At the beginning of 2020, before I even knew that our world would change so dramatically, I began a new mantra; Be Intentional.
And after everything that has happened this year to turn the world upside down and change almost everything I do, that one thing has remained a constant. Be Intentional.
I have attempted to incorporate that thought into every action I take and everything I do. From bending over to tie my shoes to the most complex post-processing of one of my photos, be intentional.
But what does that mean, exactly? It’s hard to describe, but it became sort of a wrapper around everything I do, a mindset, an approach, and an execution, all in one.
Here’s a simple example. Within arm’s reach of the keyboard I am typing this with, is my trusty Keurig. I can reach over with my right hand and grab the latest mug of coffee without taking my eyes from the screen while continuing to type with my left hand.
And doing so, I can knock the cup off the credenza and onto the floor, ruining my morning in a single second of inattention.
So, I don’t do that anymore. When the coffee is ready, I stop typing. I stand up. I turn to the right and take the half step to the credenza. I then firmly grasp my 20 oz coffee mug with my right hand. I pick up the lid with my left hand. Placing the cup securely on the plastic board put there for this purpose. I push the top down and make sure it is tight. I then take my first, long sip of coffee.
What’s the difference between these two courses of action? About seven seconds. But one is a recipe for disaster, and the other is a short break resulting in a pleasurable experience.
One is intentional, and the other is half-assed.
My photography is another prime example. I’ve only taken a fraction of the photos I usually would have by this time in the year, but my camera is still always with me, ready to help me capture what my eyes and my mind sees.
On my morning walks, it would traditionally happen like this. Something would catch my eye. As I turned to see what it might be, my right hand was raising the camera, flicking the power switch with my index finger. By the time I had put my full attention on the subject, I was looking at it through the viewfinder. I would bang the shutter, lowering the camera, and continue without breaking stride.
That worked most of the time. Except when it didn’t.
It wasn’t intentional. Now, when something catches my eye. I stop and look, my head, or perhaps just my eyes, the only thing moving. Once I identify the subject, I refocus my eyes to take in the whole scene. What’s in the foreground. What’s in the background. What does the light look like, and where is it coming from?
I then decide how to frame the scene, where the focal point will be, and what sort of depth of field I want. Then I power on the camera and raise it halfway up. I check the settings, making sure everything is where it needs to be to capture the scene the way I envisioned it, changing lenses if necessary.
Then, and only then, do I raise the camera to my eye and double-check all the settings in the viewfinder. I fine-tune the exposure if necessary, take a deep breath and let it halfway out. Finally, I gently rock my index finger across the shutter button.
The difference? Those same seven seconds, unless I needed to change lenses. Then you could tack on an extra five. Seven seconds between a snapshot and a photograph. Seven seconds to be intentional.
And if you think my timing isn’t accurate, I was intentional in writing in this article. I didn’t just pop some numbers off the top of my head. I stopped typing, enacted the scenes, and timed them. How long did that take? I think you already know the answer to that.
And, speaking of writing, that’s intentional also. Mostly.
I’m no longer haphazard in my selection of subjects, what I write and when. My other commitment this year was to write and publish every day. And that requires a more systematic approach. I have to Be Intentional.
Each phase of my writing is a separate and independent task that I tackle on different days. Researching and gathering ideas is done as a job in itself. Then at various times, I am writing, proof-reading, polishing, pitching, and publishing. I wish writing started with a P, don’t you?
And all of that is intentional. Mostly.
Once I start to write, depending on the subject, all thoughts of intent may go out the window. There is some weird and wired connection between my fingers and someplace back in my lizard brain. The words appear independent of any intent I may have had. This article began as something else but went in a different direction of its own accord.
But that little oddity aside, I have mostly been successful in this new paradigm of being intentional. Some days are better than others. But most of the time, I’m able to stay on track. And both my mind and whatever task I am attempting are better for it.
Last night, I decided to do some cooking. Nothing fancy, just some pasta primavera (he says, boastful, yet smug). But instead of dragging everything out, throwing it in all different directions, and getting stressed out as if Gordon Ramsay were looking over my shoulder, I was intentional.
I got out a pot and filled it with water. I put it on the stove and turned on the burner. Now, that was done. I didn’t have to think about it anymore. If everything else got ready before the water boiled, I could turn it up. If not, I could turn it down. But I could direct my attention to the next task.
I took out a cutting board and my favorite 8" chef knife (now, he’s pretentious).
And the entire meal followed suit in like manner. The final result took way more than seven seconds over my previous method, but the results would be much improved. I would sit down to a hot dish of pasta with a calm mind and a clean kitchen.
And be intentional about eating my meal.
My guitar playing was going along pretty well.
Until it didn’t. I hit a plateau and got stuck. Then as I was sitting down to practice the other morning, I realized what the problem was. I was being scattered in my approach. I wasn’t intentional.
So, I took a deep breath. I picked up my lesson book and placed it on the stand. I turned it back to page one.
And started over.
One note on one string.
What do you have to do today? What do you have to do next? Think about it. Be intentional.