The human brain is wired to accomplish tasks as efficiently as possible. Our default setting is neutral. Most of us spend most our lives with autopilot engaged. The winds of circumstance determine our destination. The rudder and compass of our lives remain slack, the helm unattended, the captain asleep in his cabin.
I love the film “The Big Lebowski.” Loosely adapted from a mystery crime novel, the movie chronicles an intricate caper involving a kidnapped trophy wife, the wealthy but dysfunctional family she married into, a gang of German Nihilists, a Persian rug, a private investigator, and debt collectors for a sleazy smut producer. Tossed ironically into the middle of this complex scenario is the Dude – Jeff Bridge’s portrayal of a washed up, neo-taoist, stoned-out-of-his-mind hippie bowler. Without sufficient mental focus to follow the ins, the outs, and the what-have-you’s of the situation into which he is thrust, The Dude takes the circumstances of his life in stride, content to abide whatever situation without regard to his personal obligations or development.
In our ever busier, ever more uptight lives, perhaps there is some wisdom in the Dude’s stoic acceptance of that which is beyond his control. Nevertheless, there is a danger in the Dude’s reactive attitude towards circumstances which are entirely within his control. It is one thing to follow Durden’s creed of rejecting the basic assumptions of civilization – especially the importance of material possessions. It is entirely another thing to permit our circumstances to determine who we are and what we contribute to the world.
The Big Lebowski and Fight Club in the same post! I’m on a roll!
I firmly believe that each human being has a responsibility to himself or herself to become the best version of self that he or she can become. And, like Maxwell says, this requires intentionality. This article will briefly treat 5 areas of our lives that require an intentional approach in order to master ourselves.
Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who had the unique experience of caring for patients who within weeks of their own mortality. She frequently asked her patients whether they had regrets about their lives – feeling that a dying person’s perspective on life offers valuable insight to those of us who (maybe) still have some years left to work with. According to her book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, the most frequently-offered responses were:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me
2. I wish I had spent more time with loved ones and less time at work
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends
5. I wish I had let myself be happy, rather than clinging to the comfort of familiar habits
If these are the things that make life worth living, perhaps we should be intentional about making them a priority in our own lives.
Jon Acuff says that intentions will lie to us. Intentions are flattering liars, because we all mean to be better parents or spouses. We all mean to call our grandparents and see how they are doing. We all mean to write that thank-you note. But inventory your calendar – how much of your week is dedicated to those things? Are you spending your time pursuing your priorities, or are you chasing what is urgent, rather than that which is most important? How we spend our time is a truer reflection of what we value than our intentions, so we should make our calendar conform to our intentions. Mr. Acuff suggests asking yourself “If I died today, what would I regret not doing?” And then once you have a list of four or five answers, ask yourself if those are the things you’re spending time doing now.
“Good health is the most important thing. More than success, more than money, more than power.”
-Hyman Roth to Michael Corleone in the Godfather Part II.
Now, maybe we shouldn’t be taking all our cues on life from anarchists, stoners, and mob bosses, but Mr. Roth has a point here, doesn’t he? The quality of our health is directly related to our ability to enjoy life. Maintaining quality health requires proper diet and exercise, and avoiding harmful substances that alter the way our minds and bodies function. Addictive substances are particularly damaging to both our long-term wellbeing and our personal dignity. We should begin intentionally developing healthy habits now, or if necessary begin the arduous process of breaking unhealthy habits. If suffering from an addiction, seek help from a drug treatment center as soon as possible.
Whether you are motivated by the accumulation of possessions or whether you are decidedly anti-materialist, one constant that must be acknowledged is that sustaining life and living with dignity and freedom costs money. There is no economic system that can make this untrue, regardless of your political views. Since we all have a desire to sustain our life and live with dignity, we should be intentional about earning an income, saving against emergencies, investing wisely for retirement, and avoiding debt.
Up until now, every life area we’ve looked at has been something you can be intentional about by yourself. Relationships are harder, because they require the efforts of another human being to maintain. Many relationships fall apart because we fall into the entitlement trap – taking ownership of another’s contribution to our wellbeing, which we cannot control. Intentionality in relationships mean we take ownership of only our own contribution – the time we invest, the communication we facilitate, the selfless acts of service that we render – and worry less about what the relationship does for our own personal benefit. Intentionality also means understanding how other people receive emotional validation, and deciding to give them this gift in abundance.
Intentionality is the key to becoming our best selves. Decisions determine our destiny – not our external circumstances. So let’s shift out of neutral and into turbo, disengage the autopilot, and man the helm of the ship of our lives.