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  • Writer's pictureReflective Resources

I is for intentions

Updated: Feb 24, 2023

If you are like me, you have a lot of good intentions but don’t always follow them through. I intend to get more rest and create more down-time, for example, (but then don’t go to bed earlier), I intend not eating certain foods (then go and buy them when I go shopping) I intend keeping more meaningful contact with people ...but in practice…

John Lennon wisely observed that “Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans”.

This is definitely true in some instances but in others I know that I might be telling myself my intention is to do x, y or z but perhaps I am not really being honest with myself. In practice I sometimes don’t give myself a fighting chance to succeed because of a lack of thought, willpower, determination and energy (back to getting more rest) or I don’t consciously create the environment or put in place enablers or safeguards for things to happen or maybe I don’t really want what I think I want.

“If you commit to your intentions by taking aligned action, you will likely end up where you want to go” Christie Inge

You can have all the intentions you want for your life and your future, but unless you take action in the present moment then your intentions will remain just vague aspirations.

My intention might be something simple (?) as not eating biscuits/chocolate so regularly, but my intentions will fall down at the first hurdle if I’m tired or I’m not thinking and need a quick burst of energy. If I create the time to be intentional though e.g. whilst shopping I consciously make the decision to not buy them in the first place (ignoring any justifications that inevitably come up to the surface in my head), then when my willpower is weak, my ‘past-stronger-will-powered self’ will have put in place the things necessary to help me succeed with my intention.

“Intention is more than wishful thinking. It’s willful direction” Jennifer Williamson

So intention is not just a vague whim/desire to do or not do something it involves preparation and planning and determined action to create new and better habits.

Wish, willpower, intention and intentionality

Intentionality does not happen by fluke. There are different stages between having an idle wish to acting with intentionality.

A wish is a desire or hope for something to happen. To create intentions we have to know what we wish for. A wish becomes apparent when we consciously think about what we want, we become selective in our thoughts and we start the process of moving in a certain direction.

“I am saying that there is no will without a prior wish. The wish, like all symbolic processes, has a progressive element, a reaching ahead, as well as a regressive pole, a propulsion from behind. The wish thus carries its meaning as well as its force. Its motive power lies in the conjunction of this meaning and force. We can now understand why William Lynch should hold that ‘to wish is the most human act.’” Rollo May, (Love and Will)

It is in our ability to wish that we build up willpower.

Willpower is the control we exert to do something or restrain our impulses.

“Will is the capacity to organise one’s self so that movement in a certain direction or toward a certain goal may take place.” Rollo May

Willpower is a muscle, not a skill and we all have the ability to create habits that are helpful and lead us towards our intentions rather than those that hinder us.

"The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones." Confucius.

The more we use our willpower the stronger it becomes and the greater positive effect it will have on everything in our lives and in our future.

Our determination requires action not just intention. When we want something badly enough, we are willing to go the extra mile to achieve it or forgo some immediate gratification and we are aware that we must take time and make an effort to achieve something worthwhile.

“Small shifts in your thinking, and small changes in your energy, can lead to massive alterations of your end result.” Kevin Michel

The prefrontal cortex can only deal well with a few concepts at one time. Rather than trying to incorporate too much change at one time, we will have better success if we practise the Japanese concept of Kaizen and make small incremental changes.

Where will falls down, according to William James, is in the area of attention

“When we analyse will with all the tools modern psychoanalysis brings us, we shall find ourselves pushed back to the level of attention or intention as the seat of will. The effort which goes into the exercise of will is really effort of attention; the strain in willing is the effort to keep the consciousness clear, i.e., the strain of keeping the attention focused.”

By paying attention to our thoughts it will help us govern our actions. When we think about our ‘why’ it helps our actions fall inline with our intentions by creating focus.

Returning to the biscuits/chocolates (metaphorically not literally) to reflect often on the statement “I don’t want to eat biscuits and chocolates regularly because I want to be healthy, reduce my sugar intake, reduce the inflammation in my body and reduce the pain I experience” is much more of an effective reminder than simply “I don’t want/I ought not to eat biscuits and chocolates regularly”

An intention is something that is intended; an aim or plan to accomplish or attain something.

“Every journey begins with the first step of articulating the intention and then becoming the intention” Bryant McGill

Intention is a psychological state. Through expressing our wishes we build up our will and from there we build up intention. When we state our intentions we are sending a message to ourselves and others about the sort of person we want to be, how we want to interact with others and how we want to play our part in the world

“Intention is one of the most powerful forces there is. What you mean when you do a thing will always determine the outcome.” Brenna Yovanoff

Intentions can be conscious or unconscious. Within intention is the root word ‘tend’ which implies movement ( latent or obvious) or a tendency towards something or a direction. Intention, therefore, is about turning towards something with one’s consciousness mind. It is about having a purpose or meaning behind our choice of actions.

