The intentional life

Personal growth is about taking our lives into our own hands. It is about living a life “by design”, instead of “by default”. It is about being proactive with our time instead of reacting to the environment.

Stephen Covey and Tony Robbins talk extensively about this. Covey invites us to “be proactive”, his first – and most important – of the famous Seven Habits. If you don’t truly believe that YOU are the programmer, YOU are the author of this masterpiece called your own life, nothing else matters. It is the absolute premise of personal development. A “paradigm shift” must happen: the realization that between stimulus and response there is “me”: a human being capable of creative imagination, independent will, conscience and self-awareness. These four “unique human endowments” – as Covey calls them – are the key to an intentional life.

Robbins expresses more or less the same concept when he talks about the “three fundamental decisions” that we are constantly making: what do I focus on? what meaning do I give it? what actions will I take based on this? This is the essence of intentionality: bringing yourself to focus on something, rather than have your focus yanked by someone/something else; deciding what this means instead of having the meaning pre-determined externally; and taking action with the full awareness that it is your decisions that shape your destiny, and not some obscure destiny shaping you.

The fact that “you’re it” can be hard to accept. We all take comfort in blaming external factors for our circumstances: our parents, the government, the global economy, bad luck, adverse events ecc. The truth is that even though all of these factors matter, what ultimately matters most is our capacity to take decisions that steer our life in the direction we want. As Tony Robbins puts it: what holds us back is almost never a lack of resources; it is a lack of resourcefulness.

So the difficulty of living an intentional life lies first of all in letting go of all the excuses and deciding to abandon once and for all the victim mentality. And secondly, in taking the time to think about who we really are, and dream up the life we would really like to have. We need to let go and let our imagination flow freely. The capacity to daydream, to visualize amazing scenarios for our live is within us, but our hectic, everyday lives make it very difficult to summon it. We need to re-learn to use our imaginative powers and spend more time in the creative mode. It almost sounds childish, but I truly believe “nothing starts, unless first in a dream” (a poster that used to hang on my teenage room wall :-).

Thirdly, we need to put this all in writing, and commit to it on a daily basis. Remind ourselves day in and day out what we are about, what we are aiming for, both in our personal and in our professional lives, and set weekly and daily goals that will get us towards those results. There has to be an overall coherence between our dreams, our long term goals and our daily actions. Again, this coherence is very difficult to achieve because as the day starts, it seems to take on an agenda of its own. But if we are clear on our ultimate goals; if – as Tony Robbins says – we have a compelling purpose and we set our focus on what we truly want, we can break free from the inertia.

An intentional day is a one where we have a strong sense of priorities and we don’t allow ourselves to be swayed by meaningless distractions or low priority outcomes. Robbins believes that if we don’t intentionally direct our focus, it will be diverted by our fears, our desire for immediate pleasure or the demands of others. Haven’t we all had that experience: no clear focus, so that when that email comes in we dedicate all our energy to it, without realizing that it is not our highest priority, but the priority of someone else? Ever catch yourself bored, or unenthusiastic, or simply “going through the motions”? That’s often because there is no drive, no exciting agenda to fulfill, no intentionality.

I realize that this post is quite abstract, and that it will be necessary to go into much more detail in future posts to expand on this idea, and make it more concrete and easy to put into practice. However, I am convinced that in order to make real, lasting change, it is important to grasp some fundamental principles. This blog, Synapseburning.com, is not about quick fixes and clever life hacks, but about reflecting out what makes us grow and feel truly fulfilled. And the starting point must always be an idea – an idea capable of sparking an internal revolution within us: that “paradigm shift” that Covey so aptly invites us to experience in order to start our personal growth journey.

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