Intentions Pave the Year with Creative Purpose

I’m a cheerleader for creative action. Getting things done. Making ideas happen. But I want meaningful things done. And I want to make ideas happen with right intention. Some people might argue that intentions don’t matter and are a waste of time. Just act. Ship ideas out. Granted, intentions without actions are of no use. But right intention with right action can make for a doubly powerful creative life in 2011.

Action is the what. Intention is the how that informs the what. An intention gives action flavor, flare, and integrity. Anyone can flail their arms and jiggle their legs and shake their hips when music plays, but how one person executes a move can distinguish a good dancer from a great dancer. Almost anyone can scratch words across paper, but the voice and verve that infuse an image or string out a sentence in part distinguishes a good writer from a great writer.

Likewise, a lot of creative professionals can spin out ideas and market their wares. But how you do so day in, day out might distinguish the creative who will still be spinning and cashing in ten years from now and the creative who has crashed.

Think of what right intention does for some corporations. Several businesses are leaping on the social good bandwagon. Citgo is “fueling good” in communities, and the Pepsi Refresh Project gives away “millions of dollars each month to fund refreshing ideas that change the world.”

It’s easy to be cynical and claim these companies are simply cashing in on customers’ desires to do good in the world. But the truth is more complex. Granted, there’s profit in charity. But millions of people with really cool ideas are also benefitting – including my neighbors at the Rosendale Theatre Collective who received 50 thousand dollars last April to help transform an established historic cinema theatre into a collective community performance and educational space. And the truth is that several CEOs and CMOs have vision and desire to do good in the world.  With L3Cs, social business, and for-benefit organizations popping up, doing business as usual no longer means simply making a buck.

In fact, profit without purpose makes for a world of sad jacks. Dan Pink lays this fact out in a section of his new book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (Riverhead Books 2010). He describes how a team of psychologists tracked students at the University of Rochester in upstate New York.

They quickly distinguished students who had extrinsic aspirations – to succeed outward, acquire material wealth, build a certain number of companies – from those students with intrinsic aspirations – to learn, to discover, to feel fulfilled.

“One of the reasons for anxiety and depression in the high attainers,” one psychologist, Richard Ryan, told Pink, “is that they’re not having good relationships. They’re busy making money and attending to themselves and that means that there’s less room in their lives for love and attention and caring and empathy and the things that really count.”

The things that really count. That’s what right intention reminds us of.

So you might have a goal to earn $200 k in 2011 or to meet with twenty clients a week (the what). But how? Can you do so in a way that comes from your core values, from your core sense of who you are? Can you create one or more intentions drawn from your best self that will inform your actions in 2011? Can you intend to bring more joy, delight, and wonder into your work? Can you intend to act in ways that build meaningful relationships and deep connection?

Intention gives actions purpose, and that purpose will help insure you don’t burn out. An intention plants a seed, a suggestion that may manifest that day, in the next two weeks, or a week later. Not incidentally, action with intention also stimulates more portions of the brain and can lead to actual changes in our neuronal pathways (1), so we create and act with more mind and brain, literally. (If you’re interested in more about how writers use intention, check out chapter one of  The Journey from the Center to the Page.)

In this way, intention deepens volition – that capacity to get things done and to become a creative action figure. Working with intention is a simple, effective way to retrain the automatic mind – unconscious emotion, gut feelings, unconscious impulses, and physiological functions that comprise about 95% of what we call “mind.”

You can phrase an intention question for 2011 in these ways:

  • How does my best self need to act in order to fulfill goals for this year authentically?
  • How is my best self emerging this year?
  • How is my business growth shaped in 2011? What does it look like? How does its texture feel?
  • How does my best self need to relate this year – to work, to other people, to the environment?

You can phrase an intention question for your work every day this coming year. Intentions shape my day and affect the quality of my day. Each day I ask myself, “What am I writing for?” I ask myself, “What am I consulting for?” I ask myself, “What is Tracking Wonder for?” Not “Why?” which would put me on the defensive as in, “Why aren’t you doing something more productive and fruitful?” The phrasing of “What am I writing for?” puts me in a receptive, present-tense mode.

It’s an admittedly intuitive process, but imagination and intuition are faculties that will sustain our creative actions.

Working with intention gets us closer to the province of wonder. And that’s not a bad place to hang out in during 2011.

To each of you, I wish you a Wondrous New Year.

Drop in the Hut

What about you? How do you work with intentions in your professional and personal life? How does intention infuse your creative work? What are your intentions for 2011?

By the way, I just sent out this month’s e-newsletter with a review of articles, ideas,  resources, and events that can help you make 2011 a Year of Wonder. Enter your email in the Newsletter box in the right column or send me a message titled “NEWSLETTER” to jeffrey [at] trackingwonder [dot] com, and I’ll be sure you’re on the list and get the latest copy.

See you in the woods,

(1) M. P. Kilgard and M.M. Merzenich. 1998. “Cortical map reorganization enabled by nucleus basalis activity.” Science, 279 (5357): 1714-18. And Jeffrey Schwartz, M.D., The Mind & the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force. HarperCollins: NY, 2002.

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  1. I have been studying Vastu, the Indian precursor to Feng Shui, and as an artist, am wanting to create a series of watercolor paintings that relates to the 9 areas, including color, element, deities, animals, etc. It has been percolating in mind for a year now and I am finally ready to start getting it down on paper. So my intention for 2011 is to complete this series and to have it reproduced as gicle prints. Connected to this is more exploration of the Hindu pantheon.

  2. Karin: It sounds as if you have some rich, deep intentions – and image-based ones, too. I wish you the best in acting upon that intention and giving each stroke your best.