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Fill Your Life With Intention, Not Reaction

Reminder: today is the last day to register for my Mastermind group which begins on Monday. Work directly with me to develop the power habits you need to find success with your writing and art. You can find details, a video walk-through and registration here.

There is enough room in the world for your writing, art, or whatever you choose to create. That is why I love working with writers and artists — none of us are playing a zero sum game. Regardless of what you create, it has an equal chance to inspire someone.

The challenges that we face as creators are actually things that unite us. 20 writers can sit side by side in a room crafting short stories, and each move an audience in unique and compelling ways.

This is why I spend each day working closely with writers and artists, and why I try to connect them to each other. Because together it is easier to overcome challenges of creating, publishing, and sharing. Together we discover new ideas, new processes, and new ways to understand our own creative visions.

At the end of each year, I analyze my work, and set a clear path for the new year. For 2018, I’m basing my plans on a single word prompt: “intention.”

Intention is the opposite of reaction. Reaction is when you fill your days feeling off course with your personal creative goals, because you are busy reacting what other people are doing. Reaction may look like this in your daily life:

  • Checking email first thing in the day instead of first working on your writing, art, or other creative work.
  • Scrolling endlessly (and often) through social media, clicking “like” again and again, instead of creating something unique yourself.
  • Choosing check off items on your to-do list that provide the most immediate validation from others, even if it means pushing off more important goals. An example of this: how many of us know that we have a horrible fitness routine, yet we know all the gossip going on around town? Or all the latest sports scores. One provides immediate validation (gossip and sports scores), while the other (fitness) requires weeks/months/years of slow and lonely work. The same applies to how too often, we trade long term creative goals for short term validation.
  • Operating from a place of fear of letting others down, instead of creating what you are capable of; the things that no one will give you permission to create.

So this begs a question: what does intention look like? Let me take you through a few examples:

Putting the Phone Down

This is what author Abby Mathews did when she recently took a vacation with her family. She shared this with me on the immediate and long-term effects of this decision:

“I’ve definitely felt a huge impact from “just leaving it at home” during the vacation. But part of that is just retraining my mental habit of checking it, too. If you don’t have your phone with you, obviously you can’t check it! But I’m also trying to let go even if it is in my pocket. If I have to stand in line for 5 minutes at the grocery store, why do I need my phone to occupy me? Why do I need to check my email while I’m waiting for my kids at school pick-up? Why am I not allowed that time for my brain to wander without direction from technology? The [post-vacation] benefit is that I have gotten way more writing done because I’m not distracted by things that don’t matter.”

What I like most about what Abby found is that it wasn’t about adding anything to her life. She didn’t need to go buy a new journal or course or product. She simply removed something from her life, and found that it opened up new doors to her writing and focus.

Picking Up the Camera

I have been doing my own experiments like this in the past few months. I didn’t like how my phone was always in my pocket waiting to distract me when I was at home with my family. When I tried to put it down, I found that I resisted because I’m a photographer, so I was always reaching for my phone to take a photo.

Can you see the obvious solution here? It took me awhile to figure it out. I put down the phone, and picked up the camera.

Instead of carrying my phone around my house, I picked up my compact camera (The Canon G7x) and attached it to my belt with a small case. Now I can take photos and videos whenever I like, without any distraction of the phone. What’s better is that my camera takes way better photos and videos than my phone does. I’m actually capturing more moments than I would have otherwise.

Writing First Thing in the Day

Longtime readers of my newsletter will know that I tend to write first thing in the day. I share a photo of it on Instagram each morning… the same boring shot of me in front of my computer, each day of the year, working on my next book.

When I began this practice, it was actually pretty difficult to resist the urge to check email first. What I found is that I craved the immediate validation that comes with reacting to others first. But once the habit was in place, it now seems natural to delay email by an hour in the morning, and creating first.

My Advice to You

As Abby mentioned above, being intentional is about creating a mindset shift within yourself. It is not about downloading a new tool or buying a new product. More often than not, it is about creating “less” in your life, not “more.” What I mean by that is that for everything you say “no” to, it allows you to say “yes” with more vigor to the things that matter most. To your writing or art. To your health (mental or physical). To your family and friends.

For 2018, I have outlined three clear intentions for my creative work. This week, I have been meeting with someone on my team to brainstorm ways to truly make them a priority in my life. To ensure my days are filled with intention, not reaction.

What is your intention for 2018?

Thanks!
-Dan

  • I’m pretty much a creature of habit and routine and start my day with certain necessities, which includes checking emails and searching for freelance writing gigs. I also live with and care for my elderly mother who has memory problems. My visits to social media are infrequent, as I learned years ago what a time crusher it can be, and my cell phone conveniently stays out of the way. My primary distraction is television. My favorite programs, however, are of the history, science and true crime variety. I find standard network fair mindless and unoriginal. Still, I try to carve out at least one hour of each day for my personal
    writing. It’s not as difficult as I initially thought it’d be. Once I get started, that
    addictive love I have for writing envelopes me and won’t let go so easily.

    My goals for 2018 are mostly the same as for 2017. Among them: maintain
    my blog; finish my current novel; and publish the one I’ve actually completed. I’ve ceased discussing the third one with friends and family, as I’ve failed to find a suitable publisher and self-publishing has presented its own obstacles. In other words, it’s one of those ‘I’ll believe it when I see it’ kind of things. Put up or shut up, right? Yet, I’m more determined now. Like the task of writing itself, it’s simply do it or don’t. Amazing how, once you hit 50, you realize there are more years behind you than ahead! LOL!

    Thanks for all you do, Dan, and Happy New Year’s to you and your family!

    • Thank you, as usual! I’m going to throw out a crazy suggestion to you: ditch the TV. Literally give it away. I’m not saying you “need” to, I’m just suggesting that it is possible. The alternative is to put yourself on a TV diet — give yourself a single hour per day, or something like that. Use an egg timer even!
      -Dan