Throughout my life, I tried to make carefully planned, thoughtful, forward-looking decisions. I would identify my desired outcome, work backwards from it, and plan my steps. My “why” was clear, even if it sometimes lacked an admirable quality.
About two months ago, I serendipitously came across an Oprah video.1 In the video, she shares how understanding her intention from the outset transformed her life. After watching her video, I reflected on my carefully planned decisions, and was unable to remember a time when I asked myself, “what’s my intention?”
So, I began asking myself, “what's my intention?” each day, before most decisions. I also asked others about their intentions. Here, I share with you what I have discovered, and how I have built on that question a bit more.
First, let’s begin with a reference point. It seems we typically have answers ready when asked “why?” Perhaps, because it sounds more accusatory than curious. Consequently, our response is outward-facing. Designed to protect us by:
Defending (“Because ….”);
Justifying (“How else ….”);
Rationalizing (“It makes sense ….”); and
Accepting (“It’s the right thing to do ....”).
Second, unlike “why,” when we ask “what’s my intention?” it lands differently. The question seems to serve as a mirror. An opportunity for reflection. An invitation to turn inward, to search more profoundly within. For example, when I asked others, “what’s your intention?” they responded, “I don't know,” “I haven’t thought of that,” “I haven’t asked myself that question yet.”
Third, asking ourselves about our intentions from the outset helps place us in front of the right path. It allows us to identify a clear place from where to start, our entry point. Matching our intention with our destination gives us a better chance at arriving where we envision.
Intention fuels outcome,
Outcome reflects intention.
Finally, asking myself about my intention has revealed further insights, allowing me to build on the question a bit more. I developed the following framework to help me more clearly identify my intention from the start and move closer to what I seek.
I share this framework with you, so it may serve you:
What’s my intention?
Your starting point. Ask, then allow yourself time to pause and reflect.
Be as specific as possible with your answer.
Are you comfortable with your intention?
If your intention feels sound, admirable to you, and aligned with your personal values, then go to the next question.
If your intention feels unclear or questionable, then consider postponing what you have in mind. At this point, patience may be the greatest use of your time. Patience will help you avoid moving in a suboptimal direction and feeling frustrated afterwards.
Are you running away from something or toward something?
Are you seeking “escape” or “fulfillment?”
“Escaping,” without clearly identifying your direction, returns you to the same place. To avoid repeating the cycle, specifically identify what you seek.
Focus on your destination rather than your current location. What you are striving for, “forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before.” (Philippians 3:13).
What do I feel is missing, and what am I seeking?
Specifically identifying what you feel is missing enables you to pinpoint all the ways you can fulfill that feeling.
For example, if you lack physical energy, consider all the things you can do to feel re-energized and invigorated (ie. abstinence, nutrition, sleep, etc.).
How, where, and with whom can I avoid more of what’s missing?
Equally important is identifying what you want to avoid.
For example, if you are feeling uninspired, consider carefully who you reach out to or where you go (ie. a draining conversation, an unpleasant place).
How, where, and with whom can I find what I am seeking?
Similarly, if you seek inspiration, what are all the ways you can become inspired? (visit a museum, walk in nature, deep conversation, etc.).
It's important to answer this sequence of questions as specifically as possible. The higher your degree of specificity, the more likely you are to clearly identify your intention and avoid searching for what you seek where it's unavailable.
This process has also brought two unexpected benefits: doing less and higher satisfaction.
Now, I do less because I can see:
where I lack intention (mindless activity, self-distraction, blind procrastination);
when my intention is superficial or unclear (doing something for less than admirable reasons, or searching for what I seek in the wrong place); and
when my behavior results from past conditioning (reactionary rather than thoughtful).
And, doing less brings higher satisfaction because:
my actions are efficient (focused on quality rather than quantity);
my progress toward long-term goals is more visible because I am undistracted, and my decisions are aligned with where I am trying to go;
specifically identifying what I am seeking points me where to look, increasing my chances of finding it; and
the practice of asking myself “what’s my intention?” keeps top of mind what I want to do, how I want to live, and who I want to become.
If you are asking, “how do I start?” start with the small. For example, before turning on the TV tonight, ask yourself, “what’s my intention?” You may easily find precisely what you are searching for rather than endlessly scrolling through channels.
When we practice asking ourselves “what’s my intention?” about small things, we begin building a habit. When larger decisions come our way, it becomes our natural starting point. With time, we effortlessly become more intentional about what we do, how we live, and who we become. Giving us a better chance at arriving where we envision ourselves.