Paul McAleer: Hi, you’re listening to Designing Yourself. My name is Paul McAleer.
Whitney Hess: And this is Whitney Hess.
Paul: This week we’ll be talking about intention, plus we’ll be sitting down with the great Gina Trapani for an interview, and as it turns out she knows a thing or two about intention.
Gina Trapani: And I spent a lot of time, years, four or five years, reviewing personal productivity apps, to-do list apps, project management apps, and thinking about all the ways that people try to get organized and articulate their intentions in order to reach their goals.
Paul: That’s all coming up on this episode, so stay tuned. So, let’s talk about intention.
Whitney: Intention, well, it’s a good time of year because it is the new year. It’s our first episode after the New Year.
Paul: That’s right and our intentions to record have been very good ones, I would say.
Paul: But it hadn’t quite happened until this moment, so -
Whitney: Yeah, we had the intention of starting sooner, but it didn’t happen, and that’s the interesting thing about New Year’s resolutions, too. We intend to do things differently or better, but the actually doing them is a lot harder than having the intention, isn’t it?
Paul: Yeah, I’m curious what you think about that, too, because the way I see it is that when you come up with New Year resolutions you’re kind of giving yourself a chance to start over. You’re giving yourself a chance to try new things or get rid of things you see as bad or change habits or change behaviors or change attitudes and kind of all of these things.
And I feel that the intention in almost any case is a really positive one because I don’t see many people making New Year’s resolutions that are really bad, like this year I’m going to drive like an asshole. I don’t see people really doing that. I don’t see that happening. Maybe it is, but people go into it then with a very positive attitude, right, and they see this as this is my opportunity to really be better, be more me, perhaps, and that’s an awesome intention. That is a great attitude to have, so why do we confine that to January 1st every year?
Whitney: You know, it’s amazing that we need something so arbitrary like the end of a calendar that none of us had any input on designing, right? It’s just this thing that we agree to use. We all have to agree because it makes life a lot easier if we’re all on the same timetable essentially, and it’s totally arbitrary, and that’s the day that we decide to take a step back and set an intention for the whole year.
And as we all know, it’s impossible to go through the whole year remembering that intention and acting on it because life gets in the way. So, to your point, we said it once, but then what? We’re not - we don’t do it often enough to actually make it happen, and it’s interesting because I find that setting the intention in the first place does actually encourage the behavior at first. You know, oh, I’m remembering this was my intention, so I’m going to do this differently. I’m going to do this better. Oh, I’m remembering that was my intention. But then if you don’t go back and set it again or reset it as the case may be, you stop remembering what your intention was.
Paul: I’m wondering if intentions are just too big. I’m wondering about a lot of the typical New Year’s resolutions that have probably become clichéd and stereotypes at this point. There are things around usually weight loss and eating better and being a better blank, and it’s so vague and so ill-defined that - is the issue that the intention, yes, it’s positive. Yes, it’s good. Yes, it can foster a lot of good change. Is it just something that people fall down on when they fall down on it because it’s so ill-defined?
It’s not something that I can just do. I just can’t be a better carpenter. I can work toward it. I have to figure out what that means to me, but it’s not necessarily just a state of simply being for that type of intention.
Whitney: Have you ever worked anywhere with 360 Reviews?
Paul: Yes. Yes, I have.
Whitney: Did anyone ever make you set SMART goals?
Paul: Yes. Yes, they have. I am painfully aware of that acronym.
Whitney: So, the thing about resolutions is that they’re so vague, like my resolutions are, at least, like drink more water. Well, how am I going to do that? What’s more than - I don’t even know how much water I’ve been drinking, so how am I going to know when I’m drinking more? Or like, you know, be kinder. They’re just so broad and, yes, they’re with a tremendously good intention behind them, but the goal itself if so vague that it’s almost impossible to achieve like you’re saying.
And so I’m immediately reminded of SMART goals, and I think this was like a Peter Drucker thing, but they’re - in order to be a worthwhile goal, I suppose, it has to be SMART for those who haven’t heard this term before: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.
So, I think of New Year’s resolutions as being time-bound by the year. It’s something that you intend to have achieved by the end of 2014, right? At least that’s how I think of it.
Paul: Totally, I agree. I think it’s really - and I haven’t said time-boxed in a long time, but it’s a very time-boxed thing. But gosh, that means there’s a lot more work that goes into it, and you might be able to get away with simply coming up with a list of intentions for the year or for any period of time for that matter, but when do you get around to putting the work into it? Is that something that needs to be scheduled? Is that something that needs mini-goals associated with it? Or neither of those things?
Whitney: Well, are you saying that intention is not enough?
Paul: If you’re reading between the lines, I think I am. And I’m not sure that I agree with that though, even though I’m thinking strictly from like a project management perspective, which is a weird place for me to be. But intention can be helpful. It can be a guiding force. It can be extremely useful, and it can really kind of set the tone for the way you want to approach your life or a problem you’re facing or anything like that. I mean you often hear people say that somebody’s intentions are good, even though the outcome might not be really good, but [crosstalk], you know?
Whitney: Right, like when someone’s being a jerk, and they’re hurting everyone around them, and then someone else says yeah, but he’s really well-intentioned.
Whitney: It’s like somehow it’s intended to, like, dissipate how the person behaved because underneath it all they had good intentions.
Paul: So, can you then be a terrible driver and have the intention of being a good driver? Driving is such a softball example, so you have to forgive me for going there, but -
Whitney: Yeah, I think so. I think if every time someone got in the car they set the intention of driving well -
Whitney: - that they could actually become a better driver. Yes, I believe that, and so even though you’re saying intentions aren’t enough, I actually think we might also be saying that without the intention, you’re never going to achieve that goal.
Paul: Isn’t intention by itself a goal?
Whitney: Well, I feel like it - okay, so maybe setting intention is different than having intention, so let’s clarify. Intentions might be more innate and not something that people necessarily decide on so that they’re just well-intentioned or poorly intentioned, bad intentioned, I guess, may mean that they just innately, naturally plan to do good or plan to do bad, and it just kind of colors the things that they do. But I feel like that’s very limited and kind of a black and white view on people which may not be all that realistic. So, when someone’s just described as having good intentions it may mean that they wanted to do something well, and so in that case isn’t that a goal? I mean even if it wasn’t a smart goal, wasn’t it still a goal that they wanted to do something well? They intended to do it well?
Paul: Absolutely, and that also supports any effort people put into things. You know, if you have good intentions and you try at something, and whether you fail or succeed or end up somewhere in the middle, your intentions were good and you put in effort. So, it’s fairly positive, and if you don’t achieve a goal it seems like that’s all right.
Whitney: Yeah, I think so because you set out with the desire to achieve something. And what I think we’re getting at here is it’s the thoughtfulness, so you had the time or you made the time to be thoughtful about what you were trying to achieve, and you made that your state of mind. And I think that’s what I was referring to earlier about setting an intention is it’s different than just having good intentions because when you set your intention, you are purposely being thoughtful about what you’re about to do. And I think that when you set out to be thoughtful prior to engaging in something, there’s a much higher likelihood of that thing happening the way you want it to, for it to go the way that you intended if you set an intention prior to doing that.
