There are two concepts that get tossed around a lot lately, and similar to words like “envy” and “jealousy,” we tend to conflate, misuse, or completely confuse their meanings. They’re related- in fact, they’re importantly connected to one another- but they represent different facets of our conscious experience, and they’re each worth understanding: intentionality and mindfulness.
Intentionality just means that we’re doing something, well, intentionally! We mean to do it. We’re choosing to do it. We’re owning it. “But Christina, I’m doing that all the time; except for accidents, everything I do is intentional,” you say.
Sure about that? Tell me if this has ever happened to you: you receive a push notification from your device. Before or after you respond to the notification, you open your (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter) feed or your email. Anywhere from 30 seconds to 30 minutes go by.
You intended to respond to a notification that your leopard print couch signed by Andrew Baggaley finally sold, but you ended up doing at least one other thing that stole a whole bunch of your time. You didn’t do that second thing with intentionality.
Falling into a feed is just one example, and it’s the most commonly-cited instance of smart devices capturing our unintentional attention, but there are plenty of traps like this around us. Streaming services are another- if you’re watching a TV show, and that next episode begins spooling up right over the credits, it’s pretty easy to just stay put and watch the next one without really making a specific choice of, “just one more.” Your tenth The Office binge ate the whole night. Maybe you’d planned to write an email, go out for a bite with a housemate, hit the gym… you probably didn’t decide, “I’m going to spend the rest of the night watching TV and doing absolutely nothing else” with intentionality. And you feel it. When you look over at your phone, see the time, and shuffle off to bed, I’m betting there’s a part of you that feels regret- maybe even a little shame- that your night and whatever else you might have done slipped away.
There are other examples, of course, but some of the absolute worst perpetrators all have something in common- the Internet. This shouldn’t shock us. Most of the entertainment and “socializing” we consume online has been exquisitely crafted around the concept of the “attention economy” and is designed to reward us with very easy, accessible, convenient pleasure- so accessible and convenient that once we turn on the flow, we don’t need to choose to keep consuming- it’ll just keep coming. This is bad for you- it’s the same way drugs work (and the architects of the modern digital society have confessed that they designed these attention holes around the specific principles of addictive drugs).
I believe, as part of the JOMO philosophy, that you should be living with intentionality almost all the time. This is your one, finite, amazing life- ideally, none of it should be spent doing things that you don’t know why you’re doing, didn’t choose to do, and likely won’t remember as soon as you’re done.
Mindfulness is a different concept, but it wouldn’t be fair to call it an entirely separate one, as you can’t really do things mindfully if you’re not doing them intentionally. Think of mindfulness as keeping a good thing going, after intentionality has started that ball rolling: mindfulness is about being completely present in whatever you’re experiencing- taking it all in, not shifting your attention or focus, not thinking about something else while you’re doing it, doing the whole thing instead of just the part that demands your immediate input.
You’ve probably heard the word mindfulness before in the context of meditation- it’s about being present. When you meditate properly, all you’re doing is being aware of yourself- letting everything else fall away, and not thinking, sensing, or experiencing anything but your breathing (or whatever you’ve decided to focus on as your meditation practice). When other thoughts or sensations intrude, you acknowledge them and push them away- when you’re mindful, you have this power. You’re aware of everything going on in your head, everything happening in your body, and you can turn the lens back on what’s important.
You can see how it’s related to intentionality- it’s about you being a full participant in your existence at that moment. Intentionality lets you truly choose to live something- mindfulness keeps you present throughout the moment and get every last bit of experience from it. Have you ever eaten a meal in a hurry, while in your car or running to the bus or on the phone? You probably barely noticed what it tasted like; you were simply distracted by your hunger and pushed something in there to fill the void. That’s a real tragedy, when you think about it; you completely missed out on the flavor, texture, aroma, and gradual feeling of fullness and satisfaction that comes from enjoying a meal. Mindfulness can happen with everything you do- eating, conversation, reading, exercise, even moments of physical intimacy.
While we don’t always do them both- maybe you’re shoving that breakfast burrito in your mouth with intentionality, but not affording yourself the space to eat mindfully- we should strive to. As much as possible, take every action of your day with intentionality, and experience it with mindfulness. It’s the only way to live anywhere close to 100% of our lives.
It’s how joy happens.