Intention is everything

Me doing crow pose (Bakasana) in the mountains outside Quito, Ecuador (Dec 2010)

All my classes start in this way, with a few moments of silence. With time for students to consider why they took the time to practice at the start or end of a busy day. Establishing a clear intention is the single most important thing you can do in a practice of yoga. It’s certainly far more important than being able to rock a headstand or headstand. It’s matters much more than or how hard you plan to push physically during a class or how much you sweat or how deep you breath or what kind of clothing you have on.

Intention is everything. It’s like a compass or GPS that orients you in the right direction at the start of a trip, and if you get off course it will help you get back on course. We know that the brain takes in far more data than we actually bring to conscious attention, and your intention guides the filtering process to make sure that suitable things are brought to your awareness.

Intentions are not some squishy woo-woo metaphysical thing. It is a very practical act that is at the heart of what makes us human and different from other beings that roam the planet. We are able to set a purpose behind our actions as opposed to acting simply due to cosmic entropy.

It is why I don’t eat animals (even though at some point in our distant past our predecessors did). It is why I run a lot and enjoy it a lot, even though for some people running is torture! It is why I have spent 10+ years at Microsoft, and love it , despite the nature of the work demanding loads of time and energy. We get the power of choice as humans and that makes us unique. Intention is everything and it paints your life experience in the color of your choosing.

An intention predicated on neediness, fear, self-gratification or greed will amplify those aspects of your practice and will paint your experience to appear as such.

An intention predicated on self-discovery, openness, joy, forgiveness and empowerment will amplify those aspects of your practice and will paint your experience as such.

Before you begin your next yoga practice, take a few seconds to consider why you are there and set and intention. What follows will take on an entirely different meaning. You can do the same at the start of a workday, a business meeting, a long run or any other endeavor.

The Power of Purpose

This weekend I got in my car, turned the key and did so with a purpose. I was taking a trip for the weekend. I didn’t just get in my car and start driving around aimlessly. I knew where I wanted to go (Portland, OR) and why I wanted to go there (to spend time with my family). I had a purpose. It might have been a straightforward one, but it was still a purpose.

Throughout our lives, we do things for reasons. Conscious or unconscious as those reasons may be. Lucky for all of us, it is simple for us to consciously direct our reasons for acting in a manner that provide us with a strong incentive, motivation and momentum for moving in an appropriate direction. This is the power of purpose.

What is a purpose? A purpose is a reason for acting that is bigger than the act itself. It is a source of energy for sticking to your guns even when things might get tough. It is an intention.

Cultivating a strong purpose for doing simple things in daily life makes it easier to also identify with a strong purpose when tackling big goals. For example, some people seem to struggle to get out of bed every morning. For decades, it becomes a battle against the alarm clock. Coffee and other stimulants come into play for a little added motivation. Invariably we get up because we feel that have to, not that we want to. This is the problem.

For others, the so called early risers, waking up is not a struggle. Or at least, it isn’t any more. Is it really the case that these people are biologically different than the rest of us? Do they really know something the rest of us do not? Or perhaps, is it really that they just have more compelling reasons for getting out of bed?

I know for me, getting up is no problem at all when I know there is a ton of snow dumping down in the mountains, and I’m bound for a full day of snowboarding. Why then, don’t I have the same zeal when it comes to getting up early to prepare for an 8am meeting at work?

At the end of the day, it is the purpose for doing things that is the ultimate motivator for us. If the purpose for getting up early is simply to avoid the shame of being the last person into the meeting room, or to do something that we have to do (as opposed to want to or get to do) – we’re bound to feel like we are swimming against the tide.

However, if our motivation for getting up early is to make a difference in the world, learn something new, make progress against our biggest goals or in some way enrich our lives – waking up becomes a whole lot easier.

In other words, the purpose behind our actions is where all of our power lies. Cultivate a strong sense of purpose for the simple activities that you do in life, and you’ll approach those activities with an entirely new perspective and far more energy and vigor than you ever thought you had. Who knows….you just might end up waking up earlier as well!

Cultivating a strong sense of purpose for simple activities will also make it easier for you to apply the same way of being to the big goals in your life. Want to get super fit? Really tap into the real purpose for why you need to exercise. Need to grow your business 20% in the next year? Connect with how doing that will really make a big difference in the world. I think you get the point.

So here is a simple exercise to help you develop a stronger sense of purpose in your daily life. Try it out for a week and let me know how it works for you.

  1. Every day in the morning, write down a list of things that you are looking to accomplish that day.
  2. Pick one, two or even three of these things. They could be activities relating to big goals that you might have, menial duties around the house (like cleaning!) or just something that you have a tendency to procrastinate on (maybe exercising?).
  3. For each of these items, write a few sentences about why the activity is important for you and those around you. Make sure you think about how the activity has a purpose beyond just your own life. How does it help your family, your community, your world? How does it align with your overall goals? Of course, if you are really struggling to find a purpose for the activity, then maybe it isn’t serving you and deserves to be dropped from your list of activities!
  4. Now, write down the few specific things that you will do to make progress against each of these outcomes.
  5. Re-read through everything that you wrote a few times.
  6. At the end of your day, go back to what you wrote, and reflect on how your new purpose impacted what you were able to accomplish during the day.

Try this out and leave a comment letting me know how it goes.