Happy New Year, everybody! You might think that in these strange times where so much is unpredictable there’s not much of a point in doing a yearly review. But I’ve come to tell you that every year is suited for a yearly review!
If you think about it, life is always unpredictable. 2020 has brought us particularly unexpected circumstances, but it is a fact of life that you can never predict everything that happens. The goal of the yearly review is not to try to control everything that happens to us but rather to reflect on what we’d like in our lives and go about making it happen.
A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that I needed more intentionality in my day. I was basically reacting to whatever came across my path all day long, and that’s not how I usually do things. Baby crying? Take care of him. Feeling hungry? Eat something. Toys lying scattered on the floor? Tidy up. Package delivered? Open it. Feeling tired? Sleep.
Now, I’m over-simplifying things. I had certain things scheduled such as going to the gym three times a week (ah, the good times when the gym was open…) and going for a walk with William in the stroller every afternoon. But mostly my days felt like a random sequence of events.
There’s technically nothing wrong with having a day full of random events except that it made me feel like I didn’t have a purpose and wasn’t doing anything meaningful with my time.
I felt this very clearly when William was taking a nap and I finally had an hour or so to myself. What should I do? There were so many things I wanted to do! I’d start one thing, only to remember something else and then something else. I was running around like a headless chicken, half-finishing a couple of things, only to hear my baby crying and drop everything to attend to him.
That’s when I instituted the Daily Morning Practice and the Daily Evening Practice. As you might imagine, I don’t have tons of time for these, so they’re short and sweet. I’ve kept to them every day since! These practices are so powerful and at the same time so easy, and they are exactly what I need.
Start the day with My Top 5
Every morning, while having breakfast, I take out my little notebook (it has a llama/alpaca and a sloth on the cover! It’s awesome!). I start by writing the date. That’s important in itself because sometimes I remember there was something planned for today or perhaps I recall it’s someone’s birthday. Then, I check my calendar and my tasks for today. Jacob and I often do this together because we need to coordinate things.
Then, I write down my Top 5. These are the main five things I’d like to do today, and they’re usually very, very simple. These days, I always include “exercise” (during this staycation, I’ve been exercising for about 30 minutes every day), “walk” (I take our baby for a walk every day–we both benefit from the fresh air and sunshine), and “take care of William.” This last one can be fifty tasks on its own and it will happen for sure every day, but I like to include it anyway. I was falling into the trap of taking for granted all the stuff I do for William, and then I was wondering why I’m not very productive on top of that. I had to remind myself that taking care of him is a big job, and the fact that I’m accomplishing it every day is already productive. That’s why I include it in my Top 5 every day.
The other 2 tasks vary day-to-day: they may be something like “write a blog post,” “do the financial review,” or “tidy up the bedroom.” I make sure they’re not impossibly big tasks; it’s really important to keep these manageable. At the same time, it’s nice to be slightly ambitious because it makes me feel energetic and inspired about the day.
Set an intention
I also set an intention for the day. It’s something that I want to remember throughout the day and let it guide my thoughts and behavior.
These days, my intention often is to “be kind.” It’s super simple, but it encompasses so much. If I’m feeling frustrated, remember that I don’t need to take it out on someone else (usually Jacob, my husband, since he’s around all the time). If someone is being not-so-nice to me, give them the benefit of the doubt: maybe they’re having a hard time. If my baby is crying, that’s not a reason to get annoyed; he (probably) genuinely needs me.
Complete the day with reflection…
At the end of the day, I open up my notebook again and look at my Top 5. I check off the things I’ve completed and maybe add an extra task or two that I’ve managed to do. This shows me how much I’ve accomplished in that day even if it doesn’t feel that way (if the day was chaotic, went differently from expected, etc.).
Then, I write down a take-away message. These are one or two sentences about something I’ve learned that day or a conclusion I’ve come to. Sometimes it’s linked to the intention I set in the morning, and other times it’s completely separate.
These take-away messages can be profound (e.g., “changing my perspective changes everything”) or practical (e.g., “sleeping one hour more in the morning does wonders for my energy”).
I also write down five things I’m grateful for that day. I know that five sounds like a lot, but once I start thinking about things to be grateful for, many come to mind. It’s a wonderful way to reflect on and complete the day.
By taking a few minutes for these practices every day, I feel that I’m much more focused and intentional while going about my day. I still respond to the circumstances that come about, but I keep in mind what’s important and what I’d like to do that day. In the end, I don’t think it makes me much more productive, but it makes all the difference in my attitude. At the end of the day, I don’t need to be more productive to be happy; rather, I need to be content with what I’ve accomplished and be happy with what I already have.
“Before you go into a difficult situation, set an intention. How would you like to behave in that situation? How would you like to come across? Just put the intention out there, and it will happen.”
I’ve heard this type of advice many times, but the skeptic in me retaliates. “What do you mean that putting the intention out there will make it happen?” I agree that if I think about how I’d like to act, I’m more likely to behave that way. But that doesn’t seem particularly powerful. Surely it’s not such a big deal whether you take 10 seconds to think about how you’d like to approach a situation.
To set intentions or not to set intentions
Paradoxically, over the last few months, I felt like I was lacking intent in my actions. I would go from one activity to the next because I knew it had to be done, but I didn’t connect to why I was doing it.
This led me to think that I should try this intention setting thing. I tried it a couple of times but quickly forgot about it. After all, who has time to set intentions when there are things to do?!
The wake up call came when my husband tried setting intentions. I didn’t think he’d really do it, but apparently my love for structure is rubbing off on him, so he stuck with it! After a week of setting intentions, he said, “This intention thing really works!”