And the thing that immediately comes to mind for me is yoga. So, some teachers - not all of the teachers that I take yoga classes with - some of them will say at the beginning of class when we’re first all sitting on our mats and having our initial deep breaths and getting centered and being in the present moment, the instructor will say “Set an intention for today’s class.” Sometimes they’re vague about it and then you just have to sit there and think well, what’s my intention today.
Other times they’re less vague, and they’ll say, “In setting your intention, think about someone that really needs positivity in their life right now. Think about someone who you’re really grateful for,” and they give you kind of a theme to go with. And then you’re setting this hopefully positive, I would imagine - if you’re in the yoga class, it’s a positive intention - and then as you’re doing the yoga practice that person or that thing that you put your mind to in the beginning is with you the whole time, and I’ve found that it makes the practice easier physically. It keeps me more present mentally because when I lose myself and I’m going off, you know, where I’m thinking about my work or thinking about my family or whatever, my brain is outside of the room that I’m in at that moment, I somehow remember my intention and I’m brought back.
And so it’s a way to keep you focused, and then at the end of the practice when, you know, I’ve done all that hard work in the room I bring back to mind what my intention was and there’s like a deeper sense of pride, for me at least, than had I just done the yoga practice and then quickly scrambled, rolled up my mat, and ran out the room, got back on my phone, and got back to my day. Like, there’s something that puts a period on the end of the sentence because you set an intention in the beginning where you’re like, oh, I have closure in this, and I can recognize the power and the importance of what I just did. And just that moment to do it, like, integrates it in a way that without the intention otherwise might not have.
Paul: Totally, and that’s been my experience with yoga as well. The teachers that I’ve worked with and there haven’t been too many, have really started by asking us to envision and set in our minds a person specifically that we want to do our practice for that day. And much like you, I find when I have someone in mind then it is - maybe it is easier, but it’s more of a focus for me. I mean yoga’s already about focus at least in one facet, and this helps put, as you say, that kind of period and that point on it.
So, one thing I’m curious about is that’s a really solid example of kind of doing something with somebody else in mind so you’re actions are with the intention of helping someone else. When we are creating New Year’s resolutions which are, you know, perhaps actions but generally intentions, do we do them for us or for others and when we do that does that affect the way we approach it? I bet it does -
Paul: - because if it something for you it’s one thing, right? It’s I’m going to lose weight. I hate that example but it’s a very common one.
Paul: But, you know, it’s so cliché and not great, but that’s a very common one. That’s generally for someone’s self and their body, and they see that as a way to perhaps improve health or what have you. But if it’s something like I’m going to support my spouse or significant other more or I’m going to do - and I’m keeping it vague - but I’m going to do more for my kids or walk my dog every day or something like that, that’s more of a putting it out there for someone else and having that kind of energy out there.
I just wonder if we just have different standards when it’s not us who’s the potential recipient of it even though it benefits us either way? Whether we’re doing it for us or doing it for someone else it’s still - intentions are good. It’s still something that’s positive for us ultimately.
Whitney: Yeah, I really wonder if it’s easier to do things for others than it is for ourselves? I feel like, at least for me, that’s the case. I know that that is why I’m in this profession in the first place, and I also know that it’s why I was attracted to consulting versus working in-house.
There’s something for me that’s so much more appealing about going into companies and working on their problems than it being my problem, like I’m the one who has to maintain this thing. I’m the one that have to evolve this product. Like this is going to me all the time, like I have to own this forever, and now I have to find the energy to keep making it better and keep getting feedback, and that’s like whoa. That’s way harder for me than the idea that I work for this company in this very specific time period. I will be thinking about their problem. We’ll be working on their problems. It’s their problem, their problem, and I can dedicate myself to that.
I can stay up all night long working on someone else’s problem, but on my own - and I’m talking about a professional saying here, but obviously this applies to personal as well. It’s like doing something for myself, we always put ourselves last. I think everyone does this. I will be there for a friend in a heartbeat, and I will never cancel on a friend, but I’ll cancel on myself constantly.
Like even when I was going to the gym I lived in this building and there was a gym on the ground floor, and I had no excuse not to go because you could take like an elevator and go like through an inner door, so even when it was snowing I could get there without going outside. There was no excuse. And at first I set a schedule. I put all these things in my calendar. I had the intention of going three times a week at this specific time, and I blocked it off so that I wouldn’t, you know, schedule anything over it.
And then I never went, and eventually I decided to get a trainer, and when I had a trainer and we scheduled time together, I never cancelled on that trainer, and I went all the time. Whenever they said this is our next session, that’s when I showed up, and I would never cancel on them because the idea of having set the intention with them and showing them that yes, I did intend to come back at that time that they said. Cancelling that and not following through on that intention for them was unthinkable, but setting the intention for myself and cancelling on myself was common.
Paul: I do that, too, and I’m curious how you feel about it after you cancel on yourself because for me what I find is that I don’t feel or notice the consequences immediately. They linger. I’m thinking also around the gym. Oh gosh, we can’t avoid it. And it’s very different if you have somebody else there who’s there because that person helps you perhaps be accountable, right? And we’re social creatures, so it does stand to reason that if there’s somebody else involved, we feel for them as well because they are also making a time commitment to do this thing. That’s kind of why, you know, we have meetings in work and things like that, and that’s why we spend time with other people.
But when it is just us is it just that it’s not as immediate of a consequence or benefit? Sometimes it can be. I mean I know that after I exercise I feel incredible. I can take on the world, but then there are times where it’s like, eh, okay, you know? I’ll skip it. I’ll get around to it. My intentions are good. I’ll get around to it.
Whitney: I don’t notice right away the impact of upsetting an intention for myself and then not following through on it. But like you’re saying there’s like a lingering, it does. It comes back to me, and that doesn’t happen if I haven’t set the intention.
But if I just mindlessly put something on my calendar that I’m going to do for myself or mindlessly think of doing something tomorrow like, you know, I’m going to go get a massage. I’m going to go get a manicure. Like, I’m going to treat myself well. I’m going to do something, but I just kind of like - it’s a passing thought, then when I don’t do it I don’t have that same sense of guilt.
But if I really consciously set the intention to do it and then I don’t do it, oh, I feel it. Maybe not right away but later on it comes back to me, and I’m like, God, I wanted that for myself and I still didn’t do it. That hurts because I was mindful of how much I wanted it, and I wanted it enough to agree with myself that I would, in fact, do it. And I think that’s what separates intention from desire. That intention has kind of an actionability to it. Is that a word?
Paul: Sure, let’s make it a word.
Whitney: There’s something about intention that signals that the action will follow, whereas a desire is like, you know, I have a desire to travel to Australia, but I’m not going to spend any time tonight figuring out how to get there. Like, I don’t really believe that I’m going to go there any time soon, and I’m not going to work on that. But if I were to set the intention of going to Australia this year then throughout the year in little ways I would be working on getting myself there. And I think that there’s just action implicit in intention.
