"A human being is part of a whole called by us the Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself,  his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty." Albert Einstein

My three words for 2018

I’m not one for resolutions. But I am one for words.

Words that set the tone, capture the scene, express the truth, and lay the foundations for a story that is captivating enough to hold your attention, sustain your focus and make you change the way you think or behave for the better.

And what story is more important than the one we tell ourselves about ourselves, the script that runs our life, the narrative that shapes our interactions with the world and the people around us, the words that we absorb and apply to make sense of our place in the world, the chattering voice inside our minds?  As the Thai Buddhist monk Ajahn Maha Bua said:

"Of all the many things that people value and care for in the world, the mind is the most precious, in fact the mind is the foremost treasure in the whole world, so be sure to look after it well."

So I was pleased to come across the #my3words approach to contemplating and renewing one’s intentions for the year ahead in a way that is kind and conscientious, rather than reactive and desperate (a la the standard self-flagellating approach to New Year’s resolutions).

I was alerted to it thanks to the January edition of the Valuable Content newsletter.  As the authors Sonja Jefferson and Sarah Tanton note: “Inspiring words stay in your head, weave their way into your thinking and remind you to take action.”

Selecting just three words is challenging as it forces you to be selective, which is ultimately a good thing, as it makes you focus on what matters with some simple guideposts that will keep you on track (which was the intention of Chris Brogan, who originally established the practice in 2006). 

These are my three words and associated intentions for 2018:

Focus

“Real generosity to the future lies in giving all to the present.” – Albert Camus

This means paying attention and taking note of my inner world as much as the world around me, and responding accordingly; first and foremost for the simple reason of being wholly present and for the associated sake of my work as a writer.  It means taking the time to notice, to look, to listen, to see, to hear, to sense, to feel, rather than pacing through life restlessly from one moment to the next. 

Specifically, it means focusing on projects, people and activities that align with my values and aspirations; on making connections with and between these things for the purpose of nourishing my mind, body and spirit.  

It means tuning my mind like an instrument, which involves filtering out the noise. 

At a practical level, it means channelling my energies into client work and writing projects that have something of value to contribute to the lives of others and my own, in the interests of self-cultivation that spreads outwards.

In turn, that means being ruthless about dismissing anything that doesn’t add or respect value, from incoming traffic in the form of books and online content, through to people, meetings and projects that waste precious time.  Or as Schopenhauer might say, cutting out the “intellectual poison”.

It means creating and sustaining a focus on the things that matter to me and my work, it means saying “yes” to events, purchases and people that are positively enhancing and saying “no” to things that are not. 

In essence, it's a way of living that is conscientious, selective, restrained and positive, as opposed to extreme, excessive, reckless, cynical and chaotic.

Strength

“Not being tense but ready. Not thinking yet not dreaming. Not being set but flexible – it is being wholly and quietly alive, aware and alert, ready for whatever may come.” – Bruce Lee

Cultivating strength of mind, body and spirit means developing strong foundations from the core of my being, both physically and psychologically. It means continuing to develop my stability, stamina, resilience and force in a way that emboldens me while being mindful of not extending so far that the force is destructive or depleting.

It means developing my skills, confidence, work and way of being through consistent rituals and practices that are respectful and attentive to the needs of my mind and body in line with the needs of others (people and projects) I seek to serve, through yoga, volunteering, writing, running, reading and everything else. It’s about purposefully directed self-cultivation. Stable roots and foundations that enable meaningful growth.

It means withstanding external turbulence, bending with the wind while remaining secure, adjusting to external events without being irreparably changed by them, resisting negative influences and remaining true to my integral purpose.

Momentum

“Action is movement with intelligence. The world is filled with movement. What the world needs is more conscious movement, more action.” – BKS Iyengar

To achieve and maintain momentum is to establish a continuous pace of movement towards my goals and aspirations; one that is attentive and responsive to internal and external change but which continues no matter what.

This means persisting with patience and determination, through the lows as well as the highs, in the face of struggle and the occasional, inevitable despair, which is, in the end, just more fuel for growth.

It means committing to the creative process, taking each day step by step, knowing that incremental progress is the key and that the endeavour for perfection is a self-defeating distraction.

It means staying on course with the good habits and resisting the bad, of getting back on the wagon whenever I tumble off.  It means striving for balance with equal parts motion and equal parts stillness because momentum is about going with the flow, pushing through when you need to, slowing down when you need to.

In sum, the three words contribute to the whole which is about thinking, working and behaving in a way that adjusts to the right pace for the right time for the right reasons.

The art of not reading. Or, selective attention as a means for intellectual survival

Methods in madness. Or, when cleaning the fridge counts as a good day.