When Dr. Sarah and Mr. Bean sit down to play one of our favorite games “Pandemic”, (seriously, that’s the name), of course we want to beat the game--it’s a cooperative game, where all players work to achieve the winning conditions of the game. Now, it is not a guarantee we always win, that’s not something in our control. But every time we sit down to play the game, there is always a different intention that is at play. The intention to spend time together and have fun. And more often than not, that intention is realized.
Often our society leans towards an achievement mindset, with emphasis on goals, getting better at any cost, and the need to prove oneself (or, as families, “keeping up with the Joneses”). Let’s explore what intentions are and how they can help guide us to have stronger relationships with ourselves, our family, and our communities.
What are intentions?
A person is intentional when they engage in a positive mindset to create a state they choose. As we walk through life, there are things we want to achieve; ways we want to grow. Now, we can look to goals--creating a place in our mind where we think we should be. For example, I pull a recipe from a cookbook and say, “My goal is to make my dish look like that”. We might follow the process to the best of our abilities, and it may taste amazing, but it doesn’t quite look like what we think it “should” look like. Perhaps, we could take a step back to the beginning and say, “It would be really great for my creation to look like that, but what I would prioritize is to involve my whole family in cooking this dish, making us feel connected, putting something nourishing on the table, and to sit with my whole family together to enjoy it”.
”Intentionality fuels the master's journey. Every master is a master of vision.” George Leonard, Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment
Intentions do not point us toward some future event--they root us in the present. They let us understand this moment in the context of the outcome we seek. Intentions are also not pass/fail. The quality of the interaction, skill, or experience, is at the heart of intention. Living with our intention (or values) does not bring the validation of others, but validation in the relationship you have with yourself and/or others. Intentions help us to think about “in this moment, I choose to feel this way”. They help us engage all of our senses. For example, “I am working on this. I feel scared, but I also feel empowered”. How can you tap into the feeling, while also focusing on your intention?
What is a helpful intention?
Now, notice that it doesn’t say “good” intention. The most helpful thing you can do when considering your intentions is to be truthful with yourself. Where are the places in your life you could find some ‘expansion’? What are the skills you need in order to grow your life, make it more fulfilling, and/or have a cumulative effect on other aspects of your life? If you identify a component of your life that could use some work, that is a great place to start, in order to be more mindful and present in your life.
Now, we don’t want to be too unclear in our intention. A possible intention could be “I will be more helpful with my co-workers today”. Okay. But, if you know you have a couple of meetings with your team, you could say “Today, I will support my employees by making sure I understand their viewpoints”. That is an example of your work intention. Your family intention could be “ I will leave all my work behind today and spend time with my family”. Note how the use of “will” creates growth through different parts of one’s life. It creates empowerment.
Isn’t the way to “The Bad Place” paved with good intentions?
It’s true. We can set out with the noblest of intentions, but we don’t get to control the impact of our intentions. We are only in charge of our intentions (and the actions we choose to do based on those intentions). We cannot control how someone else might interpret our actions/intentions. We must accept responsibility for how our intentions interact with the rest of the world.
Additionally, we have to keep taking stock of our intentions. If we say, “I am going to be eco-friendly”, but continue to throw trash out the window, not recycle, and waste products, our intention will not be fulfilled, nor will we want to continue it. Worse yet, if we continue to say to ourselves and others “this is important to me”, but don’t follow through with actions, we may feel like a fraud. Intentions have to be informed by our values. What do WE believe is important? They also have to be backed up by our actions. If we feel dissatisfaction with our intentions or, we feel we are constantly “failing” at living up to them, perhaps this is an invitation for us to go back, and dig into what we truly believe our values are. How can our intentions sync up with our values?
So, what is your intention?