08 April 2012

Setting Interaction Intentions: Defining Your Personal “Wake”

As I sat down to breakfast last Monday morning, I felt myself starting to feel overwhelmed. My schedule (both at work and at home) was jam packed, and it was easy to feel tired before I even started. However, what came to me as I sat there and took a few deep breaths really helped me through the week, so I thought I'd share my strategy with you—my fellow overwhelmed colleagues, family, and friends!

I forget where I first heard about this, but listening to Wayne Dyer recently reminded me about the concept of a “personal wake”. Like the trail of waves a speed boat leaves behind it, each of us leaves behind something when we interact with another person. Usually, this “something” is a feeling—it could be a feeling the other person has about themselves, and/or a feeling they have about you once your interaction with them is over.

That morning, I decided that rather than stressing about my hectic schedule and all the things I had to do, I'd instead think about what kind of personal wake I wanted to leave behind as a result of each interaction. For each of the meetings I knew I had that day, I wrote down who the primary people were in my journal. Then next to each of their names, I wrote an intention, or how I wanted them to feel after having interacted with me. Sometimes this was based on how I thought they might be feeling coming into the meeting, or about the topic we'd be discussing. Other times it was based on how I wanted them to perceive me as a colleague. Some of the feelings I came up with included:
  • encouraged
  • supported
  • connected
  • motivated
  • amicable
  • helpful
  • appreciated
  • understood
  • safe
  • valued
  • smart
  • respected
  • relaxed
  • inspired
After doing this for the people I'd encounter in my work day, I added two very important people to the list: my husband (whom I interact with mostly before and after work), and myself. Then I wrote feelings like:
  • loved
  • centered
  • peaceful
  • happy
  • forgiving
  • compassionate
Lastly, I put an asterisk next to my top three people, because after all, there were a lot of people and feelings I could potentially focus on, and I knew these good intentions also had to be realistic if I had any hopes of honoring them throughout my busy day!

Although I didn't refer to my journal during the day, I found that most of the time the intentions I had set came into my mind before each meeting. In some cases I was able to focus on bringing the feeling to the interaction—in others, not so much. But at least I felt that I had a higher goal--one that was much more based on people than on completing tasks. It also made me feel less attached to the outcome of each meeting, because whatever we decided to do was secondary to maintaining and strengthening the relationship.

Throughout the week, I took a few minutes each morning to do this exercise. Because things stick with me more when I write them down, I usually captured my intentions for the day in my journal. But some days I just thought through my day and mentally noted what I wanted my personal wake to be for each interaction.

Now, I'm not suggesting any of this was easy. Sometimes it was difficult to identify just how I wanted others to feel; sometimes I totally failed to think of my intention before getting together with someone; and sometimes I completely screwed up. But even screwing up gave me the opportunity to remember that I was on my list too, and that I needed to take care of myself. One of the most difficult and humbling things to do is admit when you are wrong, but for perfectionists like me, it's even more difficult to be forgiving and compassionate toward yourself when you know you've behaved in a way that's less than you would have desired, or when you feel you've let others down. After a bit of internal struggle, I was able to see how much my ego had been running a show, and tried to allow the experience to be an eye-opening, enlightening lesson, rather than yet another thing to worry about incessantly or continuously beat myself up over.

Meetings, tasks, chores and a limited number of hours in the day and week will always be a reality, but you only get so many opportunities to improve the lives of others. What kind of “personal wake” do you leave behind when you interact with others in your family, at your job, or during your social engagements? The next time you're feeling overwhelmed, try setting a few intentions and then watch with curiosity--see if and how doing this changes your feelings about the days events (before and after they happen). And just as importantly, pay attention to how it impacts your thoughts and feelings about yourself.

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