It’s time to re-think New Year’s resolutions. Restricting contemplation of our lives and aspirations to one day a year is like only telling our spouses we love them on Valentine’s Day; celebrating life exclusively on our birthday; being grateful merely for the 24 hours that constitute Thanksgiving. These calendar dates invite us to pause and reflect, but equally can feel a heavy reminder of how little pausing and reflecting we do the other 364 days of the year. So we try to cram it all in, furiously hoarding all of our good intentions then getting overwhelmed rather than inspired by them.
Instead, something I’ve been doing regularly for a couple years now is getting really clear on daily intentions. Asking myself the simple question ‘What matters most today?’ In practice, this starts with reviewing my (paper) diary in the morning. Seeing what the day has in store. And then formulating a kind of theme or aspiration for how I want to travel through it. Yesterday (Wednesday) is always my busiest client day of the week. I stared at the page of eight client appointments pretty much back-to-back and asked ‘What matters here?’ It was, and always is, important for me to feel I am present and connected with clients. That I bring the same energy and attention to the last client of the day I do to the first. This connection is what both supports clients and makes my work enjoyable. So that matters most. But in order to do this on a long day like yesterday, I also made a note (not just a mental one, again, written in diary) to take periodic mini-breaks to re-energise myself. A walk around the block. A few moments of quiet with a favourite tea. A quick phone call to check in and say hello to a loved one. Re-opening my diary and glancing down at the page, reminding myself of my intention. Of what matters right now.
That was yesterday. Today is a very different one. Without going into detail (collective sigh of relief among readers), I have more open space so the question this morning is how I want to use it. What matters most? Today. Not by the end of the month…quarter…year…but today.
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing,” said Annie Dillard in The Writing Life. Sometimes we forget this. We become so fixated on the big, transformational goals that promise (falsely) a ‘New Year, New You,’ we overlook the meaningful change a couple simple daily intentions can usher in over time.
From both personal experience and that of working with clients, I know this type of attention to intentions takes time and practice. There are so many external influences vying for our precious resource of time. It takes discipline to shut these out for a bit, not to be seduced. But it need not be hard labour. A few minutes in the morning (or evening before) merely asking the question ‘what matters most today?’ is a manageable start. As is probably obvious by now, I’m a firm believer in old-school paper diaries. Mapping things out on a page that can be easily revisited. (And, let’s face it, we could all use as many opportunities as possible to get our noses out of our not-so-smart phones). The beauty of daily intentions is if things don’t go to plan, you get another chance tomorrow. No need to concede failure and wait until December 31s to start anew. Give it a try?