Intentional living

books-2560206_1920.jpg

This week saw the release of A level results here in the UK.

By the time ‘6th formers’ awoke on Thursday morning, notification of whether or not they had secured their preferred university choice had already been posted online by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).

Most students learned their grades on picking up their results from their schools. By then, they already knew if the next few years would be as they had intended or if they would need to ‘reframe’ future plans.

What is ‘intentionality’?

This got me wondering about the idea of intention. I’ve been planning (intending!) to write a piece on this topic for a while.

This week’s inspiration, which was close to my heart, spurred me onto consider this further.

You probably already know that proponents of minimalism and simple living refer a great deal to the notion of intentionality. It is the idea of making mindful, thoughtful choices in our lives.

What does it really mean if you’re a would-be college student?

Intentionality at A level

When students embark upon their 2 years of study at ‘Advanced Level’, what’s their intention? Indeed, what do any of us consider when we start a course, project or initiative? What’s our intention, aim or plan?

When aspiring towards a qualification, is the intention or aspiration to learn new things, acquire advanced skills or increase our understanding of a particular subject?

Perhaps the qualification is – in itself – the goal?

For A level students, their courses (and specifically the grades) are a means to an end i.e. they are the ticket to the next part of their academic and professional journey. Nonetheless, one would hope that learners might also enjoy the process.

Enjoying the journey

Writer Gretchen Rubin in Happier at Home reminds us that an atmosphere of growth is important to our well-being. She writes, “It’s not goal attainment but the process of striving after goals – that is, growth – that brings happiness.”

Still, 2-year A Level courses are soon over. There’s a transience associated with studying towards qualifications such as these. The time certainly passes in a lightning flash.

Setting your intention

When embarking on anything new, setting an intention can help us to focus, as we look to develop (and sustain) new, positive habits.

In his book, The Seat of the Soul, Gary Zukav (who was brought to prominence by Oprah Winfrey) devotes a whole section of his book to the notion of intention. I have to say that I found Zukav’s writing style difficult to follow, but I dipped in to see what he had to say on the topic.

Zukav’s key idea on intention is as follows:

“Every action, thought and feeling is motivated by an intention, and that intention is a cause that exists as one with an effect. If we participate in the cause, it is not possible for us not to participate in the effect.” (Emphasis mine).

Essentially, Zukav is reminding us that what we reap is what we sow, even if we don’t realise it at the time. Whether our intention is explicit or barely acknowledged, how we approach something new will impact on the outcome. Students embarking upon undergraduate study may already have learned this truth.

However, one fundamental matter exists in the context of transitions in education: students’ intentions may be thwarted by external factors outside of their control. If their plans don’t come together because of a missed grade point or a single blip in a test score, there has to be an immediate period of reframing. Happily, very soon, things adjust and settle. Plans are redrawn. Life goes on.

In everyday life

For those of us well past A levels and university, setting an intention for a small and seemingly insignificant part of our day can nonetheless make a big difference. We don’t necessarily need to be striving towards major life goals to benefit from this practice.

Angela’s story

Angela from Setting my Intention was my ‘go to’ person when it came to this topic.

Angela told me, “I had been going to yoga classes prior to starting my blog and loved how the yoga instructor would suggest setting an intention for the time we would be practicing. I knew that I needed to start intentions off the yoga mat in order to get focused and have peace in my home and life. It’s been life-changing.”

Notice that. By setting intentions off the yoga mat, Angela changed her life.

Just being a little more mindful when going about our day-to-day lives – more intentional – is bound to make us think, pause, breathe and consider our actions before we act.

Mindful moments

Even if we pause for only a fraction of a second before we select what to eat, how to act, what to write, or how to respond to others is going to be impactful. If we are intentional in our choices, we’ll act with our long-term goals or values in mind.

Serious about losing weight? Pause and think of that important goal before you find yourself ‘off guard’, making spur-of-the-moment choices that aren’t going to support your aim.

Want a deeper engagement with your kids? Intentionally choosing to have some ‘tech-free-time’ might be transformative. Here, the intention contributes directly to the effect. And you have the power to make the change.

For Angela, by mindfully setting an intention in her life, she experienced a dramatic change, as she was able to overcome her experience of feeling (in her own words),  “…harried and overwhelmed as a mom.”

