Module 3: A Fresh Look at Intention

Intention is fundamental to the power you have to create what you want. It is the starting point for all manifestation. At its most fundamental, it is a choice based on desire. This choice is a committed choice—being and feeling empowered to create or experience what is wanted.

I often say that without intention, we’re like shapeless amoeba just drifting about. (No offense intended to the amoeba.) Intention is what creates direction, movement, and flow. So many people talk about surrendering to the Flow of life, yet without intention there is no flow.

There’s another metaphor that is particularly helpful with respect to intention. Think of intention as the banks and bed of a river, providing shape and direction so that the river can flow. Your intentions provide shape and direction so that your life—your life force energy—can flow rather than stagnate.

Intentions vs. Goals

This river metaphor also helps us understand the difference between an intention and a goal. We often use those words interchangeably, yet I think understanding how they differ can provide clarity and free up more of our creative power.

If intention is the bed and banks of a river, a goal would be any desirable point you reach as you flow along with the river. It would be a particular view of scenery reached at a particular point in time, or a pause to jump into a still pool of water protected by rocks. Reaching any specific, desirable spot as you flow along the river could not occur without intention, yet intention is so much more than that particular spot.

In other words, intention is essential to your being able to reach goals, but it’s far more than the goal itself.

So how does understanding this free up more of your creative power? When you focus on intentions rather than specific goals, you create a flow of energy that allows you to realize many desirable goals. And living in that flow of energy is enlivening, regardless of where you are relative to any specific goal. You are awake and alive and moving. Many possibilities open up as you flow along that you couldn’t necessarily see when you started. On the other hand, when you equate intentions with specific goals, you narrow the options for realizing the intention to the options you’re aware of when you start, and you delay your feeling of satisfaction until the specific goal or condition has been realized.

Here are two examples.

You could set a goal to lose xx pounds by a certain date—or you could set an intention to experience vibrant health and to feel good in your body, with ease, comfort, and freedom of movement.

With that clear but more general intention, you could begin making small changes right now—anything from taking a yoga class to getting regular massages to buying clothes you like to experimenting with a new diet—that align with the more general intention and keep you moving forward and feeling good about your progress.

With the more narrowly defined goal, you’re “not there” for a long time—perhaps so long that you give up. Or, you may be inclined to do some immediate, possibly unhealthy things such as skipping meals to reach the goal sooner. With a narrow focus on the weight-loss goal, you narrow the options for creating a foundation of good health that could support you in reaching a healthy weight—and in reaching other health-related goals, as well.

Another example is from the world of business. Let’s say you’re an entrepreneur. You could set a goal to increase your business income to $xx by a certain date, or you could set an intention to grow your business to a sustainable level in a balanced and creative way.

Just as in the first example, if you’re focused on the particular goal, you’re “not there” for some time, or you may not reach the target by the date you set, and so what you may be feeling is failure or, at least, frustration.

The broader—but still clear—intention allows for celebration of success with every increase in revenue you generate, as well as any improvement you make to create greater balance or efficiency in your operations. You’re also more likely to consider new ways of generating income rather than simply ramping up your existing business to reach the target as quickly as possible.

I’m not saying that goals are never helpful or appropriate. I’m saying that, when you take a little extra time and care to name the underlying intention that creates the foundation for realizing your goals, you open yourself to more creative solutions. You also set yourself up to experience success and fulfillment all along the way, not just when a certain milestone has been reached.

So if you’re accustomed to thinking in terms of goals, get in the habit of asking yourself, “What is the ongoing experience I want to create?” When you focus on what you want to experience in an ongoing way rather than focusing on specific goals or measures, you’re lining up with your true intentions and recognizing that life is fluid and moving, not static.

What this helps us understand is that intentions are fundamentally about the quality of life experience we desire. In fact, intentions are fundamentally about desire, which is why the previous module was dedicated to helping you identify what you really want.

Before concluding this section about goals vs. intentions, let me say that, as you begin to recognize your underlying intentions, you will naturally be inspired with specific ideas for realizing them—such as taking that yoga class in the first example above, or developing a new product in the second one (an idea for growing your business in a balanced and creative way). These ideas become intentions in themselves, because they reflect your desire for something (or at least your willingness to take something on in service of what you want).

