From Intention to Action

by Margaret Lukens, New Leaf + Company

This afternoon I was jolted out of my seat when my terrier, Ginger, exploded in a fit of barking. What set her off was the daily appearance of the mail carrier. Every day the postal employee approaches the door, Ginger sets up a nerve-torquing bout of barking, the carrier retreats, and Ginger rests easy, knowing that her kibble is once again safe from marauding mail carriers.

Ginger, the wonder dogIt occurred to me that there is just no disconnect for my dog between intention and action. She never looks up and wonders, “Should I go bark at the mail carrier? On the one hand, I resolved when I moved in here to guard the place. I do want to protect my territory. But a sunbeam is hitting the carpet just now. Maybe I’ll bark later.” For her it’s immediate: I intend to bark, I bark.

Life for humans is not so simple. There is plenty of room for slippage between intention and action. In fact, it’s a feature of our brain’s “wiring” that we don’t have a good mechanism for following through on our intentions, for pursuing an intended goal with the tenacity of a terrier.

What we need are some good work-arounds.

One type of work-around is a cueing device. Consider this simple example: let’s say that I intend to stretch periodically while working at my desk. I know that it’s better for my health and concentration. There’s no doubt that I want to do it. Unfortunately, time passes as I’m engrossed in my work and I forget all about my intention. A cueing device is anything that will periodically remind me of my intention, prompting me to act on it.

I might put a stickie note on my monitor that says “stretch!” so that every time I see it, I’m reminded of my intention and can act on it. Or I could set an alarm to alert me twice an hour to stop and change position, take a break, or move.

More complicated intentions require more sophisticated cueing, but there is always a work-around to shorten the distance from intention to action. To dig deeper in this subject, one good resource is Following Through: A Revolutionary New Model for Finishing Whatever You Start by Steve Levinson and Pete Greider.

What do you do to keep your intentions? Are there intentions you’ve been unable to keep over long periods? If you have tried cueing devices, what have you used? I invite you to act now! and record your comments here.

2 Responses to From Intention to Action

  1. I’m GLAD I’m not a terrier, but as an extreme Myers-Briggs perceiver, a keeper of my options open ’til hell freezes over, I’ve missed an opportunity or two. Step one: committing to the short list of things worth jerking my own leash, against my own grain, for. WOOF!

  2. Jane, you’ve raised an important point: there are costs to intentions not kept. Being selective in our commitments increases the ease with which we can keep the ones that matter most. I think of a woman, an avid diver on the California coast, who resisted buying a new wetsuit because she had half-heartedly decided to lose some weight first. By the end of the year she had neither a slimmer body nor the much greater (for her) joy of a season spent diving in the kelp forest. Best to keep ALL the promises we make, including those we make to ourselves, and never to make those we’re not sure to keep. — Margaret

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