Paul: I’m thinking similarly that it feels a lot like - gosh, I keep coming back to projects - but it feels like setting an overall goal and then developing a project plan for it, but really kind of narrowing it down to the smallest, littlest thing that you can do if you want to do it.
And one thing I’m wondering, as well, as we’re kind of talking about this and how it relates to other people verses ourselves, maybe one of the things that’s really powerful about New Year’s resolutions is that it’s a time when everybody gets to really focus on themselves. We are giving ourselves collective permission to do that, and this is the time to do it.
There really isn’t too much other time in the year that I can think of - like on this arbitrary counter and all that good stuff - where we collectively say hey, this can be for me because there’s lots of stuff for other people, and that’s very good, but this is the one - it feels like this is like the one chance that everybody gets every year to spend time focusing on themselves or ostensibly spending time focusing on themselves and what they’re going to do for the year. And I can’t think of any other time when by a calendar, by a shared schedule with lots and lots of other people we do that.
Now, that doesn’t mean that we can’t do it on January 3rd or October 9th or any other day of the year or week of the year or what have you. It’s just that I’m wondering if part of it is just the collective attitude and positivity around New Year’s, which is mixed with a lot of negativity as well, just getting rid of those negative habits and those bad habits, but is that a key part of it as well? That this is the time when everybody gets a free pass and can focus on themselves, and it’s “okay,” but any other time it might not be okay.
Whitney: Because you’re doing on your own -
Whitney: And I think there’s something about the social aspect of it. I think you’re dead on that there’s something about the fact that everyone else is doing it, too, that makes it more acceptable, and I - a couple things come to mind. One, you say this is the only time of the year you can think of, but for me it’s actually another time of year which is even more serious than the New Year’s resolutions, which are the Days of Atonement between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Whitney: And that’s the Jewish New Year, and the Jewish New Year has a different - a slightly different angle on the whole thing. I feel as though New Year’s resolutions are more about the future; what you want the future year to be. And the Days of Atonement are more about looking at your past year, identifying what you didn’t do so well, how you didn’t treat people very well, maybe how you didn’t treat yourself very well, and making the vow to do better next year.
So, it’s a slightly different perspective, but the activity is similar and you kind of - you do your reflections, and you make your amends over the course of these 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and then on Yom Kippur when you’re fasting for 24 hours you are essentially asking for forgiveness from God or from whomever you - depending upon your beliefs. And yes, even though every one of us may be Jewish, we feel differently about our relationship to God or to ourselves, so you’re kind of looking for that sign that you are, in fact, absolved of your sins for the previous year, and you’re setting the intention to not sin again in those same ways, at least, in the coming year.
And what I find so wonderful about that time of year is the knowing that other Jewish people - certainly not all of them because not everyone celebrates or observes in the same way -but a lot of other people are doing this thing, and it is internal but it’s collective. And I have been asked in the past, or I’ve had conversations with friends who are not Jewish about this and some who are Catholic, and they liken it to confession. But what’s so interesting to me is that even though confession’s available year round, and you can basically always go into the booth and use that as an opportunity to reflect on the past and set better intentions for the future, you have to have the initiative to do it yourself, that it’s not like every single person in the congregation is doing it at the same time.
I don’t know enough to know to know how it works, and I’m sure that, like, it’s during mass or before mass or after mass or something where there’s like office hours, so to speak, that the priest is in the booth taking confessions, but I still feel as though so much is required of the individual to get themselves to that place where they can go in and set the intention to be better.
Whereas for us in Judaism it’s like this is the day on the calendar you know that everyone else is doing it, and then you go to synagogue on Yom Kippur - some people do - and everyone there is fasting together and you’re kind of all in the same boat, and it’s more akin to these New Year resolutions whereas you’re saying everyone knows this is the time of year where you’re working on yourself, so it’s more allowed to set these intentions that are for your own well-being than all of the intentions that we have for our behavior towards others during the year.
Paul: Right, and yeah, that’s a great point and, you know, it’s funny your mention Catholicism because I grew up Catholic, and most of the stuff I’ve honestly mostly forgotten, but one thing I do remember is, you know, you mention with confession it’s kind of a one-on-one thing, and you have to do it on your own, and that’s true. But I will tell you that one thing I thought as a kid was that the priests just kind of hung out in the confession booth and were just ready to go at any time. I thought they were there kind of all the time, and you could just like drop in whenever you needed to and do that. That’s not quite how it works I later found out. One thing -
Whitney: So, is it like office hours?
Paul: I’ve forgotten. I’ve totally forgotten.
Whitney: Maybe one of our listeners is Catholic or knows how this works and we can find out if in fact confessional hours are like office hours, and they’re like, posted somewhere and people know about it.
Paul: I suspect that that’s the case, and I would imagine it varies per congregation. I don’t think there’s any - I don’t know. Maybe there is a standard for that.
One other thing we had discussed a little bit earlier that I want to come back to is also intention and desire and that difference. That made me think about the difference between intention and attitude because we’ve been kind of talking about the notion of having good intentions and being well-intentioned kind of in general. And the way I’ve heard that and really kind of thought about it is how someone is. So, is there a particular point at which intention crosses over into attitude, or is it simply that you have all these positive intentions and good intentions, and thus you are well intentioned? Does it just kind of snowball up into who you are? Does it go the other way? Can someone be ill intentioned and yet be a good person? I mean are these things that go together? Are they separate? Is it all connected, or are these very compartmentalized?
I’m feeling like they’re pretty connected. I’m feeling like it goes well together, but it’s also - it’s not like you can’t change from being an ill-intentioned person to a good-intentioned person. I think it’s certainly possible. I don’t see that as being, you know, well, that person’s just always going to be bad or anything like that. I don’t see that at all. But is it simply that in order to be regarded as well intentioned, either by yourself or by others or both, it’s simply a matter of, you know, doing these little things so often that it just becomes rote for you?
Whitney: Well, if you want to become well intentioned, you have to set the intention to become intentioned. I think that it’s - you know, there is a relationship to attitude, but I also wonder if it’s not just - attitude is kind of emotion. I feel like attitude is the emotions with which we say things; the how, the way we do things. But it’s less about kind of something cerebral and more about something that’s innate to us and the qualities that we’re bringing to the things that we say and the things that we do.
And so, when I’m doing a persona, for instance, with a client, and we’re going through pages and pages of notes from user interviews, and we’re sussing out what the common attitudes are across user interviews, the little shorthand that I give them for attitude is I feel. So, I feel as though - there I go, feeling something - I believe that attitude and emotion are very connected.
Whereas intention, I think, is more of the mind. I think that if - but then it becomes attitude. I’ll put it that way. So, we have an intention. It’s of the mind. It’s mindfulness or a thoughtfulness about how we want to approach something, how we want to achieve something. And by setting that intention, by being mindful of it, then it eventually becomes our attitude.
And so when someone says of another they’re well intentioned, what I think it might mean is that even though the attitude was negative, it came across as negative, it was perceived as negative, they didn’t act the way we wanted them to, but they were well intentioned. I think that means they had the mindfulness or the thoughtfulness to behave well or to feel well, but that it didn’t become embodied. So, they set out wanting one thing, but they weren’t able to embody it, and that’s why we experienced it as being different than how they intended. So, I do believe that it’s connected to attitude, but I think that it precedes it.
