Mindful Intentions

I went to see the movie Bridget Runs a Marathon this past weekend. It is a movie that is distinctly flawed–lacking a “health at every size” perspective and falling prey to healthism and fat phobia. (for more on that read here https://www.runnersworld.com/runners-stories/a28787943/overcoming-obstacles-brittany-runs-a-marathon/.

But, it did result in reflection about the role of mindful intentions in our lives and how powerful they can be. Without using the energy of intention, it can be very difficult to accomplish things that fall outside our normal routine. Changing our engrained habits, even a little, can feel like a monumental feat. According to Charles Duhigg in his book, The Power of Habit, “if you want to change a habit, you must find an alternative routine, and your odds of success go up dramatically when you commit to changing as part of a group.”

The reason Bridget ran a marathon was because she hit a bottom with doing things the way she usually did them (partying too much, being irresponsible at work, having meaningless relationships) and decided that she wanted to do something different. She made a commitment to take baby steps towards running–first a block, then a mile, then two miles, then training for a marathon. Often, she would have to face her roommate who wanted to pull her back into the old way of doing things because that is what made her roommate feel comfortable. But, when the roommate would push Bridget to join her, Bridget said “I’m training for a marathon and need to get up early.” This is what intention looks like. 

It often takes hitting bottom in order to make significant changes, but I think that “your bottom” can be as simple as being tired of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I don’t know what you’ve been doing over and over again without getting results but there are a host of possibilities—eating, drinking, and shopping too much; getting into unhealthy relationships; working non-stop. Even some of the so-called healthy obsessions can lead to a bottom. I recently had someone tell me she got “healthy” following a diet only to have it backfire because it set up rules that she rebelled against. Diets are like that. When the rebellion sets in, it all backfires.

The dark night of the soul (what a bottom can feel like) is highly under-rated. It is really a blessing. Hitting bottom and the darkness you encounter there is where the change begins. When there is no way but up, we are forced to look toward the light and, even if it is blinding, we begin to see a glimpse of something that we want. Something that really touches the heart.

Until we are engaged in self-care from the heart, our strategies for feeling good and being happy will not succeed for more than a short time. Part of the process is looking into your heart and deciding that you’re worth it and that your self-care is #1. Sometimes it’s challenging for me to maintain my own good intentions because I am pulled away by doing things for others, adjusting to other people’s schedules, and wanting to keep the cat happy (I know, the cat is becoming a regular part of my blogs). These aren’t bad things, but the commitment to ourselves has to be regular and we have to rank first in our list of who gets taken care of.

This doesn’t mean that we become self-centered, but that we engage in self-preservation. For me that looks like daily meditation or yoga, exercise, and getting the best whole, unprocessed food I can get. Setting the intention to meditate on a daily basis is like Bridget getting up for her run. You get up and you “just do it.” There isn’t a discussion about it—“do I feel like it? do I have time?”  Once an intention is set, it then needs to become automatic. Daily meditation is what I do. Period. Do I still miss once in a while?  Of course I do. But my daily practice over many years has helped me engage in informal mindfulness throughout the day so I more likely to be practicing mindfulness no matter where I am and what I am doing.

If you’re having trouble starting a meditation practice, meditating on a regular basis, or some other activity you’ve been wanting to do, here are some ideas to help you along the way.

1. Do set an intention. Get real with yourself. What do you want. Say it out loud.

2. Write it down. Put this activity in your calendar.  Your self-care needs to be scheduled in order for you to do it just like everything else you do.

3. Tell others. When you tell other people what you are doing it helps you solidify your intention and it helps you be accountable .

4. Enlist others. In Bridget’s case, she had two running partners. Are there people you can engage in joining you in the activity you want to do. As Charles Duhigg wrote, having partners in self-care is one of the best ways to accomplishing it.

5. Notice how good it feels.  When you engage in self-care, it has a noticeable effect on you. Compare what it feels like to engage in self-care as opposed to the other activities you used to do in the service of happiness that actually caused you harm. Keep feeling the love!

6. Forgive yourself. So, you won’t be perfect! I sure hope that wasn’t your goal, because it will never happen. You will miss the mark on certain days and that’s okay. Expect that to happen. When it does, don’t beat yourself up. Just re-commit the next day to starting over.

7. Congratulate yourself.  Give yourself credit for being good to yourself. You really do deserve a pat on the back and we don’t get nearly enough positive feedback. When you engage in self-care, don’t feel guilty about taking time for yourself. Instead, acknowledge that you are taking care of the most important person in your world.

Your relationship to yourself is the most important one you will ever have in your life. How are you doing?