When playing a sport, dancing or engaging in martial arts, coaches and instructors will often remind us to use our core muscles. I remember finding it odd. “What difference,” I wondered, “does it really make?” However, when watching other dancers perform and partnering with them, it became clear. When people dance from their core, their movements are stronger, more controlled and more flexible. The same holds true for leadership, business development, and nearly every other aspect of having a successful and happy career. However, for work, the core muscle in question is no longer physical. It is mental. How committed are you to the result? How strong is your desire? Intention is the core muscle of life.
Leaders and others with strong intentions go into every interaction clear about what they want and how they will relate to the other people. Like power of any kind, this can be used for good or ill. Regardless, applying this type of focused attention increases the likelihood of success in any interaction. Most people approach life with more a “wait and see” approach. They go into situations wondering how it is going to go, or just trying to avoid negative consequences (such as offending someone, losing a client, etc.) It comes down to whether you are taking ownership of the situation or not. Are you going to cause it to go a certain way, or are you just going to be pushed around by circumstances. Are you going to be the protagonist in your own life or an extra? You may think your level of intention is fixed—that you are either a motivated person or not. But, actually your will can be cultivated, strengthened, or revitalized. As a coach, a big part of helping people achieve their goals is supporting them to effectively manage this aspect of their mental and emotional lives. Below are three of the most important elements that help people to increase their level of intention, in any situation.
Planning – There are many practical reasons to plan, but one of the less recognized benefits is that it helps solidify one’s sense of commitment and focus. Choosing goals, a vision, milestones, and thinking through how to get from point A to point B augments the belief that a goal is achievable and thereby strengthens the commitment to make it happen. Thinking through scenarios and anticipating obstacles help you move from something being a wish or a nice idea to being an actual, achievable goal with the full weight of your considerable strength and intelligence behind it. By default, our brains are often lazy. They skim along the top of an idea without really delving in. The simple act of making a plan on paper, and looking at it step by step, gets our brains on board with the whole process and increases our will to make it happen.
Belief in Oneself – This isn’t about arrogance or thinking you are better than other people. It is simply about knowing that you are capable of doing a great job and that it is possible to achieve your goals. Only the most insane or delusional people have no doubts. The question is simply what you do with the doubts that inevitably pop up from time to time. Do you just push them aside? Do you wallow in them? There are times when simply ignoring them can be beneficial. In many cases, though, asking questions is even more effective. “How can I do this better?” “Where have I succeeded in the past?” “What evidence to I have that I can really do this?” After all, true self-confidence is not about mindless puffery; rather, it is based on one’s character and experience. Asking (and answering) such questions is a way to remind ourselves in a more grounded and powerful way that we really are capable and can handle whatever is thrown at us.
Revitalizing the Intention – Thomas Edison, regarding his work on the light bulb famously said, “I have not failed. I have just found 9,999 ways that do not work”. In contrast, most people’s level of enthusiasm and drive decrease when repeated attempts do not manifest the results for which they were hoping. What do you need to do to refresh your enthusiasm under such circumstances? There are many aspects to this, but a few places to look include physical well-being, assessing lessons learned, and choosing a different interpretation, à la Thomas Edison. This is the trickiest part for most people and the one where they are often most in need of some support.
Learning a new skill, like leadership or business development can take a tremendous amount of time and effort; and the rewards don’t always come immediately. People often think that coaching is about telling people what to do or offering advice; and although that may be included, the real benefit is of having someone else help you to refine your thinking and thought processes, thereby increasing your level of intention and effectiveness. When the core is strong, even simple actions occur with ease and power.