Paul: I agree with you on that, and I like the idea of - I really like the idea of embodiment being a factor in this as well in part because it feels like we’ve both been talking about the mind during our discussion. And the body has been kind of been not as big a factor, I guess. Well, attitude is something that encompasses the body, right? So, can intention encompass the body as well, or is that strictly a mind thing?
Whitney: Well, maybe it needs to start in the mind by, you know, having intention is a mindfulness or thoughtfulness about how we want to behave and how we want to feel, but that it’s just the beginning. And so, if we don’t act on it, and we don’t incorporate it into our heart, if we don’t live by it then it’s just intention which means it’s only in the mind, and that’s the only place it stays.
And I think that that helps clarify what we were talking about earlier with regards to if they don’t do it, if there’s no follow-through, does it still count? Well perhaps it does, but it was only of the mind. It wasn’t of the heart or of the body, and so it has less meaning, not no meaning, but it has less meaning and less power because it wasn’t integrated in the person in those three ways. They set the intention so their mind was on it, but their mind - they couldn’t get aligned with their heart; how they feel and what their attitude is towards it, and how they act, how their body is toward it.
Paul: That makes sense. It’s really that it becomes all thought, no action, right? If the intention is there it may be extremely positive, extremely helpful, but if there’s no follow-through, hey, it’s good that the intention is there, but there may be this longing or this desire, this need in some cases to see more, to see what happens when that intention is realized within somebody, within their body, within their heart, within their whole selves. Then that’s kind of the exciting stuff.
Whitney: I totally agree, and I think that that is exactly right that, you know, we grasp onto what went well, and that was at the intention was set. So, even though it was great thought but not great action, we’re still able to recognize that the initial thought was there and give credit where credit was due. But overall, it has a lot less power because there was, in fact, no follow through, and the intention never got embodied.
Paul: That’s right. Yep, that’s exactly it. So -
Whitney: Wow, we cracked intention.
Paul: We did, but I have a question. Do you do New Year’s resolutions?
Whitney: I do.
Paul: You do. I don’t.
Whitney: I have done them every year for as long as I can remember.
Paul: Oh, wow.
Whitney: And I don’t do resolutions during the Yom Kippur time. I take a different tack with that, but I actually - you know, January 1st I sit down, and I write my resolutions, and I don’t look back on them that often. I look back on them more like January, February, March, but then as the year goes on I kind of forget about them. I do set an intention for the year. This year though for the first time basically ever I didn’t write a list of 10, and instead I only had one, and I wrote a blog post all about it.
Paul: You did.
Whitney: I didn’t think I was going to share it because I don’t think I’ve shared my resolutions in the past. Maybe I have and I’m mis-speaking, but it’s not usually something that I do for anyone else. I’m just doing it for myself, so I don’t intend to share them. But this year I also didn’t intend to share my resolution, but I ended up sharing it anyway. It made sense for me to do it, and so you can go check out the blog post and read all about what my intention for 2014 is.
Paul: And I think it was, if memory serves, it was to reference Greece in every other Tweet that you posted?
Whitney: Yes, that was it.
Paul: Which is a great, great one to have. Such a good intention.
Whitney: Thank you. I appreciate that.
Paul: You’re welcome.
Whitney: I appreciate your validation of my good intentions.
Paul: Oh, absolutely. You’re quite welcome. That’s not really it. It’s an excellent post, and I won’t just fall over myself saying wow, it was great, but it was really, truly great, so thank you for sharing it.
Whitney: Thank you for reading it. Wow.
Paul: My intentions were good and so were yours, and I think we did it, as you say. I think we got our intentions fulfilled.
Whitney: Well, I look forward to hearing if any of our listeners have set their own intentions either in the form of a New Year’s resolution or use it some other way, so if you’re listening and, you know, intention is something that you do and something that you set, and you have a method for doing it that you want to share, or you just want to totally disagree with everything we’ve said, we welcome it. So, please be sure to get in touch.
Paul: Absolutely. We want to hear about the way you approach intention as well and what it means to you, so don’t be shy.
Whitney: We are so excited to have our first guest ever on Design Yourself, and she is actually a listener, and we’re a big fans of hers as well, so it’s the perfect first guest to have. We have Gina Trapani today.
Whitney: Now, Gina is the founder and creator of ThinkUp and todo.txt. She hosts two technology podcasts, This Week in Google, and All about Android. She’s the founding and former editor of Lifehacker, and she lives in Brooklyn, New York. Thank you, Gina, so much for joining us.
Gina: Thanks so much for having me. I’m so excited to be on the show because I listen to every single episode, and I feel like I’m getting to, like, live in an episode, like, live and for real. I actually - this is the only podcast that I listen to that I have on multiple occasions had to pause it and just think things through, like think through what you were talking about and then re-start it, you know, and start it again to continue the conversation because it’s such a sort of deep and thought-provoking approach to a topic. So, I’m really honored to be here. Thank you so much.
Whitney: Wow, thank you.
Paul: Thank you.
Whitney: So, the episode that we’re - you know, every episode has its own topic, and the episode that we’re working on now is all about intention. And when I mentioned this to you, Gina, you said, “You know, I actually built this to-do list app, but it’s really an intention-list app.” So, I was curious. What did you mean? What is an intention-list app?
Gina: Well, you know, Whitney, I’ve heard you talk about to-do lists before, and I’ve heard you say that you feel like, you know, writing things down on a list and crossing them off a list and being focused on crossing things off the list sort of takes the thoughtfulness out of life and just keeps us busy without keeping us kind of focused and conscious and mindful of what we want to achieve, and it made me smile because I think to some degree that is true.
So, I built a to-do list app. It’s a very simple to-do list app. In fact, it purposely doesn’t have very many features. You’re not going to find, you know, flags and stars and recurring tasks and dependencies and sharing and collaborations. You can’t assign things. You can’t even add due dates. I mean, this is very, very simple, flat plain text lists, and I started building it in 2006, so it was eight years ago, and I’ve been - it’s sort of a side project. My effort and time and thought kind of waxes and wanes over time depending on what else is going on in my life.
But I thought a lot about - yeah, it’s my - I mean I use it every day. I kind of live by my to-do list, and I thought a lot about what that means, and to me a to-do list is an intention list, and what I mean by that is I think that keeping a list - I’m a writer. I have to write things down. If something isn’t written down, it doesn’t exist in my world. [Laughter] So, to me keeping a to-do list is about thinking about what my goals are, where I’m feeling pulled at the moment, what are the things I’ve seen in the world that have stirred something in me, and creating an action around that to get to that place. You know, I want to be that thing. I want to try that. I want to find out more about that.
And then creating an action in my head, well, what’s the first thing I would need to do? Do I need to type something into Google? Do I make a phone call? Do I need to, you know, read a book? And then putting that in the list and putting that in my to-do list, and then at some point because I’ve written that down it will happen for me because I look at my list, and I live by my list, and eventually I either do it or I decide I don’t need to do it. Or, you know, sometimes when I’m really busy I ignore it for a really long time and then wonder what the heck it’s doing there. [Laughter]
Paul: I know that feeling very well.
