Forming Conscious Intentions
A Tool for Living According to Our Values
Forming a conscious intention can make the difference between struggling through every minute of a difficult situation, or getting into a flow which makes the situation manageable, maybe even enjoyable. Conscious intentions are self-statements that focus your energy and mobilize your will. They help you engage reality proactively, rather than reactively.
I know this may sound rather vague and new-agey, but it’s not. Forming a conscious intention is simply the act of deciding what and how you will allow yourself to think about some part of your life. This deliberate change in thinking promotes greater awareness of possibilities and challenges, thereby empowering you to face the situation more effectively.
I’ll give you an example. I was on my way home from a long day at work, tired but excited by some ideas I was having for a research project. I was looking forward to getting home and working on these ideas when, suddenly, I remembered that it was my wife’s late night at her practice. That meant I would be alone with my kids for the next three hours, until they went to bed. A surge of disappointment washed over me, and my mood immediately soured.
Thankfully, I managed to catch myself before the self-pity party really got underway. “You’re bummed because you get to spend a few hours alone with your kids? Really??” That self-admonition kicked me into gear. I made a conscious decision to be the best father that I could be, over the next few hours. To make it stick, I repeated the thought to myself in a highly active voice: “I am making a conscious decision to be the best father I can be, over the next three hours.” I think I may have even said it out loud. One of the benefits of being alone in a car.
Forming that conscious intention allowed the reality that awaited to crystallize before my eyes. I could see myself at home, interacting with the kids. I saw that tensions would arise, and that there would be rough moments, but I also anticipated the joy of playing and laughing together. In the end, I saw myself putting two happy boys to bed, after a successful parenting mission.
Even though forming a conscious intention allowed me to see the entire reality, both good and bad, my mood was still less than super, and my mind drifted back towards negative territory. I started having escapist thoughts like “I’ll have a beer. That will make it more tolerable,” and “At least my handy iPhone is fully charged.” By reestablishing a connection with my core value of wanting to be a good father, I was able to recognize that the urge to escape was the product of my desire to be comfortable, to be doing what I wanted to be doing rather than facing the challenge of staying fully present, and dealing with the difficult moments that come along with conscious parenting. I was able to dismiss the thoughts of escape, and to renew my commitment to engaging fully with the moment—with my children.
Escapist thinking happens when we evaluate a potential reality, and judge the whole thing as “bad”. In all honesty, dinner time with my kids sucks. Given the most challenging work day, having to do dinner alone with my two boys will still be the toughest part of that day. My mind automatically locked in on that discomfort, and generated thoughts of escape. It dismissed the many thoughts I’d had about what we could do together after dinner, how much fun we would have, and the warm thought of putting two happy boys to bed. Locked into black and white thinking about how difficult the coming few hours would be, escapist thoughts naturally emerged. The power of the conscious intention I had formed is that it allowed me to identify and dismiss these thoughts of escape, and helped me reconnect with my value-driven desire to be a good father.
Dinner sucked, but I had already accepted that it would. I did not escape, though; and, because I didn’t, it went much more smoothly than it might have, otherwise. After dinner, we played and laughed. At the end of the night, I put two happy boys to bed. I had accepted the moment, so I didn’t bring any resentment into my interactions with the kids. Because they sensed this, they were responsive and joyful.
We get into trouble when we try to do battle with unchangeable reality. Because it’s unchangeable, when we try to change it, we fail. Because we instinctively know we will fail, we long to escape. The only way to break the cycle is to accept these immutable realities as they are, and to decide to work within them, rather than fight against them. This doesn’t mean you have to like them, or that you won’t try to change something if it is changeable. It only means that you accept the discomfort of a moment, no matter how painful, because you value something more than your immediate comfort.
This is the power of forming conscious intentions to help us navigate difficult situations. Reality comes into greater focus, and accepting both the good and the bad of it becomes possible. From that position of awareness and acceptance, we are able to survive life’s jagged edges, and become truly free to move in the direction of our highest values.