A Coaching Power Tool Created by Tonia Jenny
(Life Coach, USA)
Attention energizes and intention transforms.—Deepak Chopra
at•ten•tion | Ə-‘tent(t)-shƏn
: the act or power of carefully thinking about, listening to, or watching someone or something
: interest or awareness
: the act of applying the mind to something
in•ten•tion | in-‘ten(t)-shƏn
: the thing that you plan to do or achieve: an aim or purpose
: a determination to act in a certain way
: a concept considered as the product of attention, directed to an object of knowledge
Devoting attention to something is an intimate act. Our focus is narrowed and we are able to bring to life or awaken that to which we are applying the power of our mind—for better or worse. If we focus attention on our body we may notice we are hungry or our knees are tired from bicycling. If we focus attention on reconciling our checkbook, we have a better chance of finding the balance we seek. Focused attention on the smallest steps of our goals brings about the action needed to complete them. Conversely, when we focus our attention on the negative aspects of our lives, we are able to keep those alive as well.
This is not to be confused with the subtle distinction of observing—an act done with a sense of neutral separation from the suffering ego. If I am lying in bed trying to fall asleep and I notice a small pain in my shoulder, if I focus my attention on it, my mind responds with a sense of panic—albeit a low-level one—and the pain intensifies a bit, worrying my mind more, thereby increasing the pain more and so on, and the pain grows. If instead, when I observe the pain, I look at it objectively as if I were outside my body and my mind is more likely to be unruffled and there’s a good chance my awareness of the pain will slowly dissolve. This works because I have previously set an intention to be more mindful of my body’s messages and to become aware of where I put my attention vs. what I decide to simply observe.
Intention holds a space for that which we desire. It is the hope that cheers us on and it allows us to experiment with different solutions—different places to place our attention—in order to achieve our goal. An intention is most effective with a healthy sprinkling of detachment to the route taken to get what it is we ultimately want.
But an intention is more than just a wish. As Mary Beth Janssen explains in her book Pleasure Healing, “Intentions aren’t fleeting thoughts or wishes, but rather they’re like sacred rocket fuel, turning your good, but half-baked ideas into brilliant, fully-formed bullet points.
The paradox here then is that if we focus too much attention on an intention, we risk missing out on options we may be blind to because we are too focused on one set of possibilities.
While intentions are created from our deep desires—positive visions that can bring us into a good mental space, some days intentions seem incredibly elusive and not only can they be hard to conjure up and easy to judge negatively (with too much worry over the “how” or “when” or else a nagging feeling reminding you that you’ve been here before and it hasn’t worked out yet, so what’s the point?), it can be difficult to even have the stamina to think “big.”
Why a Balance Between Attention and Intention Fosters Success
It can take practice to finesse the balance between these two powerful forces. By continually returning to the present moment and objectively looking at where we can put our attention right now, rather than lamenting where we’ve failed to act in the past, or worrying too much about where we’re going to have to act in the future, we allow our intention to manifest more easily and with far less suffering. Intention and attention are partners who need one another to bring about the change in our lives we desire.
When we set an intention but avoid attention, it remains elusive and unattended. Without the action encouraged by attention we grow cynical and can experience a dip in self-confidence. The elusiveness of our plan can become an excuse for avoiding action. This creates stress, feelings of guilt and frustration.
Attention without clear intention can cause feelings of spinning our wheels and ultimately lacking a sense of purpose. We can repeatedly experience a quick fix, but we see no long-term transformation.
Attention vs. Intention can be an effective power tool to use with a client who is feeling stuck but may not be certain why. By looking at the client’s goal and asking questions around both her short-term goals(s) (attention) and longer-term desires (intention) we can help her get a clearer sense of where the obstacle might be. Perhaps she knows what she wants in terms of a big intention (owning a house), but is lost when it comes to where she needs to focus her attention to get there. Or, she has been working overtime hours each week trying to earn extra money and in what little downtime she has, has been researching a realtor, but she doesn’t feel she is making any progress. It could be she doesn’t have a clear sense of where she wants to live, with whom she wants to live and so on (intention).
Questions for Reflection
- What skills might I have to realize my intention that I’m not employing?
- What actions are not in alignment with my intention?
- Am I focused on the things that will keep me moving in the right direction?
- Am I open to things turning out slightly different than I had planned?
- What details might need less of my attention?
- What place do my intentions stem from?
- I feel the most joy when my attention is on ___________.
- Ultimately, I envision my actions bringing more ____________ into my life.
- What is driving my desire to realize my intention?