He usually does this three times a day: at the beginning of the work day, after lunch, and before dinner. First, he notes his current attitude. Then, he thinks about the thing he’s going to do next and sets an intention for how he’d like it to go. He says he’s able to focus much better and, as he works with people, that he’s able to serve people better.
I started setting intentions
Well, once I heard this, I had to catch up! If my husband was setting intentions, I had to be able to do it too!!
I decided to combine it with my hourly breaks: once I sit down at my desk after my break, I take a few deep breaths and notice how my body feels. Am I anxious or excited? Tired? Thinking?
Then, I think about what I’ll be working on for the next hour. What would I like the outcome to be? How would I like the work process to go? This whole check-in takes about a minute, and then I start working.
I mostly do this at work but not only. I also aim to do it at the start of each meal and also at the beginning of my workout. It really changes how I feel during the activity because instead of just going through the motions, I connect to my priorities, i.e., the “why” behind my actions.
The pros and cons of setting intentions
I really enjoy it when I set an intention for a block of time. When I sat down to write this blog post, I thought, “I’d like to write on a topic I’m passionate about, and I’d like to convey information well. Also, I’d like to have a calm, thoughtful writing process.” With such a clear intention in mind, getting to work is easy and pleasant.
The trouble is that I often forget to set an intention. Especially if my schedule is a bit irregular or I have limited time, intentions go out the window. There’s suddenly no space in my mind to take a step back and think about why I’m doing something. Instead, I need to do, do, do.
In essence, that’s the problem itself. I’d like to set intentions to avoid being mindless. It doesn’t work if I’m already mindless (because I’m stressed, for instance), so I don’t remember to set an intention, which means I don’t get clarity and don’t connect to my “why.” It’s a vicious cycle, and I don’t see how to break it besides to remember to set an intention.
This is my main question with relation to setting intentions: is it actually helpful, or is it just wishful thinking? Is it possible to also remember to set intentions when things are not going smoothly? And in those cases, does it help?
I will try it out for a month and then report back. I will track how consistently I set intentions on different days and see how that influences my mood and my work output. I’ll let you know in about a month, so stay tuned! 🙂
More info about setting intentions
I got the idea of setting intentions in this way from Brendon Burchard and his book High Performance Habits (the audiobook is available to listen to for free as episodes in his podcast). He discusses setting intentions as a way to improve Habit #1, Clarity.
If you also try setting intentions, let me know how it goes! Or are you doing something similar already?Let me know by commenting below or on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.
The holidays are an awesome time for fun and excitement, but they can also be stressful and frustrating. Think about what you want out of this holiday season and discuss it with the people you’re spending the holidays with to make it happen.
Many of us look forward to the winter holidays each year, while yet others detest the December period. Whatever your attitude towards the season, you can get the most out of it if you know what you want.
What do you want for Christmas?
At the beginning of the holiday season (which is right about now), think about what’s important to you at this time of the year. You can write about this in your journal, ponder it while going for a walk, or reluctantly think about it while being tortured by Christmas music in the supermarket.
Do you want to…
Spend time with family?
Avoid getting annoyed with your partner/mother/father/aunt/parents-in-law/insert random relative here?
Eat your favorite Christmas-themed food?
Eat food that is aligned with certain health goals?
Get some movement?
Get enough sleep and rest?
Give nice gifts to people?
Do voluntary work?
Be left alone to watch movies?
Complete a reading challenge before December 31?
Take time to reflect on the past year?
Once you have identified what is most important to you during this holiday season, you can condense it to a phrase. In this way, it’s easy to remember. When you start to get pulled by someone else’s idea for what you should be doing, you can remind yourself of your intention and decide how to act.
Clarify in your own mind what you’d like this holiday season.
Ask the people close to you about their intentions
If you’re spending the holidays with other people, it would also be useful if you know what their intentions are. By knowing what each of you would like for the holiday season, you make it much easier for everybody to get what they want and for people to be less grumpy. In the end, that means that everyone enjoys the holidays more!
For instance, my mother and my brother will be visiting my boyfriend and me for the holidays. My intentions for this time are: spend time with my close people, get some rest, do some fun things (but not too many), and read. I know that my mom shares these interests, but I don’t think my brother does. He probably wants to stay up late and sleep late, which doesn’t match our intentions. And my boyfriend doesn’t like Christmas and also has to work during the holidays, so I don’t think he wants to do lots of fun things. Mostly he’d just like to rest.
So the way I see to combine everyone’s preferences is to, primarily, have enough time for rest (which also gives me time to read). We can do some fun things, but I shouldn’t try to pack too many activities into a few days. And I should also accept it if my brother and/or my boyfriend don’t want to join and not take it personally.
It really helps when everyone is honest about what they want. For instance, a couple of weeks ago, I proposed that my mom, my brother, and I go to a Christmas concert during their stay. I didn’t really want to go but thought it might be nice and fun for my mom. My brother didn’t really want to go. And then my mom also said that she’s been going to plenty of concerts recently, so she’d rather go for walks in nature parks. Perfect! That’s what I prefer as well.
Then I realized I’d really like to watch the new Fantastic Beasts movie in the cinema, and I asked the others whether they wanted to go. It turned out that everyone was up for it, so now we’re doing a simple, easy, fun thing together. What a nice outcome.
It really helps to first clarify in your own mind what you’d like out of the holiday season and then discuss that with the people you’ll be spending that time with. If everybody is clear about what they’d like, it’s much easier to find a way to make people happy.
What is your intention for the holidays? Do those align with how your close people want to spend this time? Let me know by commenting below or on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.