I loved listening to stories my grandparents told about World War II. One of the stories was of an event that would have a generational impact.
My maternal grandfather fought in North Africa. Once when he wrote home, he accidentally mixed up two letters and my grandmother received the one meant for the woman he was having an affair with!
Other stories were less dramatic, yet still had an impact. My grandmother often told us how food like sugar and white flour were rationed, and how she used the cotton bags the flour and sugar came in to make undergarments.
Apart from remembering the stories, I also recall how I always wondered how it must have felt to have lived through an historical event. What was it like to experience something that not only had an impact on how people went about their day-to-day business, but was so big that it changed the course of history?
And here we are: somewhere in the trajectory of a pandemic that blew "normal" apart in too many ways to count. We don't know if we're at the beginning, in the middle or close to the end of it – we'll only know that once it's over. What we do know is that our thinking about how we live, work, travel, and socialize has changed forever.
At some stage of lockdown, I became aware that I had started using the word "intentional" more often – in my self-talk and in my conversations with others. Gradually, talking about being more intentional started snowballing into more and more intentional action. So I developed some new to-dos, and new to-don'ts.
A few days after our first lockdown commenced, I started working on a very big project. At the same time though, I was transfixed by national and international news. After all, I was now living through the type of historic event I'd always wondered about.
It's easy to hop onto a news channel on your phone "just quickly." But then, unintentionally, doomscrolling for three hours also meant unintentionally neglecting my project for three hours.
"Choose your intention carefully and then practice holding your consciousness to it, so it becomes the guiding light in your life." Roger Delano Hinkins, American Author
So I started using the time-limit function on my phone because I needed to direct my attention more productively. Being intentional with my attention meant that I used my time better; being unintentional with my attention often meant that I abused time.
Intentional Social Contact
I'm used to living alone with just my dog for company most of the time, and I'm also used to working from home. Even though I don't live a very social life, I'm not used to not having any social contact with people.
Intentionally making social video calls with a wider variety of people than usual helped me to strengthen bonds and friendships with people all over the world throughout the pandemic.
In my opinion, intentional questions are key to productive conversations – even productive social conversations. I often ask, "How are you doing today?" with the emphasis on "today."
I want to let someone understand that I'm really interested in how they're doing, and that to me it's not just a "door handle" of sorts to open the conversation.
Another element of my intentional conversations was to intentionally share certain experiences and how they made me feel. I wanted to share my vulnerability, my "not-being-perfect-ness" in order to give someone else implicit "permission" to also not be perfect/cope fantastically well with everything going on.
In our culture, as in many others, we're used to celebrating in a group. It's a human thing to feel that an event in your life is more real or meaningful if others also witnessed it.
During lockdown, I learned to be intentional about celebrating – even if it meant celebrating on my own. I was present and a good enough witness of my celebration to feel that it was real and meaningful.
It's easy to see the dark side of things, to moan and complain. Practicing intentional gratitude helps me reframe how I talk to myself about things that happen to me. For example, "I'm tired of not being able to leave my home!" versus "I'd really love to go out again, but I'm grateful that I have a home where I can be safe."
I asked a few colleagues in what ways they've become more intentional during the pandemic.
Michele said, "The pandemic crystallized what was truly important to me; it was another urgent reminder that your life can change in an instant. So, my choices and actions now are deliberate and focused on living a good life."
Sarah responded and said, "It has led me to intentionally consider what I need to put in place in my life in order for my work to flourish. And what I need from my work in order for me to thrive personally. It seems so obvious now but it is not something I have always achieved.
"I've become really intentional about managing my work-life balance and not getting caught in the "busyness" trap. I've now given myself permission to work fewer hours and enjoy my downtime guilt-free. But this is definitely a work in progress and I have to intentionally revisit this aim often, particularly when I notice the guilt creeping back up on me."
Fight That Powerless Feeling
Sonia now intentionally carries a small disinfectant spray (and an extra mask) in her bag, something she never used to do.
Paul (not his real name) said, "I think my problem has been losing most of my intentionality during lockdown, and just falling from day to day to day... and wondering how I got there and feeling powerless to choose what to do, when and how.
"And that's why I've put on loads of weight almost without realizing – until I can't not see it anymore! And the only solution is intentionality.
"But other parts of life have kept running well, very intentionally. So maybe I have a pot of intention that gets used up when there's too much to be intentional about?"
