Successful lives are built with purpose

Mindfulness is one of those fancy trendy words that I hear a lot lately. Basically, it means to pay attention to what you’re doing.

This could range from focusing on enjoying the present moment and the people you’re with to making conscious decisions about what you do.

Intentionality is another word that goes along with this concept.

Distraction seems to be a common illness today. We are so used to being interrupted that we tend to dial in to whatever is shouting the loudest. We also prefer to think that multitasking is a virtue even though from what I’ve read it’s actually quite inefficient because you have to keep changing gears. It’s like we’ve all become preschoolers again with our short attention spans.

If we wander around on autopilot, then we will end up being affected by every stimulus that crosses our path.

That’s not to say we should barge around not regarding anything but ourselves, but we do need discernment in deciding how to give our attention.

If we are constantly putting out the immediate fires directly in front of us, then we won’t move into the realm of planning to reach goals.

You need to paddle that canoe — don’t allow yourself to just drift downstream, buffeted by the current.

This may involve simplifying, like eliminating extra stuff, expenses or activities. Even in a complicated game like chess, there is a benefit to getting rid of extra pieces, if they are in bad positions that keep the other pieces from moving freely and impede your progress in the game.

For a real-life example, if you find you don’t have time to go to the gym, maybe you could incorporate exercise into your daily life. Park farther away and walk or take the stairs instead of the elevator. I would never discourage someone from going to a gym, but I think it is an interesting commentary on modern life that we exercise on a treadmill, going nowhere.

Impulsiveness can be a block to long-term vision. If you nickel and dime yourself with your spending, then you will probably wonder why you don’t have any money. If you constantly agree to commitments without thinking about it first, then you might wonder where your time went.

The other pitfall is wandering around doing the same things you’ve always done without checking your default settings.

This reminds me of the story about the woman who cuts the ham in half; the husband asks why, and she says that’s what her mother did. He then asks his mother-in-law about this, who replied this is what her mother did as well. He goes to the grandmother, determined to get to the bottom of the mystery and was told, “I had a small pan.”

For years, I kept a notebook in the car to write down the price and quantity every time I put gas in the car. I always did it because that’s just What You Do — at least in my family. Finally, a friend asked why I did this when I never used the information for anything, and therefore, it was a waste of time.

This blew my mind to realize I really didn’t need to maintain the notes anymore.

On the other hand (literally), I taught myself to use the computer mouse with my left hand. I thought this could stimulate the creative right side of my brain, as well as help stave off repetitive motion injuries to my right hand.

The fact that so many people are amazed that I would do this, or even come up with the idea in the first place, proves my point about how we often don’t think to challenge how we do things.

I also think it’s interesting that the use of the phrase, “I meant to do that” when we trip or drop something shows that we want to be viewed as people with intention.

We must inherently believe that this is a good thing, even if we don’t always make the effort to put it into practice. I know I want to feel like I’m on a path of my own choosing and not overly prey to outside influences.

I’ve had an ongoing project of talking to people who have the kind of lives I would like for myself. I’ve found that they didn’t get there by accident. They made conscious choices and also worked very hard, even things weren’t that much fun. They kept focused, with their eyes on the prize.

Stephanie Haines is a writer from Greenfield who now lives in Bloomington. She can be contacted through her website,