By Vicki L. Flaherty
Can you answer the question: “What do I want to be creating in my life?”
For most of us, the answer is no, or sort of. Having clarity about what we want is not easy. We don’t typically slow down enough to know what we really want. We are pulled along by what others want from or for us – our partners, our children, our co-workers , our leaders – and by our human needs – to eat, sleep, move – and by the demands of the 24X7 world we live in, where something is always inviting us to give it our attention.
I remember being asked the question “What do you want?” in a workshop and being surprised that I did not have an answer. At the time, with encouragement, I discovered that I wanted to ‘find my joy’. Until that moment, I didn't know it was lost, and I didn’t really know what that meant. It’s taken 10 years of consistent curiosity and exploration to begin to have an answer. I want to create alignment; that is, I want to be in integrity, living my life and doing my work in a way that honors who I am. My answer has evolved with time, and I’m sure will continue to take shape.
So how do you create greater clarity and live more intentionally?
First, carve out time to do it. Having a clear direction doesn’t just happen. It has to be important enough to you that you are willing to make time to focus on it. Once you’ve decided you want to understand what is most important to you in your life, determine how much you are willing to give to get it. Is it an hour every weekend? Is it 15 minutes every Friday? Is it 5 minutes every day? It doesn’t have to be a lot of time. It does have to be time when you are undisturbed, time when you can simply be still. Also, you need to give your dreams consistent attention; the more regular your ‘me’ time, the greater your awareness.
Being in integrity requires that I have clarity about who I actually am. And, finding the answer to that requires my attention. I take 10-60 minutes each morning to read something inspiring, journal about my fears/feelings/fantasies, practice gentle yoga, and/or meditate. How I start on a given day is influenced by my schedule and the energy of the moment. I find this time is like food or exercise; without it, I don’t feel healthy, and with it, I feel vibrant and alive. It wakes me up and sets a tone for the day.
Second, listen to your inner voice. The voice tends to speak when you ask it questions, such as “What is important to me?” and “Why is it important?” Key to living intentionally is building reflection time into your life. If you don’t have a clue about the answer, start by exploring other areas such as “What do I value?”, “What am I good at?”, “What inspires me?”, “What brings me joy?”, “When do I completely lose track of time?”, “What is missing in my life?”
I find that personal challenges are powerful engines of self-discovery. “Why does she make me angry?” “Why am I resisting?” “Why am I bored?” “Why am I distracted?” In fact, a breast cancer diagnosis pulled me very deeply into a journey of my emotions. It was by exploring the darkness that I ultimately found greater light. Of course, positive experiences are also great tools for self reflection and insight. I can just as easily consider: “Why was that conversation so uplifting?” “Why do things feel easy and fun right now?”
Third, visualize what you want to create. Make your desired reality concrete. Envision how you are feeling, what you are thinking, what you are doing, where you are, who you are with. Immerse yourself in the experience…what do you see, hear, smell, taste? Recording your vision in some way can help solidify it.
What you want to create may be big or small, in the present or the future: a feeling, an experience, an impact; a goal for the day, a career aspiration, your legacy. I’ve captured what I want - my vision for something - in varied ways. I love to write so I’ve captured it via informal notes in my journal and as poems. I’ve made collages with magazine cuttings and created word clouds to crystallize my vision. I’ve talked with family and friends about my dreams and shared the future I want to move toward with my teams at work. You may find other ways – perhaps artistic expression such as painting or drawing, or sculpture, or short video. The ways are endless.
Dr. Vicki L Flaherty’s passion is awakening humanity in the workplace, and she helps executives lead with clarity, intention, and authenticity. She is a leadership facilitator and coach, speaks at global events about success, and she blogs about leadership and mindfulness. She loves traveling with her husband, running and yoga, as well as gardening, music, and writing. You can follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn, and visit her blogs: Leading with Intention, This Abundantly Delicious Life, and Mostly My Heart Sings. For inspiration, she is currently reading The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have by Mark Nepo.
* Photos are from one of Vicki’s favorite places for quiet reflection – San Agustinillo, Oaxaca, Mexico