What’s Your Intention?

Stu Mittleman has literally run thousands of miles but focuses on one mile at a time.
Stu Mittleman has literally run thousands of miles but focuses on just one mile at a time.

Intention: An act or instance of determining mentally upon some action or result – dictionary.com

For a long time I feel like I’ve been drifting. Let me explain. Sure, I’ve set goals and achieved most of them. Health goals, career goals, financial net worth goals, and relationship goals. Not to brag, but most often I define them and I attain them. However, on a day to day basis, I don’t feel like I’ve been living “on purpose” nearly as much as I can. This has led me to think more about the term “intention.” While some would argue that goals and intentions are one and the same, I think of  an intention as being more in the moment than a goal. I think about it as the opportunity to more purposefully design one’s life and daily interactions toward a desired outcome.

Even though I’ve read books like “The Power of Intention,” I know I have much more of an opportunity to embrace and practice the concept of setting intentions on a daily basis. Doing so can give us so much more personal power, and not the ego-based “I have power over you,” but the more altruistic, “I have the power to be more deliberate about setting my own course and accepting 100 percent responsibility for the conditions and results in my life.”

How do I INTEND to do this? And more importantly, how can you do this? Here are three methods I’m deploying:

1) Move Beyond Cause and Effect — In our complex world, is there really a single “cause” that produces a single effect? Or are the challenges and opportunities we encounter more complex and nuanced? For example, if we are overweight and want to lose 20 pounds, is the cause really due to the fact we’re not exercising enough? Or is it perhaps that we’re eating too many highly caloric foods habitually? And is it that we are experiencing more stress than we perceive we can handle and are therefore subconsciously numbing ourselves with fatty and sugary foods? Or is it all of these elements to some degree?

Instead of thinking about “cause and effect,” perhaps we are better off defining the effect that we want now. And then we can go about creating and living our new and improved causes…now.

A metaphor you coders and wanna be coders can use is to be more intentional about IFTTT (If This Then That) thinking in your human life, as opposed to your smartphone life. IFTTT or other derivatives of If-Then-Else programming statements are great for software. And just as we intentionally write the code that defines how we want “the system” to respond based on different inputs, we as humans have an opportunity to re-define how we engage across a spectrum of the inputs we receive from our more stressful “moments.” For example.

If Car cuts Steve off:
Old Way: Then Steve curses loudly and possibly chases driver down.
More Intentional Way: Then Steve breathes deeply and brushes it off because it is not personal.

If Steve gets interrupted repetitively during a meeting:
Old Way: Then Steve becomes more belligerent and abrasive, and HE keeps interrupting, in kind, the other persons in the meeting.
More Intentional Way: Then Steve takes deliberate deep breathing pauses, slows down his pace while listening more intently, and chooses not to engage in tit for tat behavior.

In short our opportunity during calmer moments is to identify the most frequently occurring triggers in our life and define our intention for responding more effectively.

2) Focus On the Seemingly Little Things — How we show up and behave anywhere — and what we produce anywhere — is inevitably how we do so everywhere. We have an opportunity to not just define the BHAGs in our professional and personal lives, but also to create the simplest and yet most powerful of intentions for seemingly everyday interactions and deliverables. Here are some sample questions to ask:

  • What’s my intention in this email response I’m sending to a number of senior executives?
  • What’s my intention for this morning’s customer meeting?
  • What’s my intention in the upcoming quarterly review meeting?
  • What’s my intention when I pick up my child from after-school tonight?
  • What’s my intention for the first 10 minutes I see my spouse this evening?
  • What’s my intention for the dinner party I’m attending this weekend?
  • What’s my intention for my next workout?

Another way to think of this is not just in defining the outcome, but also stating how you want to show up and behave during a given interaction or event, or through completing a deliverable. For example, if you want to show up as polished and professional in your work life and you send an email message to ANYONE with incomplete sentences and typos, then I’m sorry for the directness, but you are undermining yourself. “Oh it doesn’t matter. The note only went to Greg.” You need to make it matter.

3) Align with a Grander Life Purpose — While this may seem contradictory with my last recommendation, aligning all the so-called little things in your life across the multiple spectrums of life, such as Family, Professional/Financial, Physical, Spiritual, and Psychological —  can help you become more congruent and intentional overall. You can do this by defining a grander WHAT and WHY for being here.

I used to choke up and freeze when asked to define my life purpose, but not anymore. For one, I choose to look at my life purpose as a set of guiding principles I want to adhere to, realizing that I may be off target for stretches of time. But as long as I keep reminding myself of my purpose, I can get back on track. For another, we can evolve our life purpose at any time. It is not set in stone. The only person we need to answer to in this area is ourselves. As my wife says, “Get it written before you get it right.”

With that in mind, here is my life purpose.

BE: My purpose in life is to be passionate, energetic, present, kind, and light-hearted.
DO: My desire is to continuously and consistently learn, grow (i.e., become “more”), improve (i.e., become “better”), and contribute more effectively and impactfully.
WHY: I embrace these qualities so that I can be a great husband, parent, friend, and counselor who loves, helps, advises and inspires those around me.

For me, this purpose statement defines my desired outcome in life. Again, it doesn’t matter if I am temporarily off track in one or more of these areas, because I’ve got my statement of standards defined in writing. Do you have this? Do you think your life would be more intentional if you crafted one and reviewed it regularly?

In closing, I love this quote from ultradistance runner Stu Mittleman. “It’s what you do and how you do it each day that matters. It’s how you show up.” To repeat, it’s all the little things that add up to THE big thing. And that’s a powerful life lesson from a guy who I believe is still the record holder for running 1,000 miles in 11 days and 20 hours.

CREDITS: Thanks to Brendon Burchard for providing the BE/DO/WHY framework for creating a life purpose statement in his teachings. And thanks to Patty Azzarello for asking the question “What’s your desired outcome?” in so many different contexts when we worked together, and subsequently in her teachings as a business advisor.

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