My family, my body, and the great outdoors. These are the things I treasure and prioritize over everything else—but that wouldn’t always have been clear had you witnessed the day-to-day activities I used to choose to do.
Decisions can be overwhelming, especially when we don’t always have the luxury of time to make an extensive cost/benefit analysis. I once heard that every organization, whether a company, a non-profit, or a family, should have a mission statement. And that when it comes time to make a decision, you should evaluate the decision against the mission statement in order to keep your organization true to its purpose.
As a lover of alignment of the body and the mind, I was instantly smitten with the idea. An external way to check if my behavior was matching up with my intentions sounded like it could make life easier, and in fact it has.
To begin, take out a piece of paper (sure, the computer will work, but writing things on paper just feels more important and permanent, doesn’t it?) and create a list of keywords that sum you up, or at least that sum up your truest interests. In this process you need to dig deep to find out what core values you hold, as opposed to the ones you feel others think you should have, or even those you think you should have.
My (and my family’s) keywords were nature, strength, nourishment, clean, sustainable, service, community, efficacy, fun, laughter, experimentation, discovery, play, challenge, wonder.
From there, we clarified what it is about each term that was really calling us. For example, nature is great, but I don’t really find looking at it as stimulating as moving through it. So we expanded each word into a sentence fragment: moving through nature, constantly improving strength, being of service to others…you get the idea.
Then we started stacking these phrases to see where there was overlap. We want to experiment with how moving through nature changes how we grow stronger. We want to be of service to others and build a community by taking others along with us as we experiment with growing stronger while moving through nature, reducing our consumption, and cracking up as we fall and learn how to do it better. I’m not going to include my family’s final mission statement here, as it’s a small treasure we keep amongst the four of us, but we continued with this process of stacking statements until we had one that really stated our purpose as a family.
Once you’ve got your mission statement, I encourage you to constantly check back in; you’ll find you and your priorities change as you change how you move. It’s likely your mission (and thus statement) will refine over time and you might find, as we did, that the better your statement represents the realest you, the easier you will find stacking your life.
For example, I value both work-free time and time with my partner and community. However, I had so little time that I kept putting movement into my free-time slot (I really love to exercise), which left less couple time than I wanted. When I compared our regular date activity to our mission statement, I found that “date night”—time my husband and I had set aside for ourselves as a couple—was typically spent doing things we didn’t feel passionate about. No, I’m not talking about each other! I mean that even though going to a movie or out to a long dinner was amazing and nourishing, it wasn’t really “us.” So we came up with “date hike.” Once we realized that going out to a fancy place, or even going out at night, really wasn’t central to our connection, everything else fell into place.
Date hikes give us a few uninterrupted daylight hours—frankly, when we’re both at our best anyway—to move through nature, to sometimes end up at a hot spring, to have long, uninterrupted conversations, to go to places we’ve never been before. And did I mention it was way easier to find someone to watch the kids during the day? Our kids get to spend some daylight hours—frankly, when they’re at their best too—playing with other people who love them. We all felt better after transitioning from date night to date hike, and my husband and I feel refreshed and invigorated—better nourished—by our date time together. (And, P.S., sometimes we still just choose a restaurant or bar that serves fresh, local food and play Scrabble and have a whiskey because that’s stacking your life as well.)
My mission statement also helps keep my personal battle with sedentarism in check. (Truly, I’m as sedentary-natured as the next person, I just work on it all the time, constantly, never-endingly, really a lot.) Once a week the kids take a ninety-minute French class at an “indoor school,” as my son calls it (isn’t perspective amazing?) not too far from their outdoor school site. Typically I’ve already walked five miles in the early morning and while doing work errands throughout the day, and the kids have been at nature school for four hours, so we pick them up to eat, then drive back to their class in the hour-long break between schools. One day my husband said, “Let’s pack lunch and walk to French.” And I resisted, because I’d already walked (like, I’d met my daily need) and I was settled in and cozy (by which I mean I was sedentary and loving it), and was thinking (or is it projecting?) that the kids would want to—need to, even—come in and relax after being outside all morning. But I agreed to do it anyway because the mission statement revealed it was a good decision. With the mission statement’s assistance, I see that my desire to not move is my deal, and not my husband’s or the kids’.
Long story short, everyone, including me, was stoked to eat our lunch as we took the forty-five minute, mile-and-a-half walk to French class. And here’s the aha moment: What I normally have to deal with every day—the crankiness that comes with transitioning from school to home, and all the buckling, and close proximity, noise, and stress, and JUST GET IN YOUR SEAT!—didn’t happen.
My husband’s crazy idea sounded like it was going to be too much work (because deep down that’s always my reaction, even if that’s not the words I put to it), but it turns out it was just work of a different kind. I could stay inside and drive and “rest” and do the same amount of work via muscle tension and stress hormones and keeping my cool, or I could do it with my legs, arms, and core, and so could the kids.
Your mission statement is probably going to have you getting up and going outside more often, walking to whatever your version of that French class is. Certainly having to do all the wrestling of tiny bodies is also work, but hear this: If you have kids, you’re going to do the work either way. And you don’t have to have small kids to wrestle with a lack of motivation; there’s plenty of work to do to overcome that in every individual. I have yet to encounter an instance when I (and all the other people in my family) don’t feel better after choosing to do more physically challenging work. What if there is no “easier,” and there is only “less movement?” Now there’s something to think about!
When it comes to mission statements, I wouldn’t presume that you do or should hold the same core values as I. For example, I am not an artistic person, but I imagine if you were, “create” might be a keyword on your starting list. The great news is, everything comes from nature, which means everyone can find a portal to their needs that honors all of our nature—the natural need to move and our natural constitution and personal ways of finding joy. I do believe that all of us can, to the best of our abilities, execute our lives in a way that matches the values we each hold.
If your values and execution don’t match—if your life is not as nourishing as it could be—I’d suggest you take a closer look at yourself. You might hold different, deeper values that have yet to be consciously fleshed out (in which case, revisit your keywords and phrases to see what’s missing, or what might need to be removed from your list). Or maybe you’re not considering your personal core values when deciding upon which tasks to execute (can you get your mission statement tattooed somewhere easy to reference?). Or perhaps you simply haven’t yet discovered the tasks that fit your life well (which to me is the most exciting, wondrous, active part of stacking—the search!).
As I’ve already said, a mission statement isn’t going to reduce the work you have to do. Life is always work of some kind or another. In fact, you’ll probably find that following a personal mission statement makes you work harder, just in the direction you have decided you want to go.
This essay is from Movement Matters: Essays on Movement Science, Movement Ecology and the Nature of Movement, by Katy Bowman. Shared with permission. Copyright 2016.
Read our interview with Katy Bowman here, and our review of the book here.