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Intention, Attention and Action

By J. B. Cowling...

We often go about our lives feeling powerless, as prisoners of our environment. But this doesn't have to be the case, there is always 'another way'.

The past is fixed, it’s locked in time and sealed in memories. It’s a hard truth to accept, especially when we hold regret. If only we could go back and change the decisions that seemed insignificant, spend more time with loved ones or do the things that we didn’t do. In looking back we gain clarity, we make sense of why things occurred, but in doing so, also become the critiques of how things ‘should’ play out in the future and avoid situations that may bring about further regret. What happens if we mess up again?

Set your intention, focus your attention and take authentic action!

We generally hold two forms of regret:

  1. Unhealthy regret: that which cripples future action;

  2. Healthy regret: a reflective acceptance of what has occurred and the lessons learnt.

Choose the healthy option.

So why all the ramble about this? Because we are not powerless, in fact the reality is quite the opposite. We may not be able to alter the past and often even the external, however we can control ourselves in the moment through our intention, attention and action.


Intention is the ‘purpose’, ‘aim’ or the ‘why’ that drives your actions. It is what you set out to achieve and is generally entrenched in the desire to fulfil a need. We utilise intention daily as it allows us to take action, function and succeed. For example:

‘You intend to get a job and therefore, work on resumes’.

Whilst it is positive to recognise this, it can also be challenging to accept the majority of our days are driven by hidden intent, by that which is clearly not aligned to our authenticity. Picture yourself being politically correct in a meeting, feeling like you cannot say what is truly on your mind. This is a socially accepted response, however leaves you feeling fake and dishonest. Or think about hanging out with friends watching movies to fill voids of time rather than pursue that design passion. It seems fun at the time, however leaves us disappointed as we fail to fulfil our potential. * This is not to say that these two examples reflect the ‘wrong’ things to do, rather they help to explain the issue. Everyone loves Netflix.

We mask our intent to protect ourselves, but in doing so, we restrict our ability to move in the direction of authenticity. Why do you think companies around the world invest so much into strategic planning? They recognise that their intent drives direction and therefore they cannot afford to follow a poorly defined aim.

It’s clearly important to ensure that your intention is generated from a place that allows you to fulfil what is truly important to you. In saying this, we don’t want to be thinking about the intention behind all decisions and actions (especially the small actions such as getting a glass of water), otherwise everyday life would become gruelling. We are able to work around this however, by only focusing on our intention in regards to those things which we deem as being truly important or when we experience ‘Red Flags’.

Red Flags are indicators that something is not inherently right, that your authenticity is being jeopardised. They can range from the consistent (frequency being a key indicator) feeling of being discontent, to feeling resentful, to seeking escapism or the act of filtering the real you.

Bringing awareness to your intent helps to alter your lens and eventually, influence your actions. To identify your intent, you need to step back from the ‘what’ (the action), to understand the ‘why’ behind it all. This is as simple as using ‘why’ as a question, such as ‘why am I wanting this?’ or ‘why am I doing this?’ Is what you discovered aligned to who you are as a person, to the direction in which you want to travel? If not, you can work on changing it.


Your ‘attention' is rather straight forward, it is what you consciously focus on in any given moment, where your energy is directed. It’s not what you are doing, that’s the action, it’s where your mind is, your focus. It is not to be however, confused with concentration (the ability to sustain focus), our attention is always on something regardless of whether or not we can actively control it.

Purposeful attention is a commitment to focus on the things that are aligned with your intention, rather than allowing your mind to aimlessly direct itself. We all know that this is easier said than done. Think about impending deadlines, it always seems more appropriate to focus on searching Wikipedia for random ‘fun facts’ then taking responsibility. In saying this, often our mind has us focus on things that aren’t of our choice, that we struggle to remove from our focus and the more we try, the further they become engrained. It can be a real battle.

