Let’s Talk About the Power of Intention.

This article originally appeared in the Gen-i Blog.

Firstly, let’s deal with the definition. When we say ‘intention’ – let alone the power of intention – what do we actually mean?

In spoken language, we use it in a lot of different contexts. Someone who has been thinking over their to-do list might say ‘today, I’m intending to do x and y’. A kid in trouble might say ‘I didn’t intend to break your window’. A policeman, meanwhile, might say to a criminal ‘are you carrying that with intent to cause harm?’. All these examples give off a sense of a plan or a desire.

However, that’s not quite the full story. If you look at the etymology – the linguistic history – of the word, you see that, in Latin, it nicely means ‘to stretch out’ and ‘to turn your attention to something’. In very early English, it also meant ‘heart, mind, or understanding’ – alongside ‘purpose or aspiration’.

It’s quite a complex word, and one that is much deeper than the way we use it now, in the sense of an immediate aim. Intention is really about what, at our deepest level, we are ‘stretching out’ towards – about what our hearts and minds are aspiring or paying attention to.

Stretching Out.

Intention is not about the short-term microtasks – the things on your to-do list which arrange your day. It’s rather about the big things that should direct our lives – whether that’s supporting a loving family, becoming an authority in a particular field, or just making loads of money.

However, unfortunately, many of us do not know what our true intentions are.

We don’t know, ultimately, what we are aiming for, we don’t have a clear sense of our aspirations, our motivations, and our goals – that image of where we want to end up.

Rather, we crack on with the little things that present themselves to us day-to-day. The immediate things to be sorted. The little, futile, maybe meaningless tasks that we discussed in our article on motivation. But these tasks only get less meaningful when they are detached from a larger intention.

This is a major problem that I encounter in people that I teach. There is often a lack of clarity on where their daily activities are taking them. There’s no focus on a tangible goal – and so tasks set and completed are usually done a little blindly. They don’t know whether or not they are doing the right thing, and so become inefficient in their use of time.

Gaining clarity on your larger intention changes this. Because there is a power of intention that most of us aren’t using. And we need to use it if we are going to make the most of the HOW Skill Set.

What is the Science of Goals and Intentions?

Bringing your core goals into clarity helps with two things: it channels your long-term motivation and, by doing that, it brings you immediate focus and immersion in a given task.

Clarity on your core intention – your WHY – brings motivation. People who know more clearly what they want to achieve are more likely to strive to get there. According to one study of Harvard students, people who set goals were getting twice as good grades.

But, that motivation to achieve something – your personal source of happiness – will in turn bring clarity to the tasks at hand. Do you honestly need to be doing x to get to your core WHY? Does x deserve the time that you are labouring over it? Are you prioritising the right tasks?

We’ve talked about the role of focus in productivity before. But productivity is not just about completing any old tasks quickly and efficiently. It’s about doing the right things that lead you to your intention.

So, with those tasks that bring you to achievement, take time over them. Getting things done is not the end in itself with these tasks – seek the immersion in the experience that we have discussed so many times.

Working Out Your Aspirations.

For some people, it is not super easy to work out what they want. For example, they can’t envision the specific circumstances in which they would be satisfied, content, or complete.

Here, I want to set out some tips to help you clarify your goals – and bring out the power of intention.

What Does Done Look Like?

We’ve used this phrase before, in my discussion of Brené Brown’s idea of ‘daring leadership’.

In that context, we used it to help leaders envision successes with their teams. Here, however, we need it to envision what a state of satisfaction would look like for you.

So, pick a date in the future on which you will be fulfilled, content, and satisfied. Maybe you have come home from work and you are relaxing in the bath. What does that image look like for you, specifically? What has happened at work that day that has inspired that contentment? Who else is in your world? How does it feel?

We anchor information more effectively in our brains when we associate it with an emotion.

This image is you having ‘made it’. That’s the destination everything else should be the journey towards. Think about this scene for an hour, feel the emotion attached to it and get right down to the details of why this scene is so special for you.

Once you have this image, you can bring it back to the day-to-day. How does this specific task that you have to do tomorrow help you get to that goal?

How to Use the Five Whys.

Again, we’ve discussed the Five Whys before, in which, when you’ve encountered a problem, you ask yourself why that has happened – five times.

This is a great tool in goal-setting too. Why are you completing this task right now? Whatever the answer is, ask yourself why that is the answer. Keep asking yourself why. If the answers you are getting don’t seem legitimate – if they aren’t ‘because this will take me towards my core intention’ – then there is something wrong.

The Pareto Principle.

Finally, once you have figured out how your intention affects your everyday life, you should focus your attention on the things that help you reach that.

As we discussed before, the majority of our time – 80% – is spent in unsatisfying, unproductive tasks. Only 20% of the things we do usually get us to where we want to be. Let’s change it.

Make your intention the primary driver in your day – and stretch out to where you want to be.

Action Points: How to Gain Clarity on Your Goals.

  • Stop and take time to reconnect with your true intention.
  • Clarifying your goal will create the filter through which you view all your daily tasks and improve productivity.
  • Use the ‘5 Whys’ exercise to identify the core driver behind your vision of success.
  • Consider the Pareto Principle in how you organise your tasks.

This article originally appeared in the Gen-i Blog.


  • Nicola MacPhail

    Change Expert, Author & Facilitator


    A consultant, writer and facilitator. Based in Cumbria I coach clients across the UK and internationally. I write extensively on ‘The HOW Skill Set’ in addition to offering workshops, training and consultancy. Born from a passion to help others ‘Make Change Happen’, I help people make effective implementation plans, be more productive and leverage habits to implement vital changes and thrive in life and work!