The Power of Intention

The Power of Intention


Every day, think as you wake up: Today I am fortunate to have woken up. I am alive, I have a precious human life. I am not going to waste it.
~The Dalai Lama

To make the most of your life, to nourish the causes of happiness for yourself and others, it takes strength, clear intentions, and persistent effort. This post explores how to establish powerful intentions and sustain the commitment to see them come true.

Setting Clear Intentions

As humans evolved, stacking one floor above another on the neuroaxis in the brain, our horizons expanded. We gradually extended the time between stimulus and response, and the space between our own actions and their outermost ripples. The wider your view, the wiser your intentions. So it’s good to ask yourself: How wide is my view? It’s natural to spend most of your time focusing on what’s right in front of you, but every so often it’s worth considering questions like these:

  • What good and bad effects will my lifestyle today have on me 20 years from now?
  • What do I do that helps and harms my planet?
  • How do my love and my anger affect others?
  • What could be the long-term results of intensifying my psychological growth and spiritual practices?

And how high is your aim? One time at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, my spiritual “home base,” my friend and teacher, Sylvia Boorstein, silenced a room full of several hundred people when she asked a simple question: What about enlightenment? She went on to point out that the Buddha, like all the great teachers, always encouraged people toward the most complete realization possible. Whether or not you connect with the notion of enlightenment or related ideas like union with God, each one of us has a sense deep down of the ultimate possibilities of a human life. If you haven’t taken those possibilities seriously and gone after them, why not start now? Is there truly a good reason not to? Personally, I’ve never heard a good reason. But like just about everyone, I keep forgetting this and losing my way in the sheer busyness of life. Further, the lower floors of the neuroaxis naturally pull us toward aims that are immediate and concrete – not because the brainstem, hypothalamus, and limbic system are base or sinful, but simply because they are more primitive in an evolutionary sense. Then your horizons shrink to the next few months and the small circle around you.

Skillful Intending

Much as you can see farther from an upstairs window, the uppermost layer of your brain is key to creating and pursuing the widest, highest, and wisest aims. So in this article I’ll emphasize emphasize using the prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) to do just that, starting with these general considerations about how to be skillful at intending.

Seeing Clearly
Intentions are effective when they are grounded in reality, in what is really true.

Here are some things that will help:

  • Cultivate wanting to know the facts of your inner and outer worlds. Take in the rewards of seeing clearly, like feeling safer.
  • Slow down. Give your cortex time to understand what is actually happening, what led up to it, and what an appropriate response would be.
  • Stay mindful of the big picture. In the larger mosaic of a situation, notice if you’re focusing on one tile out of a hundred.
  • Notice how limbic and brainstem processes tilt cortical ones, and vice versa. For example, the brain uses feedback from “in here” – particularly your autonomic nervous system, muscles, heart, and gut – to form beliefs that are often mistaken about what is happening “out there.” Or see how an anxious temperament inflates threats, or a glum mood downplays opportunities. Use this awareness to challenge your appraisals and judgments: is a situation truly a 7 on the zero-to-ten Ugh scale, or more like a 2? As Oscar Wilde once wrote: The worst things in my life never actually happened to me.
  • Pay attention to intention itself. It determines the full consequences of your thoughts, words, and deeds.

This is a central principle in ethics, morality, and virtue. Fundamentally, it’s enlightened self-interest. Since we’re a ll connected together, not harming others decreases the harms that would come back to hurt you. Similarly, not harming yourself reduces harms to others.

Do’s and Don’t’s
Intentions can be positive (do) or negative (don’t). Positive statements are more informative, because they spotlight the bulls-eye rather than just tell you what to avoid hitting. But negative statements are more powerful, since they draw on the intense, “lower floor” withdrawal and freeze circuitry of the brain. That’s why they’re used so often. For your own intentions, it’s natural to use both forms. The positive one breathes inspiration and life into moral conduct; for example, “be generous” is a joyful balance to “do not steal.” And sometimes it’s necessary to have a very clear NO sign in front of certain actions, like being very clear that you just never lie to your mate, no matter what.

Read the full article HERE.

Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and expert on the impact of toxic narcissism. She is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.

The focus of Dr. Ramani’s clinical, academic, and consultative work is the etiology and impact of narcissism and high-conflict, entitled, antagonistic personality styles on human relationships, mental health, and societal expectations. She has spoken on these issues to clinicians, educators, and researchers around the world.

She is the author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist, and Don't You Know Who I Am? How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. Her work has been featured at SxSW, TEDx, and on a wide range of media platforms including Red Table Talk, the Today Show, Oxygen, Investigation Discovery, and Bravo, and she is a featured expert on the digital media mental health platform MedCircle. Dr. Durvasula’s research on personality disorders has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and she is a Consulting Editor of the scientific journal Behavioral Medicine.

Dr. Stephen Porges is a Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He is a former president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and has been president of the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences, which represents approximately twenty-thousand biobehavioral scientists. He’s led a number of other organizations and received a wide variety of professional awards.

In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological states in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders, and has had a major impact on the field of psychology.

Dr. Porges has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers across a wide array of disciplines. He’s also the author of several books including The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation.

Dr. Bruce Perry is the Principal of the Neurosequential Network, Senior Fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy, and a Professor (Adjunct) in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago and the School of Allied Health at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. From 1993 to 2001 he was the Thomas S. Trammell Research Professor of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of psychiatry at Texas Children's Hospital.

He’s one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of trauma in childhood, and his work on the impact of abuse, neglect, and trauma on the developing brain has impacted clinical practice, programs, and policy across the world. His work has been instrumental in describing how traumatic events in childhood change the biology of the brain.

Dr. Perry's most recent book, What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, co-authored with Oprah Winfrey, was released earlier this year. Dr. Perry is also the author, with Maia Szalavitz, of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, a bestselling book based on his work with maltreated children, and Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered. Additionally, he’s authored more than 300 journal articles and book chapters and has been the recipient of a variety of professional awards.

Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith is a child clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and issues of race. She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard and then received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. She performed postdoctoral work at the University of California San Francisco/San Francisco General Hospital. She has combined her love of teaching and advocacy by serving as a professor and by directing mental health programs for children experiencing trauma, homelessness, or foster care.

Dr. Briscoe-Smith is also a senior fellow of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and is both a professor and the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Wright Institute. She provides consultation and training to nonprofits and schools on how to support trauma-informed practices and cultural accountability.

Sharon Salzberg is a world-renowned teacher and New York Times bestselling author. She is widely considered one of the most influential individuals in bringing mindfulness practices to the West, and co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts alongside Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. Sharon has been a student of Dipa Ma, Anagarika Munindra, and Sayadaw U Pandita alongside other masters.

Sharon has authored 10 books, and is the host of the fantastic Metta Hour podcast. She was a contributing editor of Oprah’s O Magazine, had her work featured in Time and on NPR, and contributed to panels alongside the Dalai Lama.

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