The skill behind influencing our attention is being aware of where our focus is at any given time, accepting this and exercising our ability to refocus on things that serve. At times this won’t work, particularly if you are in an overwhelming situation. That’s ok. Through frequent practice you will develop strength in your ability for future scenarios.


Action is essentially doing something for a particular reason. You could ‘walk’ in order to get a drink or you could do so to simply move from ‘point A' to ‘point B’. All action and inaction occurs to fulfil a need in the process, whether we are conscious of it or not.

Three common issues that we face in relation to our actions seem to be that:

  1. We are not aware of ‘why’ we are doing particular things;

  2. We avoid taking important action;

  3. We struggle to find the motivation to act.

If you don’t believe that you experience any of these issues at least daily, than this understanding is probably the least of your concerns. The first issue has been addressed earlier under ‘intention’, however the second issue remains to be discussed (as does the third). Straight up - fear underlines most inaction. Let’s not hide from this. The paradox here is that fear stops us from taking action, yet action is the antidote to fear (and through action comes answers and understanding). Think about personal situations, the ones in which you have really desired to do something. If you didn’t act, what stopped you? Fear, almost always.

Often at times this is ok, think about a situation in which you feel like you want to punch your boss, the fear and rationale as to why you shouldn’t may be that you could lose your job in doing so. In this case, the fear is acting in your best interest. But often the action that fear stops is the ‘important action’, such as pursuing things that you are passionate about, expressing yourself in everyday life, applying for a job or asking a person on a date. As a result, we travel through time always wondering ‘what if’ and settling for what has happened to us.

At the root of fear is the desire to avoid ‘pain’. We are fearful of what people may think, of failure, of success, of giving up something in order to gain something else. This causes us to avoid circumstances in which the risk of pain seems greater then that of reward. We neglect the fact that for great reward, we must face pain, especially for things that are important to us. This doesn’t mean that we should take action on everything regardless of fear, but rather if you establish that it is truly important, you don’t let the irrationality immobilise you.

A tip to combat fear is to try to uncover it, shed light on it. Often you will find that fear is much more powerful when it’s an ‘enigma’ and when you shine a light on it, you take away it’s control, you recognise that it is a little irrational thought. A lot of this fear is due to the unknown nature of the subject itself, it seems enormous and uncontrollable.

In identifying the true nature of something, you can take practical steps towards combatting it. Simply ask yourself - what you are fearful of and why this is the case. Are you finding that it’s not such a big deal? When you have a bit of understanding, work on deepening it by asking yourself - why (what you have just identified) is such an issue for you. What did you come up with? Something very different to what you initially had thought? When you are comfortable that you have a clear picture of that which you fear, ask yourself - what is the worst thing that could happen in confronting this fear? There is nothing you cannot deal with or manage, you have survived up until this point regardless of what has been thrown at you, just as people all over the world have. You too will do the same in situations moving forward.

Fear aside, we often require motivation to take action. We tell ourselves that we would love to take on particular projects, to fulfil our desires, however don’t have the motivation to do so. The conflict here is that motivation often comes from action, not before it. When you start moving you are more motivated to continue with the momentum. Simple right? Just do something, anything!

So to maintain motivation we need momentum, we need to act. It is important to understand that almost all behaviour or action occurs in order to fulfil a need and we often find easy or unhelpful ways of meeting them. This is why it is very important to be aware of the intention behind our actions. In understanding the ‘need’ we are trying to fulfil, we are more able to motivate ourselves ensure that we meet it in a resourceful way. An example of an unhelpful approach to meeting a need could be drinking to feel confident in social situations, leading you to begin to require alcohol in order to engage in these settings. A healthier way of meeting this need could be to expose yourself to these situations and recognise that in facing up, confidence grows, as fear no longer has a grip.

Taking committed action is important for our sense of fulfilment in life. It is the process of becoming aware of the ‘need’ you are trying to fulfil and taking action in a resourceful and authentic way. Are the actions that you are taking moving you away from or towards your best life?

Set your intention, focus your attention and take authentic action!

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