At this level the distinction between intention and goal becomes blurred, because these ”how to” intentions are more specific than the underlying ones. And that’s okay! Just don’t lose sight of the ongoing experience you wish to create.

Start from an open and loving place that honors the broader, desired intention, such as “vibrant health” or “healthy relationship.” Get into the feeling of it being realized, then ask:

“What could I consider doing to support myself in realizing this intention?”

Brainstorm as many ideas as you can, and have fun with the process! Don’t limit yourself to what you think you should do, or what you’ve done in the past. Be willing to be creative.

Before choosing which ones are priorities, ask your intuitive self a few key questions:

  • Is this aligned with my broader intention?
  • Does this feel right for me, right now?
  • Am I genuinely willing to take this on?

As you establish your priorities and move forward into action, continue to allow your underlying intention to inform your choices and be mindful of not getting too tangled up in rigid goals.

Here’s a simple and helpful rule of thumb: If pursuing a goal energizes and inspires you, enjoy the pursuit! If pursuing a goal frustrates or depletes you, pause. Step back and reconnect with the broader, underlying intention: the ongoing experience you want to create (e.g., vibrant health, satisfying work). Ask, “How might I begin to cultivate that right now?”

We’ll explore this in greater depth in the section on learning to support rather than diminish what you want. For now, see if you can feel into the greater satisfaction and momentum you can create when you align with your underlying intentions rather than focusing only on specific goals.

Intentions and Desire

As I mentioned above, intentions are really about desire. This is so fundamental it’s easy to overlook. But think about it: In the absence of a desire for something, an intention does not exist. So the first step in harnessing your power of intention is to ask yourself, “What do I really want?” Not what you think you should want, or what you wanted last year, or what others want for you, but what do you want in your heart of hearts?

Giving yourself permission to want what you truly want is such an essential aspect of this process that I devoted the previous module to exploring it. Revisit what you discovered in that module right now. What do you really want? Let yourself want it.

Mixed Intentions

Your intentions have tremendous creative power. They are always present and active, generating the content and quality of your experience. Yet it may appear otherwise because your dominant intentions are sometimes not your consciously acknowledged ones.

For example, let’s say you have a stated intention to be in a committed romantic relationship but you haven’t yet experienced that in your life. You may also have a desire, and therefore an intention, to be independent—and a belief that you cannot be independent and be in a relationship at the same time. In this example the intentions appear to oppose each other, and it is the dominant intention which will generate the outcome. And again, the dominant intention may not be the one you’re consciously setting.

One of the keys to realizing your intentions is to recognize other intentions you may hold that appear contradictory because of what you believe—and be willing to let go of one of the intentions, or shift the belief. There is no right or wrong about that. You get to choose.

In this example, you might choose to challenge and ultimately let go of the belief that you sacrifice freedom when you’re in a relationship, or you might choose to celebrate your independence and let go of any specific intention for a relationship right now. Later you can change your mind again, based on what you want as you grow and evolve. Keep focusing on what you truly, deeply want—let that be your trusted guide.

So if you’ve held an intention for a while but have not yet realized it, pause to consider what else you might want (remember, desire is the core of intention) that you believe to be incompatible with or contradictory to your stated intention.

Some examples of these kinds of contradictory intentions include the following:

  • Relationship vs. freedom
  • Growing a business vs. having a lot of private, alone time
  • Being healthy vs. eating what you want

Consider whether you want to challenge the belief that you can’t have both, or if you’d rather simply let go of one of the intentions for now and focus on the other one. Learning to challenge and dissolve limiting beliefs is an artful process in itself, and one that we’ll be exploring in depth in a later section of this course. For now, know that your awareness of a limiting belief, and your intention and willingness to challenge that belief, is enough to create movement in the direction you want to go.

There’s another way intentions can contradict each other: when they arise from inherently contradictory perspectives. And by that I mean, when one intention arises from the small self, and another arises from the Large Self.

I used to use the terms ego and soul to describe these different perspectives, but I found that too polarizing and noticed a tendency for people to think their ego was “bad,” which then started a spiral of self-judgment that was tremendously unhelpful.

As mentioned in an earlier module, I use the terms Large Self and small self, and I really like them because they’re simple and intuitively clear. The small self is the part of us that sees separateness, limitation, and not-enoughness. It generally comes from a fear-based perspective. Desires of the small self generally fall into these categories: the desire to protect, to prove your worth, to gain approval, to avoid something feared or unpleasant, to win.