In our #MTtalk Twitter chat this Friday, we discussed what it means to be intentional and how it helps you focus your energy. Here are the pick of your replies:
Q1. Just having good intentions never changed anything, so why bother with intentionality?
@Yolande_MT Intentionality is an act of consciousness – doing something with a specific end in mind.
@WonderPix Good intentions are where we start, but actions make them a reality.
Q2. What do you do differently when you're being intentional?
@emapirciu I pick what I think to be better words when I'm intentional. And I'm more consistent with the things I plan.
@SarahH_MT Being intentional seems to provide me with greater focus, which means I pay more attention to what I am doing.
Q3. What does being intentional at work mean to you?
@HloniphileDlam7 It means 'where do you see yourselves 5 years from now' the vision shared.
@PG_pmp We are aware of things.
@lg217 Being intentional at work to me means you are doing a task that you know it is part of your job. Your planned commitments is an intentional example as well. Things that you know need to be planned out and done is intentional. Something you know you have to do.
Q4. Being intentional focuses your energy. What else does it do?
@carriemaslen Being intentional gives you permission to say "no."
@MicheleDD_MT Intentionality through self-reflection helps us to determine our values & purpose – then do those things that align with both.
Q5. Does being intentional require us to be mindful? Yes/No? Explain.
@SizweMoyo Yes, it does. Being mindful, you become aware of your limits and boundaries, and your intentions can be lined up before you act upon them to achieve a set goal.
@MikeB_MT I believe that intentionality is an important part of mindfulness. My intentions provide me with a focus or framework for me to live a more mindful life.
Q6. What are the possible consequences of not being intentional?
@PmTwee It's like wasting effort, time, missing opportunity.
@LDresslerplus If Intention and therefore goals and values are unclear/unknown one may feel lost, without purpose, empty, bored… One may end up in situation due to choices that weren't aligned with the self.
@Midgie_MT Consequences might be that one drifts through the day, may not get their tasks done or achieve their goals.
Q7. How has the pandemic influenced your intentionality, and why?
@J_Stephens_CPA I've been much more intentional of talking to mom. Before the pandemic, I could go see her. Now I chat with her many times a week and don't miss what has become our regular FaceTime.
@MindfulLifeWork For each of us, the pandemic has put all of our life's choices unavoidably in front of us. For me, this has helped me revise my choices and to tweak the intentions that gave rise to them in the first place.
Q8. In which areas of your life do you want to be more intentional? Why?
@SoniaH_MT I'd like to be more intentional when it comes to my sleep pattern and doing meditation. I am comfortable being a night owl but it doesn't help my body when I have an early start.
@ThakoreVu Henceforth all my actions are to be supported by 5 I's: Intention, Interest, Integrity, Imagination and Information.
Q9. What prevents you from being more intentional?
@DrKashmirM Lack of awareness from childhood to college regarding importance of being intentional or mindfulness. Mindfulness should be taught from school to college level.
@llake Usually it's poor eating habits and not enough rest. In general, when I allow self-care to go by the wayside.
Q10. What practical steps will you take to become more intentional now?
@ColfaxInsurance Making the point to ask myself what the meaning of the task I'm doing is – and if I could be doing something else, with more intention/meaning behind it, that would serve the same purpose.
@MarkC_Avgi After some events that took place over my career, I learned that it was important for me to become more intentional, to take more control over what I was doing, & to worry & respond less to those things I could not control.
To read all the tweets, have a look at the Wakelet collection of this chat over here.
If you're not intentional about not creating a manager-dependent team, you might be doing just that – if you take tasks out of people's hands and complete them yourself. Even though you mean well, you're hindering their progress.
Next time on #MTtalk, we're going to talk about doing things for others vs doing things with others. In our Twitter poll this week, we'd like to know how it would make you feel if your manager takes work out of your hands and does it themselves.
In the meantime, if you want to explore the topic that we covered this week – "Being Intentional" – check out the resources below. (Please note that some of these may only be available in full to members of the Mind Tools Club and to Mind Tools for Business licensees.)
Intentional Change Theory
Improve Your Concentration
The GIVE Model
Eisenhower's Urgent/Important Principle
Snyder's Hope Theory
Pickle Jar Theory
Ben-Shahar's Happiness Model