By Annemarie Zanca
I practice mindfulness. I have had a daily practice for about 7 months. The practice has several components, but the most transformative piece for me is setting a daily intention as part of my morning routine and writing it down. I then check in with myself throughout the day to see how I am applying my intention to whatever comes my way. I write a short summary of how I did at the end of the day, with as little judgment as possible.
My New Years resolutions never last more than a month. By February, I am back to eating whatever on the couch in semi-hibernation until spring, This year I don’t need to use the word “resolution” for changing big habits for the whole year. When I know that I won’t keep it anyway, I get a sinking feeling about making a resolution. It is setting myself up for failure to resolve to do something that I know I won’t do. Bad habits won’t change because I say I want to change them, or by my focus on the goal instead of the how I am going to get there. Habits change by chipping away at them every day.
The word “intention” allows me room to be human. Intention recognizes that life happens, and that I make mistakes, and that some days I just don’t want to do specific things that I said I would do. Intention for me is a stronger word than “try”. Try always brings Yoda’s voice to mind, squeaking, “there is no try, only do!” I will not argue with a Jedi, so it is better to just avoid that word altogether. I don’t set intentions for what I will do that day. That’s a To Do list. I make those often, and get great satisfaction from crossing things off it. I set daily intentions for how I want to Be.
How I am affects what I do and how I do it. I set intentions to adjust the angle of my habits, attitudes, and tendencies (my HAT) so that they more closely line up with what matters to me, with my values. Many intentions are worth repeating for several days in a row. Some I come back to again and again because I will be working on them until I die and after (like patience). Some need to be reworded another time for greater effect. Here are some of my favorites from 2019:
This summer, I set intentions to eat mindfully. I worked it into my daily practice, so now I don’t have to set intentions for it anymore, it’s habit. Mindful eating is paying attention to the how, where, when, and why you eat, not just the what. It’s simple things, like sitting down to eat, and chewing your food before you swallow. It’s savoring bites, and thinking about where your food comes from. It’s eating at set times and not grazing. This has done more for my health than any resolution or diet ever did. It is true that I did not eat as mindfully over the holidays, but I did not beat myself up for indulging. Now I am back to being satisfied with simple food again. My old pattern would have been to feel guilty and hopeless about making poor food choices, then to eat more to smother those feelings, at the same time making a resolution to eat better, which makes me feel even worse about myself. Daily intention reminds me that holidays are impermanent, and tomorrow is a new day. I avoided the entire guilt-fest of not doing what I said I would do this year!
Another favorite intention of mine is to bring lightness and playfulness into my actions and interactions. I am fortunate enough to have a job where I get to play with children, which certainly helps with this one. But even when the kids aren’t around, I can bring a child’s sense of wonder, and less-nauseating-than-Mary-Poppins attitude to my day. Remember Mary Poppins’ Spoonful of Sugar song? “In everything that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun, and snap! The job’s a game!” I also think about a flock of geese I watched on a river trip. They had to get down the river, but instead of paddling through the slow water, they opted for some gentle rapids, honking and flapping their wings as they floated. They liked it so much, they paddled back upstream to ride it again before they went on their way.
I am well aware that life is not a Disney movie and that not all jobs feel like games. I use this intention to lighten up my tendency towards the serious. Especially when I am busy, I forget to appreciate. I find myself amusing more often now (even though others might not!). For tougher days, I bring out the intention of viewing challenges as opportunities for growth. This one works when I don’t enjoy the challenges and I can’t seem to muster the cheerfulness. Everything’s a lesson or a blessin’, right?
Other common intentions are to cultivate patience (I get impatient with this one…), or to release attachments, especially to outcomes. To do the next right thing. To write down all my little joys for the day. To remember that just like me, all others seek happiness and want to avoid suffering. To attend to beauty. I try to break down the big resolutions, such as practicing compassion and cultivating loving kindness, into the smaller steps of daily intentions. It is less overwhelming this way. I feel better at the end of the day when I notice how I adjusted my HAT, or not, than I do when I think about what I did or did not do. I can always apply the intention during the day. I notice that the times when the intention seems not to fit the situation are usually the times that it fits the best.
Annemarie Zanca, MA, LPC is counselor, behavior consultant, and soon-to-be certified mindfulness teacher. She founded the Andy Zanca Youth Empowerment Program, which produces youth radio on KDNK. She works for Roaring Fork Schools. For more information about mindfulness, check out the Mindful Life Program at mindfullifeprogram.org.