a more balanced and sustainable medical practice and life, sign up for a consult call with me at www.saradill.com, that’s S-A-R-A-D-I-L-L.com. It would be my privilege and pleasure to work with you.

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