Gina: Yeah, so I guess that’s what I meant about a to-do list being an intention list. I really think that your to-do list, your intentions which are I think synonymous with goals and visions are kind of defined who you are in a lot of ways. Like, it’s your aspirations.
Whitney: That’s a really interesting way of putting it that intention and goal and intention for yourself, goal for yourself, are synonymous to you. So, what is it about creating a product that’s built around capturing your intentions that is something that you were interested in doing? Why were you driven to do this?
Gina: Well, you know, I founded Lifehacker which is a productivity app site which I led for - I led the editorial team for like five years. And it’s a tips and tricks and productivity app kind of site. It’s your typical kind of tech site that tells you about keyboard shortcuts and how to process your inbox and all that stuff. And that’s fine and it was fun and there’s a giant appetite for that sort of thing, and I spent a lot of time, years, four or five years reviewing personal productivity apps, to-do list apps, project management apps, and thinking about all the ways that people try to get organized and articulate their intentions in order to reach their goals.
So, I finally decided to write my own app because - and this is kind of what nerds do, and it’s a terrible thing that nerds do this. I mean I’m a programmer, so I had the ability to do this, so instead of actually crossing things off my to-do list I decided to make a to-do list app. That’s a whole other neurosis that we could talk about maybe in another show. [Laughter]
But I built it because I wanted a just a very simple way, and like I said, a purposely featured, very simple app that didn’t have a lot of features. I wanted a way to keep track of what I wanted to do over the long term, and I wanted to have, you know, a log of all the things I intended to do, and did it or didn’t do, and I have that. I have this giant text file that’s like thousands of lines that dates back to 2006 because I think that what you want to do and what you have done and what you decided not to do, that’s all sort of a part of your path. In a way it’s been kind of a journal in some ways for me.
Paul: Wow, so you’ve got a record of all the things that you’ve done since 2006, essentially?
Gina: Yeah, I mean everything that I’ve written down and completed, yeah. Because this is a text-file-based system, so it’s a to-do file. It’s a to-do text file, and then when you complete something it goes into a done text file. And I’ve had those text files - which I use the text format because you know any editor can open it, and if the company dies or if, you know, Outlook decides not to, you know, import it or whatever, I’d still have it. So, yeah, I’ve been carrying it around with me since 2006, so it’s a - and I can’t say that I look at it. I don’t look at my done.txt file very often, really, but I like to know that it’s there, and I like the idea that the data kind of came with me and it’s this long-standing record.
Paul: That’s really fantastic. I would be floored to have the stuff that I did in 2006 with me. I mean it would just be - I can’t even imagine how it would feel just knowing that I had that sense of everything done.
Whitney: I’d be horrified to see what I was doing in 2006.
Gina: It is kind of - both of you were long-term bloggers, right? I mean both of you have been writing online for a long time. You talked about this a little bit on the show. Looking back at your archives, it’s the same sense of horror as looking back at your [crosstalk] . [Laughter]
Paul: You mention the to-do.txt and then kind of having to create this - wanting to create this system and just a way to get this information out, and now you’ve got ThinkUp which I’m a user of, and I think Whitney is too, right?
Paul: And it’s pretty awesome. I get a lot out of it, and I see it as being a little different than intention, but I’d love to hear kind of how it fits in with, you know, with todo.txt and kind of everything else with intention versus organization versus motivation, kind of where it fits in?
Gina: So, the idea of ThinkUp is that we all spend a bunch of time on social networks; Twitter, Facebook, you know, Four Square, Google Plus, whatever, Instagram, and the idea is like all these companies have all this data about us, and they use it to profile us and advertise to us, right, because primarily these networks are advertising-based businesses. But there’s all this data out there, and it’s available via these APIs, and what can we find out about ourselves through our own data that we’re, you know, sort of puffing into these systems all day, for those of us who use these systems, who use social networks avidly?
So, ThinkUp’s purpose is to kind of help you see, you know, what is your impact on the network when you participate on it? Like, I’m not one of these people who says, oh, you’re wasting your life on Facebook or Twitter. I actually think it’s the opposite. I think that participating on the network actually has a great impact. You can reach lots and lots of people, more people than my parents certainly could have reached without the Internet now by just typing a very short message. You both know this. You both have big audiences on these networks.
And so the point I think of is to kind of show you how you’re spending your time in these networks, who you’re reaching, what content that you put out there had the biggest impact or got the biggest response, and how, like, your time on these networks is actually, you know, meaningful. And rather than be a Google analytic-style dashboard where it’s just a bunch of charts, and it’s up to you to kind of interpret what the charts mean, ThinkUp’s goal - and we’re getting there -we still have a lot of work to do, but we’re getting there.
ThinkUp’s goal is to tell you when something interesting happens that you should care about, and it’s just kind of an alert stream like, oh, hey, somebody that you might want to pay attention to just followed you. Or like, hey, you know, people are describing you using this word by putting you in these lists this way. Like, does that make sense? That kind of thing. It’s sort of an automated blog about yourself and how you’re spending your time and how you’re participating and how you’re connecting and what content you’re sharing on social networks.
So, in a way it kind of is a productivity app. In a way it’s like, oh, try to get more from your time online. But it’s also more just about, you know, what are you putting out there in the world online, and what are you getting back? And ThinkUp’s goal is to encourage you to kind of use your super powers for good, right? Like these social networks give you super powers, and how can we use those powers for good?
Paul: The thing that sticks with me about ThinkUp and the way you describe it, too, is that it’s not necessarily itself about what you’re intending to do, but you kind of see the effects in a way, right?
Paul: Because one of the things that I found valuable about it is, you know, seeing how many additional people saw a Tweet because somebody else re-Tweeted it or I re-Tweeted it or what have you. But having that sense and that perspective on it really gives a little more information than just the 140 characters on Twitter.
Gina: Yeah, I mean the idea was really kind of mindfulness, so I was working on ThinkUp when that terrible school shooting in Connecticut happened. And I found out about it on Twitter. I wasn’t watching the news. I don’t really watch the news, right? I watch Twitter. And I was watching people kind of react, and most of the reaction is deep grief and sadness, oh, what a terrible world this is, outrage about guns, and I wanted to say something about it, but I wanted to say the right thing. I wanted to say something respectful. I wanted to express my grief. I wanted to make a change. I wanted to act in that moment, right, because we always want to act in those moments of terrible tragedy, and I wound up, like, re-Tweeting a link for an organization that works toward gun control, right?
And I really kind of struggled, like, what is the right reaction? What is the thing that’s going to help in this moment? What’s a good thing? And that Tweet, due to mine and a bunch of other people’s really traveled far. It got re-Tweeted far and wide, and I think that organization’s website went down, and they got more money than they had in a really long time. And that was just a kind of really small way to kind of - to do something. I felt like I’d done something in the moment, and actually that was when I built one of ThinkUp’s insights which tells you, like, how many more people saw a Tweet when you re-Tweeted it.
Whitney: That’s one of my favorites.
Paul: Yeah, mine too.