Becoming more deliberate

If we become more deliberate, mindful and intentional about the moments, minutes, hours and days of our lives, then the resultant effect is bound to reap rewards.

These effects or outcomes may not come in the form of degree certificates or academic plaudits, but they have the potential to make changes in our lives and in the lives of those around us.

And if you’re off to college or university soon, set your intention. Enjoy making new friends and having new experiences.

Oh, and get some work done.


Join us!

Join hundreds of others in my online community, receiving unique news and content that’s only available for subscribers. On joining, you’ll get access to all my free content on my Community Resources page.

Receive unique news and content by clicking on the button, below:

New button for MidsMins


Email me via catherineelizgordon@gmail.com, send me a Tweet @CathElizGordon


 

Update on The 30-Day Yoga Challenge

yoga-1812695_1280

Taking a short detour away from the #Unclutter2017 series, I thought I’d check in with you on how my 30-day yoga challenge is going.

Throughout the month of January, the wonderful DoYogaWithMe folks are sending subscribers a daily email containing two videos. One is for beginners, the other for intermediates. I’m in the latter category, although I have done one or two of the beginners’ classes.

How things got started

I began with a couple of beginners sessions, as the videos in the early part of the intermediate series were ones I’d already enjoyed over the Christmas holidays.

I then transitioned to the intermediate classes, which I’ve enjoyed very much. The daily ritual of rolling out the mat and the competent, clear and inspiring instruction has challenged me (as intended) to ‘Do Yoga’ every day.

When the going got tough

As January unfolded, I became unwell. This happens rarely, so I was shocked to find myself with a full-on head cold, which lasted for two whole weeks.

During this period, there were days when I simply didn’t feel well enough to practice. There was also a very long class (73 minutes) mid-way through my second week of feeling unwell, when I already had a full evening schedule, so that precluded me from taking part.

Keep calm and carry on

I’ve previously written about quitting, which may not always be a bad thing to do. However, on this occasion, my approach was simply to move on and pick up with the next class.

That approach has worked well. Even though I missed a session yesterday (50th birthday party), I was back on the mat today with a 40-minute vinyasa flow sequence, led by the fabulous Tracey Noseworthy.

A different kind of challenge

Whilst we may challenge our bodies over these 30 days, the real test is whether we can develop the discipline of returning to the mat, even if we didn’t practice the previous day (or the one before that).

What we learn is that it’s OK to step back sometimes. It’s not always possible to do everything all of the time. What’s important is that we get back on the mat, keep going, and know that every day will be different. We just have to approach our practice, as often as we can, and observe how it goes.

The 30-day challenge instils in subscribers a sense of anticipation, as we await the daily email, wondering how long it will be and who will lead it. I recommend it to you, even if you haven’t yet begun. The series offers a challenge in tenacity and commitment to self, but is a gift in so many other ways.

Have you set yourself a New Year’s challenge? Did you make a resolution and have you stuck to it? Let me know how you got on!

Namaste

Further reading:

When yoga brought me back to simplicity

 

Why I’m taking the doyogawithme 30 day challenge

img_0539I’ve written before here that I came back to yoga in 2016. My desk-bound job means that I remain seated daily for much longer than is healthy. So, it’s very good to stretch out those muscles and remind my joints that I’m still there.

Do Yoga With Me

I discovered DoYogaWithMe.com via Twitter and have been dipping into its classes almost every day since. Even with only 20 minutes to spare, this focussed practice led by my own virtual instructor has proved to be a tremendous blessing over the holidays. So, I am curious to see how the 30-day challenge will pan out. Will it improve my flexibility, help with the transition back to work after the Christmas break or simply enable me to just be?

Since Ollie the Cockapoo (pictured) has a much better downward facing dog than I do, any progress will be a bonus!

Have you set yourself a new challenge or goal for 2017?

If yours includes a life with less clutter and more simplicity, look out for my January #Unclutter2017 posts, which contain some handy tips and ideas to help you make lasting changes to your life.

Is there a place for routine, even in the holidays?

img_0786

Recharge, relax and unwind

It’s at this time of the year that your normal routine goes out of the window. Kids break up from school, so there’s no school run to do. Teenagers sleep in late. Once you have finished work, you begin to forget what day it is. We need this time to recharge our batteries and unwind.

It’s Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Holidays are here!!

Is there a place for routine, even in the holidays?

