Reactivity and the Death of Intention

Guard your focus as if your life depends on it, because it does.

Our story

We lived in a very nice neighborhood when the bankruptcy started. It was gated and it was almost impossible to get into without a direct call to the owners, a code being given and the gate being raised by one of the guards available 24 hours a day. That was until the lawsuits started coming in, the process server came so often, the guards just started letting her in. We had built a large portfolio of properties and when our finances imploded, each one had its own unique foreclosure and lawsuit. I remember one night in particular when the process server came, my daughter Reagan who was highly verbal at a young age said "Hi Pam!" when I opened the door. In that moment I was mortified. My toddler had learned the process server's name! I wondered if I would later be able to convince her Pam was just a pizza delivery person and we ate a lot of pizza.

Today I can't wait to tell Reagan the truth, that no matter how low you sink, what adversity you face and how hopeless things look a breakthrough is always just around the corner. In addition to knowing what you want, getting past the beliefs that will keep you from getting there takes focus.

Reactivity Kills Intention

Human beings are more reactive today than at any other point in our history, including when we were primitive hunter-gatherers. Almost every working adult I talk to starts and ends their day with email. Look left or right at a stoplight and we are no longer even surprised to find people on their phone checking email, responding to a text or checking a Twitter feed. This near constant access to devices -- computers, cell phones, iPads, television -- causes us to spend our time reacting to communications we receive, including emails, text messages, alerts, RSS feeds, and posts on twitter.

This inability to focus is taking a toll in many ways, but I'd like to talk about the one I probably understand best: It is nearly impossible for us to achieve the life of our dreams, to reach our goals, to direct our future through the constant reacting to other people. It would be great if we could just turn everything off and focus on only what we want to, but the fact of the matter is most of us can't.

The majority of working American adults confirm that checking email is one of the first things they do each and every morning. By checking email first thing in the morning we are placing our trust in the person on the other end of the email to guide our focus and set our intention for the day. Is this an acceptable strategy to you? Given the types of emails that we receive overnight, it shouldn't be.

The Solution

'Planning and Solitude' is a simple strategy that offers a way to break the reactivity cycle so many of us find ourselves in. Instead of starting the day with email, or television or Facebook (yes I said it -- stay off Facebook for a minute or two) start your day deliberately, in solitude and away from all of those reactive devices, so that you can define the focus for your day. When my family's financial world was falling apart it was easy to get distracted and caught up in the whirlwind of activity. Planning and Solitude kept me grounded and focused on a daily basis on what was important and what I needed to do to turn things around.

A simple daily ritual helps, here are some pointers:
  • Don't do your planning and solitude where you work, it will cause you to be in a doing rather than planning mindset.
  • Do try to be in the same place each day it will anchor you to planning and the proper perspective.
  • Set aside 20 minutes and use it. It will ensure you take time to dream, intend and most importantly create.

I'm actually busier now than I have ever been and the number of emails and phone calls and text messages is exponentially higher. But I still find time for Planning and Solitude. It's always important, and we really have no excuses. Everybody has a few minutes in the morning before we start our day to get quiet and focus and live life with intention.

It seems like a simple idea, but the results can be really remarkable. In a training class with our employees recently one of our team members Justin Zimmerman described how once he started this daily habit he was awakened to how "dots were connecting and stars were aligning in his life on a daily basis."

One of our clients Joe Pryor implemented this simple tactic and wrote me to share "I accomplished more tasks in a few days than in the previous month." Can you imagine getting more done in a few days than in a month? Stop imagining and start doing.

By directing instead of reacting you can change the way you exist in the world. It really can be this simple and all it takes is about 20 minutes a day. Tomorrow morning would be a great time to start.

Alex Charfen is the CEO of the Charfen Institute and the author of the CDPE and CIAS Designations and the AgentGPS Productivity System and the LEAD Experience for business owners and leaders.

This is the third in a series of articles being authored for the Huffington Post. The additional posts can be found here: One: An Unlikely Comeback and Two: Breaking Down to Break Through.