Planning in advance of an event is something that most people have a pretty good handle on at work and for some aspects of life. You plan your projects, plan your meetings, plan your vacations, plan your holiday meals and plan your everyday meals—sometimes. Yes, planning is helpful for getting stuff accomplished. Looking at planning from a slightly different perspective, I suggest that planning how you are going to “be” is also very helpful, perhaps essential for situations that give you concern. Before you can plan how you want to be, you need some time in a safe and quiet environment to slow down and get introspective. When you take a moment to really figure out what’s going on for you, you might discover that you are anxious or fearful about an upcoming meeting or event. Rather than going into the situation blindly and being caught off guard by any strong emotions that might arise, by doing some pre-work, you are setting yourself up for a better experience.
Just like imagining a positive outcome helps to facilitate success, or visualizing the golf ball going into the hole before you putt improves your shot, picturing how you want to be in any given situation can be extremely helpful not only for a successful outcome but also to tame your fears. For instance, perhaps you are going to meet someone who you haven’t seen in awhile or have never met. Maybe you don’t know what to expect or maybe you have had difficult encounters with this person in the past. Spending time before the get-together to think about how you want the session to go, how you want to feel, how you hope to react, and what outcomes you hope to achieve, helps prepare you for whatever comes up in the meeting. And perhaps you can even plan to be joyful at an event or meeting that you otherwise are dreading.
Here’s an example that you may have lots of experience with at work. Imagine that you have a big presentation to your clients. You do the usual prep work of putting together the PowerPoint slides, practice giving the presentation and supposing what questions you are going to be asked so that you can prepare your responses. But do you stop to consider who is the audience and what issues or concerns they may have? Do you think about how you want to connect with them? Do you think about what emotions you might feel and how to deal with them? Do you plan for how your body might react? Taking some time to imagine and prepare yourself increases the likelihood that you will have a smooth presentation. And if you find that you are a bit nervous about the situation, advance preparation will calm you. For many of us, we prepare the materials we need to get the job done, but we neglect the emotional and physical side of the experience. That’s where intentions can be very helpful.
I find that one of the greatest pre-work tools to tame my fears is setting my intentions. I ask myself, what is my intention for this meeting. Perhaps I want to be open and honest and vulnerable because I know that will increase my connection to this person. Perhaps I want to be of service to them. Maybe I want to ask them for their help. That can feel particularly uncomfortable for many of us. If you set an intention before hand that you will be open and giving to them, that can go a long way to help create an atmosphere of sharing. And if you set the intention that you will ask for help and allow that they may decline and you will not hold any bad feelings about it, then you are bound to have greater success.
Setting intentions is particularly useful when we are learning to be more open and vulnerable with others. If you are going into a situation that might be stretching your interpersonal skills, setting intentions before and practicing the wording in your head that supports your intentions is really helpful. Often even speaking your fears aloud goes a long way for reducing the anxiety. You can say that to someone you trust or just to yourself before you go into a meeting. Or, depending on your assessment of the situation, you could even speak that fear directly to the person you are meeting.
Just last week I was going to spend some time with several high school friends, some that I hadn’t seen much in the past twenty plus years. I was excited and a bit anxious so before I met with them, I spent some quiet time with myself contemplating how I wanted the day to go. I thought a little bit about the actual logistics of the meeting—where we’d meet, when I’d eat, how long I’d stay. But mostly what I thought about was how I wanted to be. I knew that I wanted to connect deeply and not just have surface conversations. I knew that I wanted to have my friends feel like they were heard. I set intentions that I would be calm and open hearted and go with the flow of the day. I visualized the meeting in advance and when I saw them, the day was even better than I imagined!
Here are some examples of setting intentions to experience situations with greater authenticity and calmness:
- My intention is to breathe deeply and stay connected to my breath during my talk.
- My intention is to relax my shoulders and be aware of my body senses while I am in the meeting.
- My intention is to create connection by being open, honest and vulnerable with my friend.
- My intention is to make my colleague feel safe and find me trustworthy.
- My intention is to listen deeply and allow my partner to express their feelings without my negating them.
- My intention is to speak openly while being clear about my boundaries.
- My intention is to see the beauty in this person, even if we disagree.
- My intention is to stay grounded in my body when my mind takes off.
- My intention is to learn and grow through this experience.
When you find that you are anticipating a situation that gives you some anxiety or discomfort, try taking some quiet time before the event and set intentions to create a calmer and more joyful experience for you and for others.