Outside of Arenberg, Germany
Why The Intentional? I’ll admit that at the beginning, my ambitions were far grander than a blog. I dreamt of having the time and space to write an entire book about the concept of intentionality, and perhaps, later down the line, that will happen (the outline is still in the works). In the short-term, though, I am happy to share with you the concept of intentionality as it serves as the inspiration behind The Intentional.
What is intentionality?
Many of us wind our way through life in a fairly accidental way. How many times have you suddenly become aware of the fact that you just spent four hours on some combination of Buzzfeed and Facebook? Or have you ever gone to the kitchen and ended up eating a whole bag of potato chips/pint of ice cream/<insert other favorite food here> thoughtlessly and without enjoyment? It’s not uncommon that we do any number of things in our lives – from the micro-actions of every day to the macro-decisions we make – with less thought than would be ideal.
As recent science shows, this lack of consideration happens in part because the cognitive load of thinking through each choice is incredibly high (see Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow). But I believe that there’s another powerful driver of this thoughtlessness. I believe that we fundamentally lack a common concept that encapsulates what we’re talking about. We lack the taxonomy – and thus lack the consciousness – of the alternative.
The alternative is intentionality. Intentionality is the value of aligning your beliefs, thoughts, and actions with a conscious vision of what you want to create in yourself and in the world. By way of introduction, I’ll break down a couple of the key themes embedded within this definition:
“Intentionality is the value. . .” Intentionality, like freedom or equality, is a value which we hold and an ideal that we can live more or less consistently in our lives. Even if you disagree with the vision which someone may hold of the world, you can tell if they live their life consistently with that vision.
“. . . of aligning your beliefs, thoughts, and actions. . .” You must be able to influence your beliefs, thoughts, and actions to be able to align them with a vision. The idea that we control our actions is foundational in our society, serving as the underpinning of our governance and legal systems. And the idea that we control our thoughts, though not universal, is well-articulated in many reflective traditions. Yet an understanding of how we control our beliefs is less common. In short, we operate within a world limited by our own assumptions and beliefs. These assumptions and beliefs often become invisible to us, but are, in reality, ours to make, destroy, and re-make however serves us best. The ability to consciously create of our beliefs – rather than accidentally form them based on a subset of data we haphazardly collect – is a powerful tool in realizing our intentions. More on how we align our beliefs, thoughts, and actions to come.
“. . . with a conscious vision. . .” This phrase points to a through-going value of mindfulness or consciousness. At the most basic level, we must be aware of beliefs, thoughts, and actions so that we can better align them. Beyond that, we must consciously craft a vision of what we want to create in ourselves and the world. What kind of person do I want to be? What type of relationship do I want to have with others? What impact do I want to have on the environment? These are the types of questions which prompt us to craft that vision.
“. . . of what you want to create in yourself and in the world.” We are powerful co-creators of our own existence; indeed, we are more powerful than we know. Our beliefs, thoughts, and actions directly contribute to the creation of our reality. In fact, they co-create this reality with the beliefs, thoughts, and actions of those around us – individually and collectively. Intentionality is only important if our beliefs, thoughts, and actions have a significant impact on the world. Though this impact is not always tangible or proximal, it is real.
It is one thing to define intentionality, it is another to see it in practice. Importantly, I believe we have a severe intentionality gap in the world today – that we have a dire need for more intentionality in each of us individually, in our society collectively, and in the world broadly if we are to progress. With intentionality – and only with intentionality – comes ownership over our lives, responsibility for our impact on others, and the opportunity to consciously co-create something better – qualities we need to move forward in our complex, crazy, interconnected world.
I’ll continue to unpack the idea of intentionality, the philosophy behind it, and the implications of living more intentionally in future blog posts. That said, let’s make this an awesome dialogue. I would love to hear your thoughts.