Intend: Latin, "to stretch out one’s attention toward."
Reflect: Latin, "to bend one’s thoughts backwards."
At this time of year, there are a lot of things we stretch our attention towards: Eating better. Exercising more. Spending more time with our kids and less on our phones. Quitting bad habits. Starting better ones.
I have never been a big fan of resolutions. I’d rather not make promises to myself (and others) that I cannot keep. There is something about turning over a new page on the calendar that makes us stretch ourselves a little too far. And then we feel sucky when we fail.
Like an elastic band stretched too tight, our best intentions can sometimes lose the trajectory and shoot off into space. Or worse, snap back and leave us with an unsightly gouge, commemorating our mistakes.
When I think back to moments in my life when my best intentions snapped back in my face, almost every single moment was one where I was horribly unrealistic with myself. Not only with my goals, but also with an open and gentle heart about who I am.
For example, I hate the gym. It’s smelly and gross, and as a painfully introverted person, the idea of running alongside other people makes me feel paralyzed. Why would I ever buy a gym membership?
Or, I have four kids. They are smelly and gross (Kidding! I LOVE my kids and they bathe regularly!) Life in my house is hectic, even if I am a work-from-home consultant. So the idea of hammering my day into clear cut blocks of routine isn’t going to happen. Why would I spend money on a fancy agenda that I’ll use for two weeks tops, only to get lost under stacks of Lego Club magazines and drawing of Minecraft mobs?
"When our intentions and actions are guided by spirituality — our belief in our interconnectedness and love — our everyday experiences can be spiritual practices." - Brené BrownTweet It!
Realizing there are certain things that will simply never work in my life is not admitting failure. It’s being reflective about who I am, what I’m capable of, and what aspects of my life I truly need to change and what ones aren't worth fighting.
If we are to successfully stretch our attention outward, we must first bend back into ourselves. And then move forward.
I’ve devised a two-pronged regular practice that helps me move forward with intention – every day, not just at the beginning of the new year.
First, regularly take time to reflect. I do this once a month. In a special notebook, I simply make a couple of lists: what was awesome, and what sucked. I carefully examine each list – which one is longer? On each list, I choose a top three. What were the three best moments? What were the three worst moments? Why is that true? I actively take time to celebrate the highlights, and force myself to examine why the not-so-great moments happened.
Then, I make my cup list.
You’ve all heard of a bucket list. Likely, we all have one – if not an actual, physical list, then somewhere in the back of our minds. I have nothing against these sorts of lists. But for our intentions on a regular basis, a bucket is simply too big of a vessel.
Start by cupping your hands.
Imagine yourself at the edge of a pool of possibilities. With the bucket list, we get a lot more than we can handle. But what if you were to cup your hands and dip them into the pool of possibilities? What would you want to catch? If given the chance to seize a limited number of opportunities, what would you choose?
I can’t tell you how many is appropriate or reasonable. I just encourage you to be honest with yourself.
Some of you will go for the fat goldfish that you’ll need to grip with both hands. Others will choose several tiny stones from the bottom. The point of this is to realize that there is no way to do everything at once from the pool of possibilities: you need to choose your top few priorities and let go of the rest for now. Your choices will likely be difficult.
What did you choose? Why did you choose it? What about the things that were left out? For all that stuff you didn’t choose, how does it make you feel to say “I can’t do this right now”? Is it really painful, or is it freeing? Are you choosing things you really want to get done, or choosing based on external pressures?
My cup is not half full, half empty, or running over. My cup is just right, and I’m confident it will quench my thirst. And I intend to drink every last drop.
Sheena Greer was raised on a farm on a heavy diet of George Carlin, Patsy Cline and William Blake. She swung into the grown-up world with the stubborn-hearted idea that being a girl was a moot point. She currently employs her inappropriate humor as a writer, and helps nonprofit organizations seek attention in positive ways by consulting with them on their communications, fundraising and strategy. She lives in Saskatoon with her husband, her four children, her embarrassing obsession with gas station ham sandwiches, and a pretty decent collection of Scotch.
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