Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. ~Mark Twain
February 2nd, 2010 — blog
What’s your intention? That’s the famous question that the movie or TV dad asks the daughter’s nervous suitor at the front door as the kids are on their way out for their first date. (And why I always tried to meet my dates out…) It’s a great question. What does it actually mean? Simply, it asks, what are you going to do?
The dictionary defines intention as: 1) a course of action that one intends to follow; 2) an aim that guides action; an objective; 3) purpose with respect to marriage. Medically, intention refers to the process by which or the manner in which a wound heals. Course of action. Aim. Purpose. Process. Those seem to be missing today for many of us.
When we ask our friends, colleagues and loved ones how they are doing, they generally start with what’s not going well. The focus of our thinking is on the negative rather than on the positive and there are certainly a lot of wounds out there that need healing. We seem to be pretty clear about what we don’t want, what we don’t like or approve of and where we don’t want to be or go. We are so much less clear about what we do want and where we’d like to go. What does success look like, anyway? That’s another really good question.
A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. This quote by Winston Churchill is a nice reminder for us to check our thinking. Are we focusing on the opportunity or the difficulty? What we don’t want or what we do want? You might remember hearing about the book, The Secret, and its author, Rhonda Byrne, who made the talk show circuit a few years ago. While some people loved it and some didn’t (overall, I was in the latter group), there were some key pieces of information that really resonated with me, most notably, The Law of Attraction. The Law states that whether people realize it or not, their thoughts, both conscious and unconscious, dictate the reality of their lives. (Note: If you want to learn more about The Law of Attraction or some of the tools and ideas mentioned later, check out Wikipedia. org or Google. com, both good places to go on the web to begin to understand a new idea.)
From a coaching perspective, I’ve found this to be true. We get what we focus on. If you want to lose that last five pounds, you need to stop focusing on your weight. Instead, focus on how great you’ll look in that red dress for your class reunion or how much more energy you’ll have so you’ll be able play a full set of tennis with your teenager or to complete that marathon that you’ve always wanted to do. And let’s not forget, if you aren’t exercising and you start, muscle mass is actually heavier than fat so it’s possible that your clothes will fit better and you’ll and feel look younger when you’ve not actually shed a single pound – or odder still, you find that you’re even heavier. When we get right down to it, it’s really not about what the scale says. It makes it hard to achieve the real goal if you don’t even know what it is.
The idea that if we can change our thoughts, we can change our results actually does have roots in psychotherapeutic science, specifically Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I won’t bore you with the details, but simply said, our thoughts impact our feelings which impact our actions which impact our results. The funny thing is, we’re moving so fast through our lives that we sometimes aren’t even aware of our thoughts. (I’ve heard a variety of statistics – we think at some unwieldy number as 600 words per minute and we can speak only about 100.)
Thoughts. Feelings. Actions. Results. You might now be saying, “No thanks, I don’t (want to) buy in to this. ”It’s a bit scary when someone first hears about this because of the implication that we are truly accountable for our results. We are in fact living our lives perfectly as we’ve designed them. Let me clarify that there are some things that we can’t control – a plane crash, a baby born with a genetic disorder, whether it rains on our wedding day – but we can control what we think about those things.
We’re living our lives according to never ending to do lists and pretty oblivious to how we’re showing up for life and the impact that has on our future. So let’s get back to my original question, “what’s your intention?” and take a look at some of your goals. I want to get out of this miserable job. I want my kids to stop being so self centered. I want my husband to show me a little more intimacy. What do you want, really? What does that look like? What will be different in your life when you have that?
If you’re having a hard time getting started, start a list. Get the ideas out of your head and onto paper. Try a simple brainstorm. Let the ideas come and don’t edit them. If you’re a more visual person, try a mind map. Easier said than done in a time when creative play is frowned upon because it doesn’t generate measurable results. And who has time for this, anyway? The opportunity cost of not becoming clear with what you want is high, though. If you don’t change up your thinking, you’re inviting more of the same into your life. I’m a big fan of Albert Einstein’s famous quote, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
If you are starting with what you don’t want, not a problem. Write it down and keep going. Don’t judge yourself. You’ve got some strong thinking habits and they’re not going to change in five minutes. Later you’ll be able to look at the list and start designing the life you want by identifying those negatives you’re willing to give up and replacing them with what you do want to invite into your life. This is another important point: our lives are full – overflowing, even – so to invite something new in, we have to be willing to give something else up.
What are you willing to give up to get what you want? If you’re hanging onto the thought that your father will always see you as a little girl and doesn’t respect you, let go of it. Until you do, you’re not making room for that respect to show up in your life – you won’t be able to see it. (You’ll probably always be his “little girl” – now that I have a child of my own I get that.) It’s therefore a good idea to take a look at how you’re showing up to life. Are you letting what you want in? Are you inviting it? Do you see the potential for success? If your goal involves another person, have you actually told them what you need or want? It’s possible but not so easy for someone to “pass” if you don’t tell them what’s actually on the test.
The funny thing is, often times, what we’re looking for is already present in our lives– it just doesn’t look exactly like we thought it would. Perhaps it’s not as prevalent as we’d like though through beginning to recognize and acknowledge it, we’ll reinforce it and invite more in. No psychobabble here – this is proven through contemporary neuroscience. People, when acknowledged, will repeat the behavior and create new habits. It’s so much more powerful to changing behaviors than criticism.
Live intentionally. If you’re looking for a new job, know what you want so when someone in your network asks, “How can I help?” you can actually tell them what you’re looking for. Most people out there today tell a story about what they’ve done and hope that the other person can figure out what to do with them. That’s not terribly intentional. If you’d like to improve a relationship, get clear about what that looks like and start with yourself – how do you need to show up to make that possible? Then communicate what you’d like to accomplish with the other person, including your commitment to both the goal and what you’re willing to do. Don’t forget to ask them what they need – without their buy in, you might need to adjust your own expectations.
This intentional thinking follows the “if you build it, they will come” thinking from the movie, Field of Dreams. Essentially, if you really want something and truly believe it’s possible, you’ll get it. On the flip side, putting a lot of attention and thought onto something you don’t want means you’ll probably get that too.
It’s your choice. You are resourceful and you are full of potential. What’s your intention? Chart your course – you’re the captain of your ship. Design the life you want and invite it in. And remember what Helen Keller said so brilliantly, “Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow.” It doesn’t mean that we ignore the shadow. We can simply choose not to sit in it.
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