Aiming Your Mind One Intent at a Time
The words “goal” and “intention/intent” are kin but not twins. The etymology of these words tells the story of their similarity and their difference.
Goal: “end point of a race,” from Old English word gal “obstacle, barrier,” related to the verb gælan “to hinder.” (etymonline.com).
Intent/Intention: from Old French entencion “stretching, intensity, will, thought,” from Latin verb intendere “stretch out, lean toward, strain” (etymonline.com).
As you see, the word “goal” is an outcome-word. You score a goal. You hit a target. The word “intent” (or “intention”) is a process-word. You aim your attention in the direction of a goal. You stretch the bowstring of your mind as you aim at a target.
Say to yourself: “Today I am going to pay attention to (fill in the blank). Today I am opening my mind to (fill in the blank). Today my focus is on (fill in the blank).”
As you pivot your mind this or that way, I encourage you to also accept any outcome of this aiming practice, whether you hit your behavioral target or not. How come? Well, life’s an obstacle course. It tends to get in the way of our goals now and then. That’s just how it is. Accept this in advance. And… make process-focus your goal.
Here’s a related blog-post from a while back, called “Target the Practice, Not the Target”
Peak performance (or “flow”) and mindfulness are two sides of the same coin.
“Flow” is characterized by such fundamentals as “action-awareness merging,” ” loss of self-consciousness,” and “transformation of time” (Czikszentmihalyi, 1999, p. 16).
James H. Austin, neurologist and the author of Zen and the Brain, speaks — in somewhat similar terms — of the so-called “enlightened Zen behaviors” which consist of actions that are “without initial hesitation, quick in execution, simple but efficient, highly creative, improvisational, yet capable of resolving both the immediate situation and of addressing the big picture as well, expressed from a foundation of poise, liberated from word-thoughts and personal concerns” (p. 155).
It appears that both “flow” and the “enlightened Zen action” refer to the states of consciousness that, on one hand, parallel the dynamics of mindfulness and, on the other hand, enable peak performance.
While Czikszentmihalyi acknowledges that there is no “12-steps-to-flow” method (1999), one can learn to practice setting the stage for “flow.”
By throwing away the target, and targeting the practice of mindful absorption itself.
Langer (1989), in her classic book Mindfulness, notes: “outcome orientation tends to deaden a playful approach” (p. 64) and “preoccupation with outcome can make us mindless” (p. 75).
Why would that be?
You see, outcome orientation is a future orientation. We can focus on the past, on the present, or on the future. When we are preoccupied with the future outcome of our current efforts, we are focused on the future, not on what is in front of us.
Therefore, the outcome orientation, by virtue of being a type of future orientation, takes us out of the present moment, out of the very moment in which we have to act.
As such, outcome orientation disorients us as it disengages us from what is.
We begin to sweat the future possibilities of failure.
And instead of aiming the arrow of our attention at a target, we aim the attentional arrow at ourselves — we target our own ego, threatening to wound it with catastrophized images of a miss.
Having targeted ourselves with the threat of de-valuation (should we fail), we become tense, our muscles contract, and we become either paralyzed in inaction or we prematurely release the tension… just to be done, just to get past this moment of stress.
Austin, in writing about Zen archery, explains that ” one’s muscles must learn how to release , not only contract” and notes that it takes years “to develop the subtle skills of let go smoothly, passively.” He suggests that the student’s “erratic arrows betray self-referent behavior patterns” (p. 670).
In other words, if I still exist as a Self, as an Ego, as an archer separate from the bow and the arrow, — I am not one with the flow of action. No mindful absorption — no “action-awareness merging” — no peak performance.
To this aim, throw away the target and begin to practice aiming your mind, not at some future target date, but at this moment, right now.
And, also remember that no given moment of performance is a test of your validity as a human being.
No one moment in your personal or work life is bigger than the rest of your life.
Sure there are pivotal moments, make-it-or-break-it times, moments of unique opportunity that are either taken advantage of or forever lost…
But none of this is you.
These moments are part of the flow of your life. These moments are part of this impermanence that we are so afraid to acknowledge and get lost in.
Seeing the impermanence of these moments, seeing that these moments of success and these moments of failure are already gone, allows you to re-join the flow of what is and, thus, to flow in your perfectly imperfect performance.
Ultimately – existentially and performance-wise – it’s the flowing that matters, not the outcome of this flow, living – not life’s accomplishments, the optimal experience — not the optimal outcome…
Somov, P. (2011). Aiming Your Mind One Intent at a Time. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 10, 2016, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/mindful-living/2010/06/aiming-your-mind-one-intent-at-a-time/