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Leading an Intentional Life


Marmendia Meester

Studying is not just about cramming and time-management – managing work-life balance becomes essential requiring a very particular set of skills. Luckily, you don’t have to be Liam Neeson to achieve that balance. “Every decision requires focus. And focus deprives us from our most valuable resources: energy and time.” Ryder Carroll, a Brooklyn based digital product designer, highlights that we burden ourselves with unnecessary thoughts and decisions that eventually leads to ‘decision fatigue’, a term Ryder coined in his TED talk at Yale University. By establishing a mental inventory of our thoughts and decisions, we allow space for our mind to focus on things that matter.

Individuals have varying needs and goals when it comes to leading a happy and healthy life, that includes a well-managed and productive work style. By far, the digital calendar schedules our time as such that we manage to perform our tasks effectively and time-efficiently. Our planning is largely focused on ‘what’ to do, but we overlook ‘why’ we do it. Simon Sinek, writer and motivational speaker on leadership topics, proposes that the key in success lies in starting with ‘why’. When you set out to plan your tasks, or write a paper, I suggest to firstly ask why you do it. Second, you need to ask yourself whether it matters. If it’s non-essential and/or doesn’t align with your personal goals, you should strongly consider revising that task or goal. The ‘why’ is deeply entwined with the goals you set as a person, and as the person you want to be; something we often lose sight of when we lead our daily lives. There are several tools to help and remind yourself why you do what you do: create a visionary board and place it within your field of view, write down the type of life you wish to have if money and time did not matter, list the things that motivate, inspire and energize you, and put down a statement that aligns all of these: your WHY statement: To ... [your contribution], so that ... [your impact]. An example would be: ‘To mentor open-mindedly, so that I may allow a safe space for my students to grow.’ Although this may be a good template to start with, your WHY statement may truly take form in time and with many changes that may differ from the initial template. The WHY statement is not meant to be written down and forgotten. Keep it within your sight at all times so that it may subconsciously remind you.

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The subconscious mind, especially when dealing with mental illness, is often seen as a master of deception. Commercials, advertisements, product-placements, and other sales tactics are all tailored to trigger the subconscious mind to make you use certain products or services. There are many tales that tell us how a negative environment or thought process may influence your life negatively. But the reverse is true as well. It is important to cultivate your natural curiosity so that you never lose sight of what inspires and energizes you. An easy way to keep track of what inspires you, is by keeping a collection of it. Write down the names of great authors, surround yourself with inspirational quotes and images, keep that amazing book by your side at all times, or even listen to music that contains lyrics you resonate with.

Life is a continuous trial-and-error, whether you are trying to make lifestyle changes or not. Many of you can probably recognize that diet or exercise routine you abandoned after not having seen any results. Or to decide to drink more water, smoke less, meditate, sleep more, and subsequently forgot all about these prospective good habits. Keeping track of your habits is a great daily reminder and allows you to see results on a short-term basis (even when the results are slim).     

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In addition, it will also tell you whether one of your changes are not working effectively for you and you should choose to replace it. I have applied this concept for two months myself and have seen positive changes in my mood, sleep, and drinking. Also, I was able to see how strongly lack of sleep could influence my mood, leading me to understand the importance of high-quality sleep. I saw how having a water bottle by my side at all times made me drink more water, and how my water intake decreased when I lost it. It is a very easy way of reflecting on the outcomes of the changes you’re investing your time and energy in.

To truly lead life with intent, you should not only start with why, but end with it as well. Schedule to reflect upon what you’ve tried and done. The frequency of reflection can be weekly or monthly. Take notes of what has worked, and what hasn’t. Set your next goals depending on your reflection. And allow yourself the space to fail. The journey matters just as much as your endpoint, whether it takes you a week, a month, or even a year. If your goal matters a lot to you, do not abandon it just because it may not have been successful this time. Continuous attempts and reminders will eventually make the change happen. According to the laws of attraction, focus on failure will lead to failure. But just as much, your focus on the road to success will lead to success.

Now, if you find yourself having a hard time keeping up with all your notes, WHY statements, visionary boards, inspirational collections, planners, habit-trackers, journals, etc., there is a simpler solution: the bullet journal. Don’t shy away from it when you see the fancy Instagram photos of beautiful and artistic pages as you search the web. A very simplistic bullet journal will work just as effectively. The bullet journal was invented by Ryder Carroll, who required a flexible and customizable solution to get a grasp on his life while living with ADD. In contrast with other journals or planners, the bullet journal is entirely customizable to your needs within your budget. All you need is a dot-gridded notebook, a ruler, and a pen. You start with an index, which keeps track of your journal’s contents, and then design your bullet journal to your desire. I prefer my index in the back of the journal, working my way to the front, and design my planner and other pages monthly. But the bullet journal is not set in stone. You will find a large internet community devoted to the bullet journal; with all kinds of tips and tricks to inspire you or assist in your journal design. Several things include, in this order, are: a future planner, a weekly planner, a four-point habit tracker, an achievement log, and a brain dump. The brain dump is simply a designated space to write down anything that comes up in your mind, whether these are notes from meetings or lectures, reflections, or even doodles. There is just one rule: never rip any pages out. Make mistakes, own them, learn from them, and see yourself develop in time along with your bullet journal.

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This article was inspired by the Re-Imagining Leadership Retreat (organized by University of Toronto’s leadership program), Ryder Carroll and Simon Sinek. For further reading: 

Featured in Elemental Issue 1: Mental Health Supports