Be the author of your life, not the couch potato watching it go by.
My word of the year for 2022 is Intention.
I chose to focus on Intention this year because I was tired of life passing me by, feeling like time was evaporating at a furious pace, meanwhile I had nothing to show for it. Every month I’d turn around and whoosh! It was the next month already! To be honest, this was freaking me out.
Also, I recently learned about the concept of “arrival fallacy”—which is when you are goal focused because you think once you achieve that goal, once you arrive, you will be happy. And you never are, because it’s a Fallacy. Der.
So, my desire to slow down time + break out of arrival fallacy = being intentional.
Here’s an example of how being intentional would change my life by transforming an unpleasant groundhog day experience into something fun: Every night, around 6 pm, my husband and I are surprised by the fact that “Oh shit, it’s dinner time! What are we going to eat?” Just like Christmas, dinner time always comes at the same time, and yet, just like Christmas, we continue to be caught off guard and unprepared for this sitch.
The result is that we end up foraging in the cupboards for boring-ass spaghetti again, while our 5-year old eats either plain noodles or plain tofu (what is it with kids and flavorless colorless foods?). Most of the time we fend for ourselves and end up eating whatever we have individually scrounged up, with one of us perched on a kitchen counter and the other standing up, while the kid eats & plays at the same time. We’re in 3 different locations with not a table in sight. It’s not quality family time by any stretch.
What if we approached dinner time with intention? It would look like, “Hey, I’m pretty sure dinner time will be coming around this evening, and I’ve decided I’d like to enjoy it. Does that sound good? Ok, how can we make that happen? What would we like to eat? How would we like to enjoy our meal together? What would get us there?” It’s not just planning a meal, it’s thinking—”How would I prefer to feel about dinner? What could I do to make that happen?”
If it was just about meal planning, then it would feel like an arduous task and would not get done. I’d be thinking, “Ugh, I gotta cook. I don’t feel like cooking.”
Approaching with intention is different. It’s, “I don’t wanna feel like shit about our dinner time tonight. I’d really like to enjoy it, so what can I do to make that happen?” It’s focusing on feeling good, as opposed to churning out another chore-task.
Intention is about how you want to feel, vs what goal you want to check off your list or task you want to complete. It’s the journey, not the destination.
Because at the end of the day, why do we do tasks? Why do we set goals? Because of the way we think we will feel when we achieve them.
Let’s talk about arrival fallacy. Honestly, this is what got me through residency, cause lemme tell ya, you don’t go to work every day as a resident whistling zippidee do da. Arrival fallacy is the false belief that you will feel happy or [insert desired feeling here] once you achieve The Goal.
My arrival fallacy was that once I finished residency and became a Baller Attending, I would be whistling zippidee do da in my Lambo on the way to work each day, basking in the glow of instant universal social respect while curing people left and right as a badass surgeon. It was perfection.
Here are some other arrival fallacy inspired beliefs: I thought I’d feel happy when… I got into medical school, I got honors, I finished USMLE Step 1, I matched into my first choice program, I became an attending.
But surprise! Feeling better has nothing to do with accomplishing those tasks! It comes from within, and that’s why it’s so hard to do. And why it’s so much easier to assign our feeling good to some external task that is way easier to complete.
It’s about seeking validation, seeking something external to feel something internal. But that ain’t how this works. Feeling on the inside comes from the inside, not the outside.
So, how do you become intentional?
- Prioritize. What means the most to you?
First off, you’ve got to turn the lens inwardly and determine what you want: How do you want to feel? How do you want to show up? What kinds of experiences do you want to have? Where? With whom? How do you want to experience your day?
Focus on your desired feelings and experiences, not your tasks.
Personally, I’d like to not feel rushed all day long. I’d like to feel accomplishment at the end of the day. And I’d like to have FUN.
That’s different than saying, “I’d like to have X, Y and Z done by the end of the day.”
You see how it changes your focus?
Intention is about creating our inner world, so we can best navigate the outer world.
Here are some questions to ask yourself to help you decide what you want:
What do I enjoy?
What do I love to do?
What am I curious about?
What would I love to learn?
How do I want to show up/be present?
What kind of mother/father do I want to be? How do I want to parent?
What kind of partner am I?
What would I love to see?
What would I love to experience?
How would l like to feel each day?
How is my body? Am I taking care of myself? What am I doing each day to care for myself?
What would I like to avoid?
How am I having fun today?
Who am I having fun with and how? What do we like to do together?
Where would I love to go?
Who do I want to connect with?
2. Think about it.
Step 2: once you’ve thought about what you want, the next step is to focus on it. Consciously direct your thought towards what you want to feel, be and experience. (As opposed to what you want to check off your to-do list.). Be like the Eye in Lord of the Rings—have searing, focused vision.
Notice where you currently tend to put the most thought, and where you’d actually like to put the most thought. Does your thought get directed towards your true priorities you listed above, or is it diverted towards other things?
For me, my true priorities are my self, my husband and my child, followed by my work. But where do I put all my thought? Into my work. Then my child, then my husband, and finally me at the bottom.
It was eye opening to realize that my priorities were receiving the least attention in my life because my work to-do list was so consuming. My priorities and my thoughtfulness were not aligned. So now I am consciously directing the most thought into what’s at the top of my list. (Let’s be real, my kid will get the #1 spot, then hopefully me & the hubs.)
I think we all tend to prioritize work, because as doctors it’s our ethos. And because work takes up so much of our brain & time, everything else gets piddly scraps of our attention.
For example, I catch myself thinking it’s not good to spend time looking at recipes or planning for dinner because it’s not “productive” and doesn’t lead to getting work done.
When I don’t put any thought into what I’d like our family dinner experience to be like, I wind up with another crappy dinner time. NO fun!
3. Write your story.
Being intentional means being the author of your experience, instead of letting life happen to you— creating the life you want vs letting it pass by.
As the author of your life, you thoughtfully create your experience.
Because otherwise life just happens to you, and it happens FAST.
This is how you get that sideswiped feeling of “where did all the time go?”
Take the time and space to dream. Fully immerse, dive deep into your hopes and dreams, to create a vision for yourself, your life.
Focus on that vision, direct your thought, your energy towards it. Think about how you want to feel, how you want to show up, what you’d like to experience.
And write your own story—”this is how my life is going to be”, instead of letting life happen to you and looking back upon it, and thinking “oh, that’s how my life was. Damn, it flew by.”
Enjoy the journey, as opposed to focusing solely on an end result/outcome —it’s about making the most of it.
Happy New Year!