The power of intention

One of the skills of mindfulness is awareness of intention. Much of the time, hour intention in any situation is largely unconscious. Our purpose and focus is ill defined. For much of the time this doesn’t matter too much. There are times when being aware of intention is vital.

Martial arts tell us much about intention. I have been practising Tai Chi for a decade. One of the skills it builds is intention. There is a saying in the martial arts, ‘The mind leads the energy’. What this means is that when you train in Tai Chi your intention determines the result of your training. If you have a weak intention, you will produce a weak result. If your training is half-hearted, you won’t progress and refine your practice. All you’ll do is reinforce poor habits.

Four situations come to mind where being mindful of intention is paramount. One is when we want to influence someone. If we haven’t thought through what our intention is in that situation we may end up with a less than satisfactory result. Our intention in this situation refers to our purpose, what outcome we want, our attitude towards the people involved. Negative views can easily undermine our approach.

For example, if we enter the situation assuming the other person will be difficult, we will behave in a way consistent with that assumptions. We may be more reserved, defensive, anxious. Less likely to listen and hear concerns. On the other hand, if our conscious intention is to ‘respect, regardless’ we will subtly behave differently. We will likely be more outgoing, empathic, listening closely, asking clarifying questions, seeking to understand more deeply, regardless of their behaviour. These behaviours increase the likelihood of a good outcome.

A second situation is when faced with a job interview. Most applicants are concerned about an interview to varying degrees. Assumptions can be made about the intentions and behaviour of the recruiter which may well sabotage their ability to deliver a convincing case. If we assume a recruiter is out to ‘get us’, make life difficult, interrogate us, then we will increase our anxiety. If we assume that the recruiter wants us to do well, already believes we can do the job, and is engaging in an information exchange during the interview, we will be less anxious. A conscious intention to engage with the recruiter and present a convincing case, will likely alter how you approach the interview.

Professional development is another context where intention is important. How often do we attend a function, seminar, meeting, training program, with little conscious intention about why we are there and how we engage in the program. If our intention is weak, then we will gain less from the program. Our habits won’t change. Our skills won’t increase.

Another situation where intention makes a difference is in everyday encounters with people. Many of the people we meet each day are largely invisible, we don’t really see them as they provide services in banks, post offices, supermarkets, at security desks. Yet they are human beings giving us a service. One of the reasons they may provide less than awesome service is because so many people treat them in a perfunctory manner – disinterested, paying little attention to the person.

As an experiment, try going about your day with a conscious, positive intention towards every single person you meet. First you have to notice there is a human being nearby. Then bring to awareness your intention. This might be:

  • Seek to understand,
  • Respectful curiosity
  • Respect regardless.

Then notice how this intention changes your behaviour.

Our own thinking is powerful. Being mindful of our intention in situations like those mentioned here will make a difference to how you experience life.

Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.