At the beginning of 2017, I began a journey to become a more grateful person. My end vision was to transform my thinking from a negative / fatalistic pattern to a more positive one. I spent almost the entire year journaling daily and writing down 10 Positive Things daily. I feel like I did achieve that goal through the simple exercise of journaling. And, I received, as a by product, a technique to live intentionally. In simple terms, living intentionally, to me means adopting a lifestyle that is true to one’s values.
But how does one do that? I personally don’t like to read self-help books. In general, I have learned things in a more experiential manner. I then evaluate the small and big steps I took on the road, and then summarize them myself mainly, but also to share with others. So here’s a brief summary of what I know about living intentionally:
1. Create a mission statement: To start on this path, what I first did was to ask myself, “What are my values? What do I want to be known for at the end of my life?” And I came up with this statement, “I want to be remembered for my compassion, creativity and sense of humour.” This is different from having an overarching career goal – and does not require attaching a success value to it like awards or money. This is more like making a value statement for one’s life. Some people want to adopt a more healthy lifestyle, others want to be minimalist. I have a friend who wants to use her time wisely so her statement was about being organized. In general, whatever you want to achieve, try to begin with knowing your values.
2. Clarify what that mission statement actually means: When you come down to a value-mission statement, clarify it to yourself. For e.g. If you want to be known as a good person, what might that look like for you. When I speak of compassion, I want to be able to meet people with gentleness and understanding, even those who are most different than me – it is something I have struggled with for a while. I can’t say that I have achieved my goal, but I am definitely less judgmental now than I was before. It’s been an 18-month long process and I still feel like a child taking their first steps. If you’re trying to adopt a healthy lifestyle, what does that look like for you? Food? Exercise? What else? How many aspects are there to your mission statement, and which one(s) do you want to begin with?
3. Narrow down at least one daily routine that will help you to live out those values: Here is where your expertise is required. You are the expert on your life. Know your skills, hobbies, interests, goals and find activities that you can do daily. If not daily, at least a few times a week. One of the most impactful quotes I have ever read in my life is, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” This quote always encourages me and tells me that intentional living is more about a consistent and life-long journey than a goal to be reached. For 2017, my daily routine involved journaling. In 2018, it has been meditating daily! That does not mean I have stopped journaling; I do it semi regularly. As we grow in our intentional living practice, our routines will also evolve.
4. Look for progress not perfection: I have been meditating daily in pursuit of becoming a calmer person. I feel becoming calmer is a step closer to being compassionate. I have the habit of reacting immediately to any stimuli – negative or positive. Meditating has allowed me to pause. When I pause, the urgency and intensity of the emotion and reaction passes. This enables me to look at the situation from a different viewpoint. And that is where I find the most work happens. Even if I am not in love with the person doing the thing I hate, I am not creating negativity by feeding into their drama by adding my own. This, to me, is progress. You will have to define what progress looks like for you in your mission to living intentionally.
5. Reflect. Respond: Daily reflections are a great way of becoming more aware of what is going on. I like to document as part of my reflection. But not everybody does. Some people just do it by thinking over their day as they brush their teeth or lying in bed before falling asleep. I like to go over things that went well, i.e. things that were in line with my values, and the things that didn’t, i.e. situations that didn’t align with my mission statement. I like to come up with an alternative response / solution to it so that if I am faced with that situation again, I already have a trick in my kitty.
E.g. There is one person that triggers a visceral reaction in me these days. First, I acknowledge that I am triggered by them. Second, I understand what in the particular interaction triggered me because it is not constant or consistent. Third, I reflect on when my response is appropriate (per my values) and when it is not. And lastly, I PAUSE every time before responding. I have prepared a simple response that I give them, no matter what the situation. I forgive myself because I still can’t be sweet. It is a process and I think I am doing okay most days.
That’s it! These simple steps have helped me in the last 18 months in my journey to live out intentionally my values of gratitude and compassion. I hope you find some of these tips helpful. Here’s to a more intentional and purposeful life!