When our daughter was a baby, we followed a structured routine. Called the EASY routine, its essence lay in establishing a structured pattern of activity: Eat, Activity, Sleep, then time for You. This worked incredibly well, set an expectation about what would come next, and was the cornerstone of our activities in those early years.

As our little girl grew, the period of activity lengthened and the sleeps became fewer in number, but the routine stood the test of time until well into toddlerdom. We liked it. She liked it. It provided a structured but flexible approach to family life.

So, could establishing an agreed pattern work at other times, such as the holidays?

In her recent ‘Happier’ podcast, Gretchen Rubin provided a great ‘holiday hack’ that prompted me to think about the notion of ‘routine’ even though there will be no little ones in our family grouping this Christmas.

Rubin’s idea was simple, but it may just help you. It was this:

Everyone has quiet time on his/her own after lunch.

I can really see the value of this. Sometimes, you need to have some space, especially if you’ve been in ‘entertaining-mode’ and feel as though you’ve been feeding the 5,000.

You may get a post-lunch slump. That’s your body’s cue: take a nap.

During quiet time, kids may get to use their mobile devices unimpeded and may even (who knows?!) read a book, do a jigsaw or get creative with new colouring pencils.

Grandparents might be glad of a little respite, too. Creatures of habit, they may be used to a slower pace of life or just their own company. Suggesting ‘time out’ for everyone might be welcomed.

Come back refreshed

When you all come back together, you’ll feel refreshed and ready, once again, to be on your best ‘Christmassy’ behaviour.

What routines or structure will you adopt this holiday time?

The simple Christmas kitchen 

ice-cream-1081324_1920
I’ll be serving ice-cream at Christmas

My parents are coming to stay this Christmas, and I’ve been planning our festive menu.  I’ve been thinking about what they’d enjoy while they are with us.

I realise how much my ‘simple living’ approach has spilled over into what I cook and serve in the festive season.

As I wrote here before, my culinary tastes have turned towards plant-based whole foods.

Eat more vegetables

I eat a much wider variety of vegetables whilst consuming flavours and textures inspired by the cuisine of myriad cultures. This food is easy to prepare, visually appealing and delicious. In addition, it’s usually cost-effective, as I have more than enough to keep me going at lunch time, too.

Today’s lunch, for example, was Nigella’s sweet potato, black bean and avocado burrito. I had made enough for dinner last night, plus leftovers, resulting in a cost-effective and healthy way to refuel during the day.

Simple kitchen, simple cleaning

The other thing I notice about my simple kitchen is that it’s easier to keep clean.

Last weekend, my husband made – for himself and our daughter – a traditional English cooked breakfast. They enjoyed it, but he vowed afterwards that they’d go out to eat this in the future; the preparation and clearing away took up half the morning.

My ‘Happy Pear‘ inspired porridge has no such downside. Quick to cook, with a variety of toppings to add texture, taste and extra nutrients, the pan goes straight in the dishwasher and away we go!

Healthy mind in a healthy body

The other benefit is that of health and wellbeing. I have noticed that I am able to avoid the common cold when it does the rounds at work. I feel better than ever, maintain a steady weight, and don’t crave the type of foods that wouldn’t constitute a healthy diet. I have even become that woman who enjoys a couple of squares of very dark chocolate in the evening!

So, back to Mater and Pater. Dad is a meat and two veg’ Yorkshireman. My vegetarian burrito is not for him!

Having said that, he is partial to real Italian pizza. He claims that it is, after all, just fancy cheese on toast. But what to feed the family when I have vegetarian leanings, my husband eats Paleo and our guests have more traditional food preferences?

Keep Christmas cooking simple

I’m going to prepare (in advance) some plant-based sweet treats for me, but will also make some simple meals to keep everyone happy without stressing the Head of Catering (me).

  1. A baked ham for Boxing Day, with fresh salads and baby new potatoes, will appeal to everyone after the previous day’s traditional Christmas lunch
  2. Fresh clementines and medjool dates
  3. Luxury home-made ice-cream (yes!), will make light work of holiday desserts and keep my father happy
  4. Chocolate Florentines and Lily O’Briens chocolates will satisfy the sweet-toothed

So, because baking mince-pies or fretting over fancy menus isn’t for me, I choose the simpler route. After all, it’s about spending time with loved ones and enjoying the holidays that matters most.

