Sometimes it can seem if life has you running on its rails – everything has an air of inevitability. But it’s an illusion, the future is not set, it’s just that if you don’t anticipate what is likely to happen and take steps to steer your own path, then you can get caught up in the wash of the noise. If you want to be a master of your own destiny, then read on...
Picture the scene: you’re woken by your smartphone alarm, grab it and with a brain foggier than a haunted swamp, you start to check your notifications. By the time you get to work you’re already being pulled in eight different directions, having slammed enough caffeine to reanimate the dead, and your colleague’s deadline crisis has just derailed your ‘to do’ list. You plans to hit the gym at lunch to complete workout four of your 4-week plan are relegated to grabbing a sandwich and scurrying back to your desk.
By the time you get to the end of your day the switch cost of juggling competing demands on your time has reached critical mass and completely overloaded your decision-making abilities. That personal project you had lined up to work on now just looks like a mountain to climb, so you default to your low energy de-stress of Netflix binging, which leaves you staring at yet another screen, while snacking on junk food because you burnt through your finite reserves of willpower hours ago.
You eventually crawl into bed feeling deflated and unfulfilled. The next morning you’re woken by your smartphone alarm… If this sounds familiar, then there’s good news – you can break the cycle and learn to live with intention, unlocking your true potential along the way. RSNG has teamed up with psychologist Niels Eék (who is also the co-founder of mental health and personal development app Remente to bring you these solutions:
1. Start With Your Values As Simon Sinek, the startup guru, says: ‘Start with the why.’ In a world so focussed on the ‘what’ it’s easy to begin with a goal, and then fall into the trap of believing that this defines you. It doesn’t – what really matters is the drive behind that goal. Identify what drives you and that will become your lodestone; when all else is chaos it will become the thing that anchors and guides you.
‘Before setting your intentions, always start with what you feel is most important to you. Having a clear intention for why you are doing certain things helps you to stay focused,’ says Niels Eék. ‘These values could be anything – from family, friends and personal beliefs through to the desire to succeed in your career.’
2. Now It’s Time For Goals ‘Once you have defined your values, set your goals and find your purpose,’ advises Eék. ‘Break these down into smaller tasks for daily, monthly and yearly goals, as this will help you to have a clear focus, and will make it easier to stay on track.’ Don’t think you have to lone-wolf this stage. ‘It could be useful to listen to others’ goals as you can learn something new and get a different perspective.’
Write out how you’d like your mornings to look like, and then plan out how long this will take you
3. Reclaim Your Morning The morning is the most important time of the day for intentions – what you do in the moments after you wake and the preparation you make for it can be the difference between laser-like focus and mental disarray. ‘Write out how you’d like your mornings to look like, and then plan out how long this will take you. Saving your mental strength and focus until after the morning can help with mental fatigue, and allows you to focus on the things that are more important in life,’ says Eék.
‘Run through what needs to get done throughout the day, dividing these into things that need to be done, would be nice to get done, and things that you could do if you have time left over. This will help with any stress you might be feeling, and will make the day run smoother.’ You can formulate this into a ‘burner list’ as discussed in the RSNG review of new book Make Time.
Finally, if you find it hard to hold distractions at bay then schedule some time for a morning meditation – even mindful breathing in the lift to your office can help. ‘Taking a moment to centre yourself can be highly beneficial for defining your intention for the day. The American Psychological Association has found several benefits that result from regular meditation including reduced stress, improved memory and focus.’
4. Break Out Of Your Bubble Most of us spend our days hearing our own internal monologue rattle on from the inside, so we forget the power of intentionally speaking our minds for a change. For Eék, this is essential for maintaining motivation. ‘Dedicate a few minutes a day to writing down, or saying aloud why you are doing well on that particular day, what you already achieved and what the next goal is.’
‘It is difficult to lose motivation when you are motivating yourself on a daily basis. You can also let others help you – find a friend who has the same goal, or join an online community and talk to them whenever you feel yourself struggling.’
Forcing and holding a smile will eventually make it genuine and lift your mood
5. Why So Serious? When trying to make positive impacts on our lives, the tendency is to get a bit, you know, intense. Remember, things go easier if you’re having fun: ‘Studies say that smiling has several health benefits. For example, it activates the release of neuropeptides that work toward fighting off stress, so don’t forget to smile each day. Interestingly, even if you don’t feel like smiling to start with, forcing and holding a smile will eventually make it genuine and lift your mood,’ says Eék.
6. Hit The Reset Button The greatest human ability is our adaptability. We can change, fast, to new circumstances and make the best of a situation. So don’t be afraid to press pause. ‘Give yourself frequent breaks to stop and reflect. Ask yourself if your intention has changed? How do you feel? Is there anything you would like to change?’
Keep moving to avoid getting in a rut: ‘We often get stuck in our daily routines and don't manage to change behaviours or thoughts that can have a negative effect on us. Remember that life is constantly evolving, and to learn a new behavior or to change an old habit, might be one of most important skills for our growth and development.’
7. Feeling Good Isn’t All About You Making steps to improve your life can lead to the kind of excessive self-analysis that can end up cutting you off from others – as a human, social animal this is a recipe for unhappiness. So, make nice: ‘Remember to do good deeds for others. This can include visiting a dog shelter, working in a soup kitchen for homeless people or visiting your family more often. A study in the Journal of Economic Psychology suggests that donating can also improve your physical and emotional wellbeing.’
8. Get Those 20 Mins Of Movement Cycling to the grocery store, pushing a hoover around, lapping the stairs, playing catch with your nephew – it doesn’t matter how you do it and you don’t need a gym, but moving your body daily, like it has evolved to do, will give you energy, positivity and a headstart on the rest of your goals. ‘For your overall health and wellbeing it is vital to eat healthy, get enough sleep and exercise regularly. The Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, found that 20 minutes a week of any physical activity, such as cleaning or gardening, can have an impact on psychological distress,’ says Eék.
For the same reason healthy living will help you to achieve healthy thinking. ‘Make healthy thoughts the most important part of your day. Rewire negative or unhealthy thoughts and embrace healthy, realistic thinking.’
WHAT NEXT? If you’d like to live a more satisfying life, or are looking for some ideas on how to build the next ‘big thing’, then read the RSNG review of Derek Loudermilk’s Superconductors for some additional hacks.
Follow the author @mattfitnessray