Gina: Yeah, because it’s this idea like if you have an audience by re-Tweeting something, you are sharing that audience with someone else. You’re giving someone else that audience. Everyone’s always about how do I get more followers? Think about the opposite thing, like how are you giving other people more followers? At least that’s our goal.
Paul: It’s not just a tool for yourself, but it’s a tool for others. I love the mindfulness aspect of that. That’s cool.
Gina: That’s like the difference between to-do’s and intentions, I think is the mindfulness aspect.
Whitney: I can see how better understanding how your behavior has an impact can help you set a different intention if in fact what you’re seeing there is not what you wanted initially or it surprises you in a way that makes you rethink how you’re using these tools and how you’re behaving on them.
Whitney: Um-hmm. So, we’re talking a lot kind of, you know, where we were with the to-do lists of these are the things I want to achieve. These are the things that if I achieved would make up the person that I want to be. Having that perspective, having those goals, and I think that for a lot of people, especially if they were to see their behavior reflected back at them the way that ThinkUp does they would be very surprised that in fact, oh, it’s not achieving what I had set out to. So, I’m curious to know your thoughts on how you think you moved from an intention to action, from just wanting to be a certain way to actually following through on that? What’s involved in that process?
Gina: That is the hardest part, right? Like the hardest part isn’t doing the thing that you decided to do. The hardest part is deciding, like, what you need to do. So, I think when you have an intention, I mean so often our goals and our visions and our dreams are very amorphous, right? Like, they don’t have hard edges. They’re these big, giant things that can sometimes be, you know, a long-term decision.
For eight years I had this vague notion that I wanted to become a parent, but like that, especially for me because I’m in a same-sex couple. I’m in a same-sex couple, you know, becoming a parent for me was like fraught with so many possible decisions paths and ways that I could possibly, you know, kind of become a parent, so it’s like one of these, like, I have no idea where to start. And I think that this is like the difference between having a dream and having intention.
For me an intention is like, oh, I’m doing this. [Laughter] It’s not someday maybe I’d like to speak French. It’s like oh, this is going to happen for me, and that’s the essence of what an intention is. And I think that once you get to that place of oh, this is happening. I’m going to do this, and I need to make it happen, and I’m going to move whatever mountains I need to in this universe to try to make it happen, I’m at least going to do my best to try to make it happen. I think that’s when you try to break it down to what’s the next action.
Not to get to Getting Things Done on you guys. I don’t know if either of you have read David Allen’s Getting Things Done book, and I apologize for bringing up a productivity book -
Whitney: Yes. I’m very familiar with it, but we want to hear your take on it.
Gina: - and it’s fully deserving of many eye rolls. [Laughter] But, you know, his whole thing is like breaking down goals into next actions, and next actions as small as like pick up the phone and dial this number, or you know, type up two paragraphs about a topic. And I think that that’s like the toughest part about getting anything done is breaking it down into what is the next thing I need to do to move myself just a tiny bit closer to the end goal.
Whitney: It’s so funny that you brought him up because I, in general, try not to prescribe to these things, but right now right this very moment, I have on my big white board his - and I’m pretty sure he’s the one that came up with it: the four quadrants; important, not important, urgent, not urgent.
Whitney: And in the past I had avoided such things, but I’m finding myself spread very thin just at this one moment in time. I had gotten much better at it, but there was a lot coming down on me right now, and I was having a hard time deciding what to do first, in large part because most of the stuff that I’ve got going on are personal projects. And I’m very used to having other people define deadlines, and so that’s ultimately how I decide what to do first, is what’s due soonest.
But for this, now I’ve got my four quadrants here, and the thing that’s pushing it closer to action for me is it in quadrant one, which is both important and urgent? So, I like your point about how you have to just move it forward a little bit at a time. That kind of pushes you closer and closer towards action.
Gina: Yep, yep. And that’s what it is. It’s just at the end of the day I just want to be able to say, you know, if I can’t say I completed something I at least want to be able to say I’m a little tiny bit closer to that thing than I was yesterday, and that’s a big accomplishment.
Paul: It definitely is. It definitely is, and, you know, I was thinking about earlier, too, when you were talking about creating something on a to-do list you had said that you might encounter something that kind of strikes you, and you have to add it to your list. So, you know, as we’re all kind of familiar with GTD, I’m curious, is it something at that point that comes in your list as something that’s vague and amorphous and vague as you put it, or is it - or are you already thinking about that very next step?
Gina: So, I actually prescribe the GTD method not very closely but kind of closely. So, like, he - like Allen has this notion of a someday-maybe list and a next-actions list, so next-actions is like I’m doing this, and I’ve thought this through enough that I know exactly the next step that I need to take. Even if I don’t know all the steps, I at least know the next step I have to take, and to me that’s a to-do.
If I see something that I have some sort of vague notion - you know, if I’m watching the Olympics, and I have some sort of vague notion that someday I’d like to try snowboarding, right, that’s a someday-maybe thing for me. Like, if I feel an urgency like I must try snowboarding, you know, this year or this winter then, okay, the next action might be start researching places to go snowboarding near me, right? But if it’s just sort of a vague thing of like this is interesting. I’d like to look into this more, then that goes into my kind of someday-maybe list.
And I try to review those lists - I’ve got next-actions and someday-maybe and then, you know, he’s got this other sort of notions like 10,000 feet and 25,000 feet, kind of short-term and longer-term. I don’t go that far into it, but I do have sort of a - I think that there’s a place in our psyche’s for this is something that I have a vague interest in. If I’d like to go to Barcelona some day and then, you know, but I don’t have immediate plans, but a conference comes up there and I have an opportunity to go, then it’s like, yes, that makes that decision easier. And for me it just becomes more real and sort of in my world if I’ve written it down somewhere.
Paul: So, for you it’s a lot about taking that idea and writing it down, and then, you know, at some point combing through it and then breaking it down to those next steps basically?
Gina: Right, right. Yeah, so intentions for me have next steps. Like I’m doing this, and this is the next thing I’m going to do about it. Whereas sort of dreams are just sort of interests. Can be - maybe they’re not actionable at the moment, and that’s okay.
Paul: Okay. Sure.
Whitney: It sounds to me like you see intentions as having a sort of immediacy to them. Maybe not an urgency, but like they’re in the present tense, not just like something that perhaps I’ll get to in the future.
Gina: Yeah, I mean my intention can be like I’m going to look into this again sometime, and I’ve got no deadline. But that is the loosest, I think, of intentions. For me an intention is tied to action. If I have an intention that I’m going to do this, and I’m making a - it’s in my system, I’m going to do something about that pretty - in the foreseeable future. Let’s say that.
Paul: I’m curious, too, about moving from intention to giving something your attention because there’s so much that could compete for it, right? And Whitney, you’d mentioned the four-quadrant set-up, and, you know, a lot of people just do latest and loudest, so whatever is the current thing they respond to that, and it’s arguably not terribly organized, and it gets us away in general from that sense of intention and what you’re doing with it. So, I’m curious then what are the steps that you take, and how do you give something your attention?