For example, in my life, I chose to have a double major in accounting and economics. I did this to avoid upsetting my father, who wanted me to major in business, and also to make sure I could make “good money.” I was afraid of not being able to make “good money” with my real interests, which at the time were psychology and drama. It was a classic small self choice to gain approval (from my father) and avoid something feared (not making good money).

Let’s look at the Large Self, which is your wise, magnificent, Divine Self that sees from a very wide, eternal perspective, and therefore sees only possibility and expansion. Large Self desires are to express, to create, to experience, to learn, to share. My current Large Self desires are to teach, to write, to uplift people.

As you can undoubtedly sense, the desires of the small self are qualitatively different from the desires of the Large Self. Sometimes they are in obvious opposition to each other, such as my previous Large Self desires to study psychology and drama and my small self desire to protect myself by majoring in accounting and economics. When this is the case, we do ourselves a huge favor by intending to honor, more and more, our Large Self desires and learn how to navigate through the fears that usually arise when we choose not to follow the lead of the small self.

Here is a great real-life example

A former client of mine, whom I’ll call Penny, participated in one of my Creating Work You Love classes. In several sessions she berated herself for failing to make progress on her master’s thesis. We soon discovered that the topic for her thesis, a highly technical one about the transformation of medical record-keeping through technology, had been selected by her boyfriend, himself a medical doctor and someone she desperately wanted to please.

Penny had no genuine interest in the topic. In her heart of hearts, she wanted to write novels. During the course of the class she finally acknowledged that truth, which not only liberated her from self-judgment about the thesis, it helped her recognize the need to get out of what was an abusive relationship. A short time later, she got a job she loved at a local community college…teaching creative writing.

The key to changing from small self to Large Self desires, again, is to give yourself permission to want what you really want, in your heart of hearts, and not what you think you should want.

Then you’ll need to learn how to support that desire, to bring forth the other element of intention: knowing that you can realize it and experiencing a personal feeling of empowerment. Modules 4 and 6 will show you how to do that.

But what about…?

What if I’m not really sure if what I want is a goal or an intention?

Don’t get too tangled up trying to separate the two. I offer that distinction to emphasize the richer experiences you can create when you’re not focused narrowly on a very specific goal. Just keep thinking in terms of the ongoing experiences you want to have in your life, and let the specific milestones become celebrations along the way. Here are a few more examples:

Ongoing experience (Intention)

  • Ease of movement

Milestones to celebrate (Goals)

  • Being able to walk up the stairs with no pain
  • Taking a dance class

Ongoing experience (Intention)

  • Being in a healthy romantic relationship

Milestones to celebrate (Goals)

  • Agreeing to meet someone new in a place where you feel safe and comfortable
  • Creating a lively and self-respectful profile on a dating site

Ongoing experience (Intention)

  • Abundant cash flow

Milestones to celebrate (Goals)

  • Negotiating a raise
  • Choosing to sell your art online
  • Paying off a chunk of debt

 

Activities & Practices

Shifting from Goals to Intentions

Think about a goal you haven’t yet reached that really matters to you. In your journal, answer the following questions:

  • “What is the ongoing experience I wish to create that would lead me to this goal?” (e.g., vibrant health, growing and sustainable business, healthy romantic relationship)
  • “What is the broader intention here?”
  • “How do I want to feel when this goal is reached?”

Allow yourself time to settle into the “rightness” of this intention for yourself, then ask:

“What could I consider doing to support myself in realizing this intention?”

Brainstorm as many ideas as you can, and have fun with the process! Don’t limit yourself to what you think you should do, or what you’ve done in the past. Be willing to be creative.

Before choosing which ones are priorities, ask your intuitive self a few key questions:

  • Is this aligned with my broader intention?
  • Does this feel right for me, right now?
  • Am I genuinely willing to take this on?

Identifying Mixed Intentions

If you have held an intention for some time but have not yet realized it, ask yourself:

“What else might I want (or what might I want to avoid) that I believe is contradictory to this intention?”

Consider whether you want to challenge the belief that you can’t have both (challenging limiting beliefs is addressed in Module 5), or whether you just want to focus on one of the intentions for now (learning to support what you really want is covered in Modules 4 and 6).

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