by Linda-Ann Stewart
Most people live on autopilot. They routinely think and behave in the same way day after day. If a situation comes up, they unconsciously act as they’ve done in the past. They go through their lives without taking the time to consider what they’re doing. And because they simply react to circumstances, the overall condition of their life rarely changes.
When you react, you’re reinforcing Einstein’s definition of insanity, “Doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result.” For your life to improve, you have to change your thoughts and beliefs first. Even if you try to change your situation, it will return to what you’ve experienced in the past unless you shift your attitude.
How to Stay in a Self-Sabotaging Rut
For instance, Sara was a graphic artist. In a proposal early in her career, her estimate to complete a project that was too long for the client, so they went elsewhere. Because of her inexperience, she didn’t realize that their requirement was entirely unreasonable. But from that time on, she was afraid that if she didn’t offer to do the work in a ridiculously short amount of time, she’d lose the job and have very little business.
So she gave completion estimates that she’d barely be able to meet, even if they were her only client. Since she regularly missed her deadlines, she got a reputation of being late with her work. Of course, she lost business because of this, yet she never changed her protocol. Her fear of losing work became a self-fulfilling prophecy. She continued to react to a previous situation, never changed her policy and continued to lose business.
By reacting, you behave the same way you have in the past, which keeps you right where you are, just like what happened to Sara. And you’re acting out of the same mindset, generally one of fear, anger, or sadness. This negative space isn’t a good place to act or make decisions from. As one of my mentor’s said, “Fear isn’t a guidance system.” It won’t bring you the results you want.
How to Change Your Results
Only by intentionally choosing your thoughts and actions will you be able to change your results. It’s not an easy path, but it’s more rewarding and will create better outcomes. To do so, you have to stay aware of what’s transpiring, and not give into impulse.
If Sara had been more aware of her actions and their consequences, she would have chosen more realistic time estimates for projects. It would have been scary at first. She would have had to face down her fears. But she would have gotten more confident as customers approved her proposals and were happy with the end product being delivered on time.
When you live with intention, it means that you’re choosing to respond to situations rather than react to them. You’re being more deliberate and aware with your thoughts and actions. When a situation arises, you’re proactive, thinking your words and actions through. This puts you in the captain’s seat of your life.
How to Become Mindful
The first step is to become mindful of what thoughts you focus on, because they develop into your beliefs. Your beliefs shape how you feel and how you act. For instance, depending on whether you feel comfortable with accepting a compliment or not, you’ll either be delighted or deflect it.
Your second step is to become aware of how you habitually react to specific situations. Does it get you the results you want? If you feel defensive and attack whenever anyone questions you on your work, does this help your career to progress? Or would being open to constructive suggestions help more? Assess whether your reactions are helpful or sabotaging you.
The third step is to consciously choose and implement your new response. When a coworker asks you to lunch, instead of isolating yourself at your desk, go with them. This step gets tougher when crises come up and you don’t take the moment or two to remember your intention. But with practice, this will become easier.
Living with Intention
This is living with intention. You’re being responsive, aware of your choices and purposely choosing your actions. Jack Kornfield, author and Buddhism teacher, said, “Intention leads to behaviors which lead to habits, which lead to personality development which leads to destiny.”
Be deliberate about your thoughts, words, and deeds. You’ll get better results. Instead of riding helplessly in a rudderless boat, at the whim of the wind and water, take the helm. By living with intention, you take control of your destiny.
I become aware of how I react to situations, and assess whether it’s helpful or hindering me. It’s safe for me to make a different decision than I normally would. I have the knowledge and the resources to deal with the challenges of my life in a new and better way. By choosing to live with intention, I take control of my life.