“So – what’s your intent for today’s session?” – my mentor asked as we settled into our regular catch-up. And years after the session, that question has continued to guide all my interactions since – before every meeting or interaction, I often ask myself, “What is my intent?” It has acted as a compass when navigating challenging situations – because the answers revealed whether there is alignment or conflict in why I am pursuing something, the action I am undertaking and the result I hope to achieve. When there is a conflict, you need to lean in hard to figure out the misalignment – AND this is where the most powerful revelations about the self happen, which is why I believe intention is the most powerful tool.

Understanding intention and the science behind it

Growing up, I have often heard the phrase “Intention matters.” Like most of us, I believe this is true because your actions follow your intentions. On the flip side, though, is always the critical and skeptical view of intentions being the imagination or unrealistic, magical thinking that lacks empirical evidence of existence. But there is no denying that the role of intention continues to occupy our attention – from spiritual leaders to philosophers to scientists alike. So what is intention?

Intention is often defined as a mental force that guides our actions.

But it is not just that – intention is rooted deep in our inner selves. As I was doing my exploration of intention, these sentences from the book ‘The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself’ by Michael Alan Singer caught my attention –

Science has shown us how an underlying energy field forms into atoms, which then bind together into molecules, and ultimately manifest into the entire physical universe. The same is true inside of us. All that goes on inside also has its foundation in an underlying energy field. It has its movements in this field that create our mental and emotional patterns as well as our inner drives, urges, and instinctual reactions.

This suggests all our actions are underpinned by an underlying energy field form, i.e., intentions. Stanford University researcher Professor Michael E. Bratman, whose work focuses on the philosophy of action, has published extensively on intention. He argues that beliefs and desires cannot just analyse rational behaviour – there is a need for a third mental state, intention. According to Professor Bratman, intention is necessary to coordinate future actions, i.e., to plan to do some act. He argues that a mere ‘desire-belief’ model to examine intention is a reductive one – on the contrary, he states:

Intentions are distinctive states of mind, not to be reduced to clusters of desires and beliefs. 

The most influential self-help book around understanding the significance of intention is the book ‘The Power of Intention’ by Wayne W. Dyer. Rooted spiritually, the book shares how aligning our intentions and actions leads to a fulfilling life. Wayne Dyer suggests that intention is a powerful force that dwells within oneself and guides us toward our true potential.

Therefore, whether we call it a ‘third state of mind’ or an ‘internal guiding force’ – we all could harness this power of intention by leaning in to reveal what it is guiding us towards to reach our true potential.

Setting intentions and maintaining momentum

Intention is a choice with a commitment, and often, a significant obstacle to intention is focusing on things you feel are missing from your life. Another obstacle identified is dwelling on what has been and letting that determine what will be.

When I looked for ideas on how to set intentions, I found it helpful to know that intention is built on a connection to your heart. I learned that in Japanese, the two kanji for intention or intent are briefly translated as ‘heart/personal mission’ and ‘direction.’ Like in Arabic, the word for intention – niyyah – links it back to an internal state like a seed inside a fruit. Maybe I could say:

Intention = knowing your heart’s direction

So, there is no step-by-step guide – setting intentions and maintaining momentum all link back to whether you have allocated time for deep reflection. Lean in to discover the many fragmented parts of your psyche held within you for awareness and realisation – but remember to be compassionate to yourself. The powerful tool of intention gains its nourishment from this self-discovery.

Your call to action

Beyond moments of deep reflection, I always find inspiration from two quotes when trying to set an intention – the first is from the famous Sufi mystic Rumi – “What you seek is seeking you.” Alongside this is the quote from The Alchemist – “And when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.

It reminds me that perhaps what I am looking for is just waiting for me out there to be sought – and I can take the first step by knowing my intention.

So, what is your intention for today?

Resources to further explore intention.

  • “Faces of Intention” by Professor Michael E. Bratman.
  • “The Power of Intention” by Dr. Wayne W. Dyer.
  • “The Intention Experiment” by Lynne McTaggart.
  • “The Secret” by Rhonda Byrne.
  • “Intention matters: The Science of creating the life you want” by Julie Adams.

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