Short term thinking is a trap. The long term approach to healing and growth identifies that change happens slowly over a period of months, years, decades… A sensible mindset that doesn’t dwell on failure and instead acknowledges that the process often isn’t linear.
In these terms, short term thinking is unhelpful because it focuses on the everyday fluctuations that are inevitable, even when over a longer period you might be making huge progress. Zooming out, in this context, provides motivation in the form of comparing yourself to, say, two years ago: perhaps you’ve had a difficult week, but unless you’re only thinking short-term then this isn’t a reason to worry.
But thinking short-term can have its place, sometimes. There’s space to celebrate the small victories. Visualising where you want to be in a year or two, while a helpful practice to create focus and intention, can also feel overwhelming. It’s here that bringing things back to the everyday can help with motivation, whatever that looks like for you: maybe today you meditated for ten minutes in the morning, or you had a weekend without alcohol, or you were able to ask for something you need.
On the one hand, our big visions for the future help to keep us on track, but on the other it’s the everyday decisions and achievements that get us there at all. In this context, we can even celebrate the failures as a necessary part of the journey too. And above all of this, it’s valid to rest for a while too.
Setting an intention is a simple practice, for me mainly associated with a meditation or yoga session. It’s a conscious decision to gently direct my energy towards something specific, without holding too tightly onto reaching a particular goal: making an intention conscious and then letting go of it allows it to still be present, ideally without introducing attachment to an outcome.
It changes the flavour of whatever it is I’m about to do, into an activity that I am doing with a clear idea of why I want to do it, and what its benefits could be.
Something I am learning to do more often is to use intention in other areas of my life. Setting an intention for a day, a relationship, or a conversation perhaps. Considering what’s important to me about whatever I’m about to engage in doesn’t have to be limited to sitting on a cushion or yoga mat.
Removing this limitation is helpful for a few reasons. Firstly, it encourages the habit of asking myself why I do what I do; what is it that I want? What does my body need? As someone who has, historically, found identifying what I want hard, this is good practice.
It also helps to make the implicit explicit, at least to ourselves. If we go into a potentially challenging situation without first taking a minute to find clarity on where our focus is, we leave ourselves susceptible to playing out unhelpful scripts. When we can’t identify and own what we want, we allow our unconscious to run the show.
Entering into a conversation on a sensitive topic with someone we care about could easily turn nasty. Bringing an intention, if only kept to ourselves, to find compassion or to deepen our connection can help to keep us present with what’s most important.
Finally, using intentions in day to day life is a step towards more conscious action. While the point of setting an intention is to direct ourselves in a helpful way, rather than become attached to achieving anything in particular, it’s a practice that can help to steer us towards the life we want for ourselves.
If I were to step into a bath of water that was far too hot, I’d immediately know from the uncomfortable feeling against my skin. After stepping out and deciding to add some cold water to make it a better temperature, I might notice that I begin to rationalise or explain what had happened: I had gotten distracted and forgotten to check the temperature, or maybe I’d tell myself that I can never get the temperature right. Perhaps this leads to frustration.
But the feeling, when I first stepped in the bath and noticed that it hurt my feet, has passed. The feeling was unavoidable and unpleasant, but short-lived; the emotional component of frustration came afterwards, caused by the conscious process of telling myself a story about the feeling.
Painful feelings can be caused by other people too, but these still pass quickly if recognised without bringing history and future into the mix, turning a feeling such as anger into sticky emotional response based on a “you always do this,” or “you never seem to care.”
A very helpful thing to be able to do is to notice when we’re turning a feeling into an emotion, so that we can acknowledge the feeling and allow it to move past instead of attaching narratives to it. While feelings are caused by things outside of us, our emotions are our responsibility.
If we can separate the two and acknowledge our feelings without attachment, then we can avoid getting stuck with unhelpful emotions. We can also begin to own our emotional responses instead of blaming another for making us feel a certain way.
It can be so easy to minimise what we want, think, or need. “I just feel that…” or “I think I’d like to…” instead of “I think” or “I want.” Not wanting to admit or commit means our words come out fuzzy, and we have a get-out clause; we were never that bothered anyway, we weren’t completely sure.
We fail to find the confidence to say what’s really going on, to be direct in saying what’s really true in a way that shows we also know ourselves.
This lack of confidence shows up in other forms too.
“This always happens,” or “I never do that” seem like the opposite on the surface, an over-confident sureness in our conclusion. But this is coming from a similar place: wanting to find a way out, an excuse or reason not to be who we truly are. Not to be occasionally wrong or inconsistent.
In both cases we’re lazily using language to hide behind, as way to cover our tracks and avoid being caught out. Either by never fully committing to a position in the first place, or by preventing us from seeing alternatives: only ever allowing one possibility, in case different outcomes mean failure or change.
Noticing both of these habits – and especially if they’re habits – can be a first step towards finding the places where we don’t feel confident in showing ourselves.
Beginning to change these language patterns can have a real impact on our thoughts and perceptions, and allow us to communicate with more confidence – both in our convictions and our fallibility.