Intentionality is concerned with being deliberate or purposeful; the quality of mental states (e.g. thoughts, beliefs, desires, hopes) which consists in their being directed towards some object or state of affairs.

“Intentionality is the structure which gives meaning to experience.” Rollo May

Intentionality is the framework which we use to make our intentions succeed.  Intentionality is a being-state rather than a psychological state. It is the framework for both conscious and unconscious intentions

“Intentionality in human experience, is what underlies will and decision. It is not only prior to will and decision, but makes them possible.”  Rollo May

Intentionality is concerned with the capacity we have to create a context for our intentions and our capacity to respond. Through this awareness we can create opportunities to change our future. We participate in creating our future to the extent of our capacity to respond to new possibilities and to make them actual.

The degree of one’s intentionality can be seen by the degree of one’s courage. Tillich describes the Greek concept of arête meaning a combination of strength and value,”

Rollo May.

Our perspectives and intentions govern our our perception of the world. When we change our intentionality a whole new set of possibilities can open up and we flourish.

To flourish intellectually, emotionally, psychologically, interpersonally and intra-personally we need to go beyond removing anything that is not working in our lives and ask salutogenic questions focusing on what will create the best source of health, happiness, well being, success etc for us i.e. focusing on what works and actively pursuing it by doing the groundwork required to create the opportunities to succeed and taking the necessary steps to cultivate the traits that we desire because good habits don’t just happen automatically overnight.

Intentional living helps set the direction for our life based on our values rather than just living aimlessly according to our moods or emotions.

Values are important because they can guide you and motivate you through situations where your feelings might lead you off course. Acting in accordance with your own deepest values is inherently satisfying and fulfilling – even though it often forces you to face your fears.” Russ Harris (The Happiness Trap)

Values are an essential key to flourishing. Values guide us toward our goals and temper how we should work to achieve them. To create a rich, full, and meaningful life and flourish it is necessary to stop and reflect on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. Once we have ascertained the manner we want to live our lives then we need to intentionally seek out opportunities to develop these virtues

“Where could your life be one year from today if you put 100% intention into every action that you do?” Rob Dial

Our days are filled with countless activities and general busyness, so much so that we often forget in the midst of all the things we feel we ‘could’ or ‘should’ do to touch base with our values and look to see how the things we are doing align with the person we want to be and the life we want to create. Living with intention means looking at the activities we do, being selective in our choices and seeking to create the time and space to infuse meaning behind our thoughts and actions

The words ‘intention’ and ‘goal’ are often interchanged but for me there is a subtle difference between goals and intentions. Goals are outcome (future) focused whereas intentions are to do with the present moment. Intentions are concerned with the reflective process you go through to achieve your goals; they also support your goals by helping you maintain motivation and a positive mindset whereas goal based orientation is only successful if you achieve your aim.

Intentions help us to focus on the bigger picture and use introspection to remember our ‘why’ or our purpose. The intentions we set describe how we desire to be in this particular point in time. i.e. how we show up rather than how we end up

"Mentally prepare ourselves for excellence...block out the noise of everyday distractions and tap into the quietness of meaningful focus, intent and a winning mindset.” Robert Cheeke

There are a lot of suggestions as to how we can achieve our intentions ( see various links below) but the first step for me is formulating thoughts and desires into words

“Intentions compressed into words enfold magical power.” Deepak Chopra

It is not enough to have good intentions we need to have knowledge and discernment before we act.

Our habits start as a choice which is repeated so that it becomes an almost unconscious pattern. Neuroplasticity, the ability of our brain to create new pathways, is used to further our journey positively towards our optimal selves through our conscious choices, action and through repetition over time.

“Where attention goes, neural firing flows, and neural connection grows.” Daniel J. Siegel

The next step is to state intentions publicly (well to a close supportive friend at least). We achieve more when we use others to hold us accountable and to support us. Pearson’s Law says “When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported back the rate of improvement accelerates

Finally we create opportunities for success through self-reflection, pre-planning, our choice of words, self-talk etc and our chances of success increase when we know what we are aiming for and we make a determined effort through our conscious actions not just having good intentions.

Some questions to think about/or discuss below:

Are you aware of the why behind your intentions?

How many excuses do you make throughout the day as to why you don’t have the life you want?

If you want to reflect more on this subject, here are some links to get you started:

(We often have the intention to do something but often don’t follow it through; This book aims to show how to “bridge the gap between our desire for change and actually creating real and sustainable change in our lives”. It teaches how to focus on the progress we are making as opposed to just the desired outcome and to reminds us to be ourselves in an ever changing world.)

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Reflective Resources
Reflective Resources
Jul 22, 2021

"Remember that every thought you choose today and every action you take is authoring your future life. Don't let today be an accident. Live on purpose; be intentional"

Cara Alwill Leyba

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