The Power of Intentionality

About six weeks ago, we brought home a new puppy. While the puppy is a lot of fun and will be a great pet someday, it has also required that my wife and I spend large amounts of time in the kitchen babysitting him. We’re attempting to get him to master the art of doing his personal business outside instead of periodically on the kitchen floor.

The picture that is shown at the top of this article is of a pastel painting that hangs on the wall of our kitchen. During the many hours of puppy-sitting, several weeks ago I began looking at this piece of artwork more carefully. What originally attracted me to the painting when we purchased it was the fascinating way it draws you into following the gravel road into the woods. This aspect again leapt out at me as I looked at the picture recently. But this time, because of where I was in my life, it struck me that the path was leading into a woods without clear direction or a clear ending

While the ambiguity of the path into the woods makes the picture interesting, that particular day I realized that I had drifted off my path a bit. The picture seemed to be symbolically reminding me that a lack of intentionality over the last few months had caused me to lose focus, veering off my path. As a result, I had been less productive and my progress toward my goals was less than I expected of myself. As a result, I was at a frustrating point and not particularly happy with myself.

A few days later, as I planned a trip to Chicago, I remembered a visit about fifteen years ago to a large and somewhat controversial church in the Chicago area. This church was well known for its ability to be effective using a progressive approach to church. At the same time, the church was often criticized as being too business-like in its approach by more traditional church people.

During my visit to this church for a three-day conference, I was struck by how different the church was from what I had heard about it before I actually visited. Many of the perceptions of the organization suggested it was doing some radical things that churches should not do. However, being there, I realized that the church exceled in its ability to implement the programs and plans that it had developed. The mystery of the church was not in what they did, but rather in the fact that they implemented their programs exceptionally well.

The ability to successful implement things is rare in individuals and businesses, but in my experience, even more rare in churches. What set the church in Chicago apart was that they did not stop with vision and planning. This church’s success in executing its plans and programs was a result of the fact that the organization was very intentional in everything they did.

Over the three days of the conference, I lost count of the times that one of the leaders or staff members referred to how they intentionally did things that supported their mission. The entire organization, from senior pastor to the people who were serving meals, were well versed in the need to be intentional in their actions to meet the goals of the conference.

This visit became the stimulus for me to implement the power of intention in my day-to-day life. While I had long been reasonably consistent in creating a vision, setting goals, and creating plans, my execution of the actions necessary to implement the plan often wavered. What I was able to realize is that I had been missing an important step.

That step was the need to become extremely intentional about my actions once I had established a vision and developed a plan. Intentionality means that I must evaluate my planned and actual actions on a daily basis. To do this effectively, I need to be guided proactively by the idea that achievement of my goals will require that I intentionally take certain actions and avoid others each day.

Since that moment of recognition hit me when looking at the painting in the kitchen a few weeks ago, I have reaffirmed my goals and refined my plans. More importantly, I have returned to the practice of carefully reviewing my plans for each day to ensure that I am acting intentionally to do things that will move me toward my goals. I am also trying to intentionally avoid following interesting paths that lead into a woods that is not likely to provide me with the results that I want.

I encourage you to make a commitment to begin to live more intentionally. If this is new to you, here is a process that you can use to unlock the Power of Intention in your life:

  1. Decide what you want to do or achieve. Figure out something or several things that are important to you that you would like to achieve in the next six to twelve months.
  2. Develop a clear vision of these goals. Describe what achieving each of these goals looks like. Be as specific and clear as you can. Write the vision of success down in detail and review it at least once each week.
  3. Develop a step by step plan to achieve each key element of your vision. Your plan needs to include the actions required for you to succeed and the timing of each step in the process. Be aggressive in your planning but also realistic. Unachievable plans demotivate. Achievable plans keep you energized and moving forward.
  4. Launch. Take action. Start immediately working on one or two things each day related to your vision and your plan.
  5. Act with intention. Constantly evaluate and filter your actions each day to see if they are consistent with your plan. Strive to be more intentional. When you are working or doing something related to your goals, be extremely intentional in your actions. When you are in downtime, intentionally put your energy into your leisure activities so that you can focus on your goals when it is time to do so.
  6. Evaluate every action that you take with regard to your plan and remind yourself to constantly be intentional as you move forward. The more intentional you are, the more focused you will be. The more you can focus, the easier it will be to achieve your goals while still fulfilling and enjoying those aspects and responsibilities in your life that may not be specifically supported by the plan you are trying to implement.

The opposite of living intentionally is living unintentionally. The lack of intention in our daily lives is a trap equal to or greater than the power of intention when we fail to be intentional. Living an intentional life that is based on a vision for our lives creates focus. It allows us, on a day to day basis, to tie our actions into the plan that we have established for our lives. As our intentional actions match our vision and plan, the intentionality of our actions becomes subconscious. We begin to almost automatically be drawn to actions that are consistent with our vision.

When we are striving to act with intention every day, we are less likely to begin to drift off and follow an interesting but non-directional road like the one in the picture at the top of this article. The congruity of our vision, a well thought-out plan, and repeating intentional activities that are consistent with our vision and goals, will propel us to success. If we are able to act with intention for a long period of time, we will achieve great success in whatever endeavor we have committed to.