Gina: I get really unhappy and discontent when I don’t feel like I’m moving forward in the things that I want to be moving forward in. And there are times when I’m just busy at work or life takes over, and I’m busy and there’s a lot of urgency every day. But if I’m - and I don’t move anything on my to-do list for a couple of weeks, and then I start to get really cranky, and I feel like I’m in some sort of urgency holding pattern, and I’m attending to other things, other people, other problems that don’t matter as much to me as my stuff, as my intentions, as the projects that I really want to be in.
And when I start to get cranky, and I start to wake up in the morning, and feel like I’m working on stuff that I don’t want to be working on today, I’m working on stuff that other people are foisting upon me verses the stuff that I’ve kind of decided for myself, then I know I have to change something up. I’ve got to delegate. I’ve got to clear my schedule. I have to take a mental health day off from work. Whatever it is and kind of get myself back on track and be like what’s going on here?
Am I procrastinating on this stuff on my list because it’s not - it’s not thought through enough? Am I scared? Is this stuff that I really don’t want to do? Am I truly just tied up with stuff at work because work’s so crazy that I can’t take care of my stuff? And if that’s the case, then I have to adjust some dials there. But yeah, I start to feel that. Like I start to feel like stressed and cranky, and at that point I step back and go like, okay, I’m not moving toward the things I want to be moving toward, and I’m feeling - I feel bad about it. Like, I start to feel this like weird sadness about it, like I’m not getting done what I want to get done, and I need to figure out why.
Paul: I’m also wondering, too, before you had - was there a time, first of all, before you had to-do lists, or were lists, like, always a part of your life?
Gina: You know, whenever I felt sort of scattered and disorganized or like I couldn’t make sense of what was going on in the world, I always kind of sat down and wrote, and wrote, if not a list - but yeah, as I get older and busier it became more like instead of writing a journal of what happened to me that day, I’d just jot lists of things that I wanted to see happen in the future or in the next couple of days or what I’m going to do next. I became, maybe to a fault, a little bit like I’m having this problem and these are the things I need to do to solve it, which can be a fault. I mean sometimes you just have to be in a problem.
Paul: Yeah, I mean it could be argued that, you know, you’re trying to just think ahead in that problem instead of being in it, but one thing I’ve found is that if I, like you, if I don’t make a list about something, then I try to hold it in my head and that fails.
Paul: And then I feel bad about it afterwards. I feel almost - I get a little cranky with myself about it too. But I just feel like well, I guess I can’t keep all that in my head, and then I go back to, oh, yeah, I need to go back to GTD or get it into Things or what have you, but just get it out of my head.
Whitney: And I’m not convinced that the stuff that stays in my head by itself is necessarily the best stuff that I need to be working on. If I don’t write it down and then have another opportunity to make a choice later about where I want to set my intentions for the day, the week, the month, what have you, you know, I think that it would be almost random what I ended up doing.
Gina: Yeah, that’s what it is. Is relieving this mental pressure, right? It’s relieving this feeling of like all this stuff is in my head, and if I don’t do something about it - the writing it down for me is the externalizing it. Makes you feel like, oh, I could look at all this now on a page, and now I can make an informed decision. I can weigh all these things against one another seeing them kind of all laid out.
I worked at home. I work remotely, I should say, for the past seven years, so like externalizing what I’m working on and why I’m working on that thing sort of became part of my process because I had to communicate those things to my coworkers. So, that helped me a lot, right, because otherwise, you know, I wasn’t in the office with folks, so I had to communicate, you know, what it is, and it usually was through text because I work in tech companies, so people don’t really do phone calls a whole lot, right. So, it was usually like email and project management systems. So, writing it down, for me, is like step one of the solution to everything of what’s going to happen today.
Whitney: So, we have been talking about setting intentions for doing things this whole conversation, so Gina, I’m curious to know what are your thoughts on setting intentions for how to be, not what to do?
Gina: Yeah, you know, it’s funny that you bring that up. You guys had that great episode about identity and being something versus doing something, and how those two things relate. That was definitely one of the episodes I had to pause a couple times. And you know, it’s funny, it’s like I, you know - the last 18 months or so of my life has been in a crazy transition, upheaval. Had a child, moved across the country, you know, closed a round of funding for my company, launched a product. Like, a lot of stuff.
Whitney: That’s all?
Gina: That’s all.
Paul: Just four things. Just four things.
Gina: Yes, yes. [Laughter] But I was thinking about, like, you know, what did those - and these are all goals that I’ve had for, you know, a long time; ten years or more. And they all just sort of came together at the same time in the past 18 months.
And you know, like there’s two ways to have a goal, right? You can say like I want to be a parent or I want to have a child, right? It’s that sort of identity verses doing, and I do think that identity is linked to what you do. I mean I do think that calling yourself a writer if you write every day is completely and utterly legitimate regardless of whether you’re writing in your journal or writing for a magazine.
But when you aspire to be a certain way or we intend to be a certain way, I still think that it is attached to doing. Like if I aspire to be a calmer, more thoughtful person, then for me - I’m not saying that this is true - but for me that’s attached to what are the next steps for that? Or maybe that means that I try, you know, quiet meditation more often. Maybe that means that I exercise more, you know, to sort of burn off some of the stress, or whatever that means, it often is attached to kind of activity for me.
Whitney: Now, be honest with us. When you decided to set the intention to be a parent, were there to-do items that went on your list?
Gina: You know, there were, there were. I mean, the first item was have, like, extensive conversations with my partner. [Laughter]
Whitney: That’s a good one.
Paul: Good first step.
Gina: [crosstalk] conversation.
Whitney: That could be a recurring to-do item.
Gina: That could have been a recurring to-do, but you want to know the truth? Yes, during the whole time we were trying to get pregnant, my to-do list looked like, you know, research sperm bank, like, stop by fertility center, call doctor about, pick up drugs. Like seriously, this is what getting pregnant means when you’re doing IVF, which is what we did.
I mean, it’s a lot of - it sounds really cheesy, but during the Olympics right now they’re airing this commercial and it shows the athlete kind of getting on the medal stand. And then they do this rewind thing. Have you seen this where it’s like scenes from the athlete’s life? Like as a teenager in high school and, you know, elementary school and medals they got as a kid like going all the way back to the time they were a baby and they just got on skates for the first time or just gotten on skis for the first time. And the tagline is something like every big moment has a million little moments behind it. And it’s cheesy and it’s a commercial, right, but it’s totally true.
Like the night my daughter was born I was like, oh, my God, this has been two years of, like, medical, financial, emotional, and not to mention like decades of scientific achievement that, like, made this possible. And my to-do list totally had something to do with that. You know, also my wife. [Laughter] Yeah, it’s all part of it.
Gina: Sorry if I was TMI, by the way. I’ve written about this. I’ve written about getting pregnant, so I feel like all the details are out there anyway, so I hope it’s okay that I shared that.
Whitney: We like going deep.
Gina: I’ve been talking a lot. Tell me a little bit about how you see intention, the two of you? I want to hear it from you too.
Whitney: We grapple with this because part of what I struggle with is is intention enough?
