“Tumble outta bed and I stumble to the kitchen. Pour myself a cup of ambition. Yawn and stretch and try to come to life.” — Who among us doesn’t identify with the sentiment expressed in this Dolly Parton lyric? It resonates with us because we begin many of our days looking for the get-up-and-go approach to the upcoming day with a positive outlook and plan. We have way too many things on our plate, limited time and attention to devote to them, and too many other distractions vying for our attention that we never originally planned on. Woefully, at days end, we realize that we were on autopilot addressing other people’s concerns, priorities, and unexpected situations. Our mood decayed throughout the day, and opportunities to influence others were overlooked. In the end, instead of taking the reins, we let the world around us dictate our priorities and direction for the day.
But turning off the autopilot and flying under our own power means understanding how important our perceptions, assumptions, and intentions are in creating and shaping our experiences.
Intentionally determining what deserves, demands, and drives our focus means adopting some essential strategies that leverage the power of the brain’s automatic systems to our advantage. We don’t have unlimited attention to give the world, and as such our automatic systems are very adept at prioritizing what seems most relevant to our stated intentions, and filters out input that isn’t as important. Tapping in to them is just what we need to regain control and accomplish what we want to achieve.
After you’ve poured yourself that cup of ambition, you can do these few essential things below to help set your intention for the day, and tell your brain what you’d like it to pay more attention to.
1. Pave The Way And Prime The Pump
Determine what your intentions are for the upcoming day. Think about the task(s) for the day, what needs to be accomplished, and what really matters most. Consciously ask yourself what needs to happen for those goals to be achieved. This will help you define your real goal(s) for the day. The conscious focus on the task(s) helps you prime the pump and pave the way for your mind to recognize them as priorities, and attune your brain to look for things related to achieving that outcome as relevant and not off topic.
2. Adopting The Right Attitude Is Everything
Once you’ve focused your brain’s energy on the tasks that are important, it’s time to ensure that your attitude supports your success. It should be no surprise that a happier, more positive attitude strongly influences our frame of mind and how we approach the day. Our brain looks for resonance between our intentions and our attitude about them as a way of confirming that they are indeed our priorities. If you have concerns about the upcoming task and they are really driving your mood in a less than positive direction, you have to determine if they help or impede your achieving the desired outcome. If they don’t have merit or a factual basis, and come from a place of unfounded fear or emotion, set them aside and redirect your thinking to the positive aspects of what you are setting out to do.
3. We Get What We Focus On So Lock In Your Intentions
Now that you’ve primed the pump and synced your attitude, the only remaining task is to firmly set your sights and lock your attention on your priorities. Attuning your focus with your priorities helps you identify what you want to see more of—especially those things that support achieving your goal. You will become more aware of and vigilant for the things that will help you get there, traps that must be avoided, and yes, even potential opportunities to adjust and re-calibrate. Once you know what you’re looking for or what to avoid, you’ve engaged a level of awareness that will help you make sure that you focus on what you want to achieve. You might even want to capture them on an index card or memo on your phone so that you can look at it before you go into that big meeting, or consider what comes next—especially when the day gets challenging.
Establishing a process that carves out some time for personal reflection and intentional thinking in our complex world doesn’t mean giving up vast amounts of time—it means taking a few minutes, perhaps as long as it takes to make and drink your coffee. The investment of a few minutes each morning, however, returns vast rewards. The next time you tumble outta bed and stumble to the kitchen to pour yourself that cup of ambition, set your intentions for the day, and let me know how it goes.