How do you decide on your holiday catering?

Do you take a simple living approach or go the whole hog? I’d love to know! What’s your must-have holiday foodie treat?

Do what you enjoyed when you were 10 years old

img_0730Are you looking to make some changes in your life in 2017?

Want to reinvigorate your social life or find a new pastime? Maybe you’re even looking for a different career path? Well, the suggestion I recently read in Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project really made me sit up and think:

Do what you enjoyed when you when you were 10 years old.

This is such a great piece of advice and I can tell you that reconnecting with your 10-year-old self is a lot of fun!

This summer, my daughter’s dance teacher announced that she was going to be teaching an adult tap class. Since I had recently given up a longstanding and very time-consuming hobby, I had now the space and time to give this a go. So, I said yes.

Rediscover your childhood hobby

I borrowed my daughter’s tap shoes and went along to my first class in September. Could I remember my shuffle-hop-steps or my step-ball-changes? Well, some 30+ years since first putting tap shoe to floor, I have to report that I could! Some of my fellow tappers were complete novices. Others had some experience.

All of us wanted to try something new and were amazed when we got straight into our first routine, a jazzy number to a fabulous tune: Pencil Full of Lead.

Share your passion with others

Some weeks in, we began to put the whole piece together and our teacher suggested we might like to perform in the school’s annual charity dance event. At that stage, we were hardly ‘show standard’, but we agreed because the event always raises money for cancer charities. This year, the proceeds went to Pancreatic Cancer Action.

This Sunday, the mums finally got to perform in front of children, husbands, friends and colleagues. What a blast! We had such a lot of support from the audience, who clapped and cheered as we danced along to the music.

Now, believe me when I say that I’m no Darcey Bussell, but I do acknowledge what a lot of enjoyment this experience has been.

Don’t wait to be 10 again

So, don’t wait until the New Year to get in touch with your inner child. What can you embrace, once again, that you enjoyed when you were 10? Who knows how re-discovering a former passion might shape your future?

Listen to your gut instinct: it will serve you well

Listen to your gut instinct: it will serve you well

How many of us feel our gut instinct or hear what our heart is telling us, but fail to act upon it? In today’s blog post, I’m going to encourage you to listen to your gut, to your heart or to your inner voice (or all three).

Often, the answer to a question lies within ourselves.

A conversation this lunch time reminded me how grateful I should be for a decision I made in the early part of 2015. That decision led me to my current job, where I have been for the last 17 months. Whilst my current role perhaps doesn’t play to all of my strengths, I know that I made the right choice and there will be longer-term career opportunities for me in the organisation where I work.

A short while ago, I wrote about why quitting may not be such a bad thing after all. You can read that post here.

Indeed, making the decision to change is often the hardest thing of all, but once your mind is made up, you can move forward with all the steely resolve you’ll need. Your decision might stem from the desire to move away from pain or towards pleasure. Either way, once you’ve decided, you’ll be much more motivated to make that change.

How many times have you heard people say, “My heart’s just not in it, anymore.” That’s their inner voice, giving them a little prod, telling them to be proactive and to take action. Listening to one’s own heart is a very good way to gauge what decision you need to make.

There have been times in my life when I have been about to make a bad decision. Making that really bad decision would have had longer-term ramifications that would no doubt have impacted my long-term future. In my first year at university, after having worked before returning to full-time study, I thought about leaving to take up another job.”Wrong call!” pronounced my body, as my gut instinct delivered its message in the form of a migraine.

Did I listen? Yes, thank goodness, I did.

In his 2013 book, Intuition, Elijah Chudnoff describes intuition as a form of “intellectual perception” that enable us to perceive “abstract reality” rather than concrete, tangible objects. It’s that intuition that serves us well when we need to:

  • leave a job that no longer serves us, in terms of career development or personal wellbeing
  • change careers altogether
  • step down from a personal commitment
  • end a relationship
  • say no to activities, invitations or unwanted obligations

So, take some time to listen to your inner voice over the holiday season. You don’t need to make a rash decision, but ask yourself some key questions:

Why do I feel this way?
What’s my gut instinct telling me to do?
How might it feel if I make this change?

Imagine how you’ll feel when you’ve made that choice. Will you feel a sense of relief or wish you had left things as they were?

Taking time out to reflect and review will enable you to make that choice, so listen to your gut instinct. It will serve you well.