A Simple Mantra to Stay on Track and Make the Most of Every Day

Last week I had one of my best working days of the year. I was in the zone! 

I stayed focused and productive all day long. Although there was a lot on my plate, I acted patiently, and didn’t succumb to overwhelm.

And at the end of the day, I stepped away from my work feeling satisfied with my progress, and ready to dive back in the next day.

Although every day isn’t quite so perfect, I’ve been having more and more days like it thanks to a simple mantra: “Intentional and present.”

Three Words to Stay on Track and Make Every Day the Best it Can Be

These three words, “Intentional and present”, guide my actions each day, and help me stay on track where I might otherwise falter.

This mantra came from the understanding that intentional action and mindful presence are the core ingredients in every great day. This is true while doing work, enjoying your weekend, or on vacation!

When you’re intentional with your actions, you spend time on what matters most. You’re more proactive, and less prone to procrastination.

When you’re present to the experience at hand, you make the most of your time doing the chosen activity. You’re less susceptible to distraction, and more adaptive to whatever comes your way.

These two ingredients present some simple instructions to cultivate Mindful Ambition each and every day.

  1. Be intentional with your actions
  2. Be fully present to the experience at hand

It almost seems too simple to be important. But the simplicity is what makes it powerful.

Despite it’s simplicity, it’s amazing how difficult it can be to live by this mantra! Without intention and presence working together, it just doesn’t work.

To make things more difficult, the natural forces in life and your environment often work against these two goals.

Why it’s Hard to Stay Intentional and Present

This could be a relatively endless list, but I’ve kept it to 4 of the most common barriers you’ll face.

1. Impatience: The urgency to do more, more quickly can cause you to act without deliberately considering what is best to do next. Impatience short-circuits your consideration process and pushes you to hasty action.

2. Resistance: Deliberately picking the right things to work on usually doesn’t mean working on the easiest things. Because of that, resistance shows up in many forms (discomfort, fear, laziness, anxiety…) and leads to procrastination.

3. Reactive Environments and Behaviors. The opposite of acting with intention is reacting automatically. And there are plenty of things vying for your reactive attention. Two of the biggest offenders are your workplace and the internet/social media.

  • The office environment: Workplaces are filled with emails, meetings, and colleagues dropping by to ask you questions. Although communication is important, if you’re constantly reacting to the prompts of others, you never get a chance to take deliberate action on activities of your choosing.
  • Engrained behaviors: Social media is a prime culprit of inducing reactive behavior. These platforms are intentionally designed to keep you coming back for more, and they succeed at it.

4. The Mind Naturally Wanders. If you’ve ever sat in mindfulness meditation, you know this quite vividly.

But most of the time, the mind’s wandering happens without you realizing it.

Whether your thoughts are pulled into the past (nostalgia, regret, embarrassment…) or the future (excitement, fear, anxiety, …) mind-wandering inhibits your ability to stay present.

And if you don’t stay present to what you’re trying to do, you’ll never get where you’re trying to go!

7 Daily Strategies to Stay Intentional and Present

Knowing that staying “intentional and present” can be an uphill battle, try implementing these strategies as a way to stay on track.

1. Change Your Relationship with Distraction by Practicing Meditation

Distraction takes you out of the present. Meditation is a systematic way to cultivate the awareness that helps you stay present.

Meditation teaches you that rising thoughts are not inherently bad. They only become distracting when you latch onto them.

Try it out: Sit in meditation for 10 minutes today after lunch. If you’re new to meditation, download this guided meditation bundle pack to get you started.

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2. Plan Your Day Each Morning

Start your day with intention, and the rest of the day tends to follow suit.  Use these questions to guide your process.

  • What’s the most important thing (MIT) for me to do today? (Start the day with this.)
  • What are other great ways for me to spend my time today? (Do these after the MIT.)
  • What would a successful day look like today? (Write 3 things.)
  • How am I feeling? What do I need to do to cultivate a focused and present state? (Prime yourself to take the first step!)

Side-note: This approach works just as well on weekends as it does on work-days! Out with distracted days that seem to slip through your fingers, and in with purposeful weekends! This doesn’t mean you need to be super active and work all weekend long, it just means you should use your free time intentionally. Choosing to take a nap, or drink a beer with friends, is likely more in line with your priorities than the unconscious, screen-gazing behaviors that are so easy to fall into.

3. Check-in With Yourself During the Day

Use the mantra of “intentional and present” as your North Star. Ask yourself:

  • “Am I acting intentionally?”
    If the answer is no, pause and consider what you should be doing instead.
  • “Am I present to this activity?”
    Or is my mind elsewhere? If it’s elsewhere, do what you need to do to re-center. (e.g. take a few deep breaths, take a quick walk, get some water or tea…)

Tip: Set alerts on your phone to remind you of this mantra. Apps like Mind Jogger can help with that. (Though the default “Reminders” app on your phone also does the trick.)

4. De-Condition Mental Addictions

If you’re like most people, you have an unconscious impulse to check your phone or email throughout the day. Fortunately, you can take steps to avoid this moving forward.

  1. Eliminate triggers. Modify your notification settings to silence over-active apps.
  2. Reduce temptation. Keep your phone out of reach while working. (Or off the table while eating with others.)
  3. Set boundaries. Block off time as “no-phone” or “no-email”. Or, do the opposite, and denote specific times where you are allowed to do email or check your phone.
  4. Add resistance. If you truly need to keep your phone nearby, put a sticky note over the screen. This extra layer of resistance can help you realize that you’re acting unconsciously.
  5. Re-frame the instinct. Use each urge to check your phone as a reminder to stay present.

5. Create Mindful Moments Throughout the Day

Every moment of every day is an opportunity to be mindful.

Although seated meditation is the best training ground, mindfulness is accessible at all times. You just have to remember to pay attention.

Try it out: Today, while eating lunch, take a few minutes to simply eat. Notice the sensations of the food in your mouth, and how they change from bite to bite.

6. Take Care of Your Physical Health

If you’re fatigued, it’s much harder to stay focused and present to the task at hand. At it’s core, this means:

  • Get enough sleep.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Consume nutrient-dense foods that support your health.

7. Reflect on Your Day Each Evening

These questions will help you reinforce good behaviors, and identify ways to modify your approach in the future.

  • Was I present and intentional?
  • When was I distracted and lost in thought?
  • When was I compulsive?

Tip: Use these questions in conjunction with a gratitude journal as part of your bedtime routine.

Stay on Track and Make Every Day Great

There’s nothing more disappointing than getting to the end of a day and feeling like you’ve wasted it.

And there’s nothing more fulfilling than a day well-spent.

Take the mantra of “intentional and present” with you to increase your chances of making every day a great day!

Choosing your actions wisely, and staying present to the experience at hand help you cultivate a mindset of Mindful Ambition.

And when you make the most of each day, with a little patience, there’s nothing you can’t do!

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