Whitney: So, it’s easy to say, “Oh, well, I intended for it to work out that well.” Well, it didn’t. I didn’t do what was necessary to make sure that it did. Or another way that this word is used a lot is, oh, but he has the best of intentions. It’s like, oh, well, that’s going to excuse the bad behavior on the surface of things because deep down in his heart he’s really a good guy. So, I struggle with it, and I struggle with what differentiates intention from goal and the things that we’ve been talking about quite a bit. But I do know that without intention that whatever outcome there is is essentially random.
So, for instance, I do yoga regularly, and before the yoga class starts the instructor will often say set an intention for today’s class; someone that needs some support right now or something that you are looking to achieve in your own life, and the practice of today will fuel that essentially. And I often find that the physical challenges that may arise during that hour, hour and a half, are easy to overcome because I have the intention in the back of my mind why I’m doing them. So, it makes everything easier, and without the intention it’s just - it feels like it’s just a physical thing that I’m doing. It’s just exercise, and I can easily judge myself, or give up or not push as hard, or look at everybody else and see what they’re doing and I’m not doing it, and I just get stuck in the physical thing, whereas when I have that intention set from the beginning of who I’m sending this up to or even if it’s just the intention of don’t judge yourself during this class, then there’s a purpose that underlies what I’m doing with my body.
Gina: That’s so interesting. So, do you think that by having that intention that you’re actually helping that person or you’re helping yourself?
Whitney: I mean both, I think. First of all, I’m definitely helping myself get through it, but I think that it’s possible to send the energy out. I mean, for me it’s all interrelated. I believe that we’re all connected, and I do feel strongly that when I have an intention or I put myself in a mindset that’s purposeful, that not only does it help me feel better, but I exude that and then that reaches all the people that are around me. And maybe I’m thinking about someone who’s across the country, you know, around the world, or not even living anymore, and so maybe it can’t get to them directly, but I think in a way it still has an impact even if I can’t see it.
Gina: Yep. You know, I think that’s the thing about intention is that it’s mostly about getting you mind right.
Gina: I mean just because you intend to do something doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. Even if you try your best and do every single thing that you possibly can, it doesn’t mean that it’s going to happen. And that was part - one of the things that I really had to accept, too, is like sure I was saying earlier you think, oh, intention. This is going to happen for me. That’s not always the case, and, you know, trying to become a parent, you know - part of that was accepting that it might not be in the cards for me for whatever reason -
Gina: - and that’s - it’s tough to really commit to something and try your best when at the same time you have to understand that the things that happen in this world are pretty random, and you can try your best, but that doesn’t mean it’s actually going to happen. So, it is mostly just getting your head right, getting your mind right, and having purpose behind your actions, but also being able to accept that you’re going to do your best and whatever happens happens.
Paul: Right, and it feels like with intention that’s really a state of being that you want to aspire to or get to, right? And the actions are the things that help make that happen, and if they’re lined up and everything goes in a certain way, then that can be extremely powerful.
And if it doesn’t happen, as you said, that’s something that I know I would struggle with and have struggled with, too, where there’s an intention for a certain outcome, and then all these actions are lined up, I do everything, and it doesn’t happen anyway. And that’s just kind of letting go of that attachment to what you expect to see because it might not happen.
Gina: And what you think you can control.
Gina: Because you really can’t control anything. I’ve had situations where I just knew that this thing in front of me was absolutely the right thing for me, and it was definitely going to happen without a doubt because I just felt it, and then it just didn’t for whatever reason. And that can shake your sort of belief in, you know - make you feel like what’s the point of trying for anything if this is all just sort of random and, you know, my gut feeling might not be right. And sometimes it’s just not having an intention, not having a goal or not knowing where you want to go. That’s almost scarier -
Whitney: That’s way worse as far as I’m concerned. [Laughter]
Whitney: Oh, my God. That gives me anxiety just thinking about it. [Laughter]
Gina: It’s just sort of being adrift and being like I don’t know what I’m trying for right now because to some degree trying or striving is - I mean that’s sort of our default state. Like that’s our happiest state as humans, right?
Paul: We’ve got to try.
Gina: Tooting for something.
Whitney: I think it’s really important for us to re-state, Gina, what you were just saying which is that we can have the best of intentions, but ultimately we can’t control our circumstances. We can’t control the people around us. We can’t control the natural order of things. You know, so many things are conspiring often that are totally outside of our awareness, let alone our control. And sometimes we set these intentions, and then things don’t turn out the way that we wanted them to, and it can feel really disheartening, but what I try very hard and often fail at but continue to try hard at remembering is that I can’t control anything outside of me, but what I can control is me.
Whitney: So, I can still work on my mindset. I can still take care of my mental, emotional, and physical health, and if it doesn’t - if I don’t get the results out in the world that I’m looking for, well, so be it, but in the end I’m still going to know that I did what I could for myself; that I planned to do well. I planned to do good for others. I intended to be great, rather than giving up or just saying I’m going to take care of myself and screw everybody else, but really having a purpose and a meaning behind what we do.
Gina: Absolutely. You know what you were saying earlier about when something goes terribly wrong, and someone sells, well, you know, that wasn’t my intention, or he had the best of intentions, like, that is really frustrating when you’re on the other side of it, right? But I try to remember those circumstances in which I didn’t intend for something to go horribly wrong and it did, or I meant for something to go right and it didn’t, and I didn’t have control.
I mean sometimes I do think that people get a pass or people give a pass for thoughtlessness. Like I think there’s a difference between thoughtlessness and, you know, truly just things going the wrong way, you know, intending for them to go one way and going the wrong way. And it’s hard to tell what the situation is, especially when you’re on the receiving end of a bad situation that you feel like someone else could have helped avoid or done better at.
Paul: Well, Gina, I would love to talk intention with you for the next three hours if I could, but unfortunately that’s all the time we have for today.
Gina: This has been great, you guys. It’s really so great to talk to both of you. I’m really so honored. I’m so happy that the show is back, and I can’t listen to this episode because I can’t stand to listen to myself [laughter], but I look forward to your future guests, for sure.
Paul: Oh, Gina, thank you so much for taking the time to not only be a part of the show but also listen and give us feedback. We really appreciate it.
Whitney: Thank you, Gina. We’re such a fan of yours -
Whitney: - so it’s wonderful to have that mutual connection.
Gina: Absolutely. Thank you.
Paul: All right. That will do it for this episode of Designing Yourself. Thank you once again to our very special guest, Gina, for joining us and thank you for listening. We’ll talk to you again soon.
Whitney: Designing Yourself is hosted by Whitney Hess and Paul McAleer and is produced and edited by Whitney Hess and Paul McAleer. Our theme music is All Heroes by Our Deacon Music Productions with some rights reserved via Creative Comments. You can follow Whitney on Twitter @whitneyhess, and you can follow Paul @paulmcaleer.
Paul: If you like what you heard on this episode, stop by our website at designingyourself.net. You can subscribe to the show via your favorite podcasting app or via iTunes. We’d love to hear your feedback, so if you have an idea for a topic, a guest, or just want to say hello, you can call our listener hotline. Just call 1-404-500-SELF. That’s S-E-L-F. You can always reach us on Twitter @DesigningYou and our super-secret email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for listing. We’ll talk again soon.