We are writing a new and ancient human narrative—new intentionality pulsing at the core but with a mental journey not unlike Homer’s Odyssey.
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines intentionality as a characteristic of an individual’s acts that requires the individual (a) to have goals, desires, and standards; (b) to select behaviors that are in the service of attaining the goal (e.g., a means to an end); and (c) to call into conscious awareness a desired future state.
In essence, intentionality has to do with a person acting in a chosen direction, with an envisaged purpose or objective in mind. What one will typically find on google searches are numerous vignettes of wisdom and practical advice of what one needs to do, and preferably do well to get you to your envisaged end-state. Many of the steps that get you there from here mostly cover the following:
directing your efforts towards clarifying the results you desire and setting the necessary goals
remaining deliberate in your daily actions
using time purposefully and keeping your focus
actively monitoring goal achievement and responding to appropriate feedback to adjust where needed, and
harnessing your networks and relationships in support of all the above.
Assuming all go according to plan, one might reap the fruits of your efforts and reach your intended goals with at least some modicum of success or benefit. However, during this journey, we assume much and speak little about all the pieces that need to gel long before our human systems open up to the possibilities of our intentionality.
Simply put, there is much more happening behind the scenes and for many of us, the steps are much easier said than done. We, as humans, are forever driven by our intentions. That is the human condition, thanks to the unique nature of the cerebral cortex. Unfortunately, or fortunately, reality demands that we engage in some fancy footwork when keeping an eye on the future, another on the task at hand, and our inner eye (so to speak) on the stuff that keeps the mind space intact.
What is becoming prevalent, reflecting on recent client stories, mental health articles, books, and online chatter, is just how much energy we will need to spend on mental fitness as a primer to our intentionality. And more profoundly, how this will make for a change of our human narrative. A new human narrative with ample markings of the mental drain as we navigate the VUCA landscape.
In our efforts to bolster ourselves, we will need real and practiced skills to provide the much-needed thrust to sustain our intentionality efforts. And sustain we must. The context demands that we shift focus towards practiced skills and energy management, which are notably more fundamental than next-level capabilities like hope, efficacy, resilience, and optimism (HERO). Simply put, HERO will need ample fuel in service of intentionality. And the adequate production of mental fuel, emerging from well-honed human practices.
I propose two main categories of practices that will keep mental reservoirs stocked during the journey irrespective of the depletion rate. They are:
Learning Robustly – intentionality with quality decision making
Healing Sufficiently – keeping your sanity and clarity of thought
1. Learning Robustly
The learning of learning sits at the core of fuelling the needed human capabilities in service of intentionality. If one can learn more effectively, one will be more nimble and able to adjust any part of the plan or intent as and when required. The most crystalised example will be the quality of your decision-making. And it will be necessary considering the rampant contextual challenges we face. A non-negotiable, so to speak.
One leading practice addressing the learning of learning and preparing people for the VUCA world is well documented by Dr Theo Dawson’s VCoL+7 (Virtuous Cycle of Learning plus 7 skills) approach1. In Theo’s words:
“VCoLs engage the whole learner. By this, we mean that they engage learners emotionally, physically, and intellectually, leveraging both conscious and unconscious mental processes. They ensure that new knowledge is integrated into existing knowledge in a way that makes it useful and “sticky.”
When we learn with VCoL+7, we’re not only building knowledge, we’re also nurturing the dispositions and skills required for a lifetime of learning and development. In other words, we’re learning robustly.”
In essence, the VCoL+7 approach delineates a learning cycle that creates more robust learning through its iterative practice—tuning learning to the natural way the brain prefers to learn. Learning becomes self-reinforcing and motivating in itself, making it naturally sustainable and generative. The picture below captures the VCoL process (the part in the green circle) and the underpinning human skills (+7 surrounding) needed to ensure effective VCoLing.
As one becomes practiced in the following, one continuously improves upon the quality of one’s decision making:
setting appropriate learning goals,
seeking information that will help you achieve your goal,
applying what you have learned,
taking time to reflect on outcomes and then,
taking what you have learned to set yet another learning goal.
Continually improving the quality of decision-making will effectively integrate individual acts associated with intentionality. A great example is in Lectica’s LDMA (Leadership Decision Making Assessment)2 that focuses on preparing and developing leaders:
These acts are coherent with intentionality, considering how well successful leaders perform at them. By merely assessing oneself on these topics may unleash a need for your own improved learning.
In addition to robust learning, it is vital to consider the so-called soil for growth. The next piece takes a closer look at keeping the mental soil ready for learning. More directly, ensuring that one’s mental space is susceptible to learning and awareness.
2. Healing sufficiently
A logical rule is to optimise learning by managing distractions. These distractions emanate from various forms of psychological dissonance that a person needs to deal with to remain focused and aware whilst navigating the path towards one’s goals. Applying tested counseling techniques or employing professional help in the process can add exponential value to both robust learning, HERO capabilities, and consequently intentionality. Besides managing distractions, these practices effectively deal with a general sense of stuckness one might experience from time to time.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) suggests a solid framework and approach in the clearing process. As a cognitive model, CBT proposes that dysfunctional thinking (which influences the client’s mood and behavior) is common to all psychological disturbances. When people learn to evaluate their thinking in a more realistic and adaptive way, they experience a decrease in negative emotion and maladaptive behaviour3.
I recommend collaborating with professionals in this space. Nevertheless, a person can make good headway by following a CBT structure as a guide during personal quiet time. The aim is to gain self-awareness and insight to heal at a sufficient level to get back to the path and continue the journey. Only by actively engaging with the path one stands a chance to receive valuable rewards and reinforcement vital to sustained acts and intentionality.
For a practical framework, you can utilise CBT’s cognitive conceptualization diagram4 as a sort of personal map. It will help with conceptualizing and framing your “bumps in the road” (challenging your automatic thoughts, assumptions, and core beliefs), as well as help you decide when to seek out professional help when you get tangled up, resist or feel you might be missing a few crucial pieces to the puzzle. Professionals can help with more advanced techniques.
The cognitive conceptualization diagram
To conclude, intentionality sits at the core of the human mind and for some philosophers the core process of the human mind (see Franz Brentano’s work). When considering our cerebral makeup, we can plan and set goals. Simply put, we have most of the tools to construct a purposeful life. We also know, thanks to new research of generative behavior that certain HERO capabilities ensure our achievement. However, we seldomly take stock of the energy and skills needed to fuel these capabilities and ensure the successful culmination of intentionality. This is especially true in these more trying times, not unlike the Odyssey with an added dose of a pandemic for good measure.
To navigate these high seas and respond favorably to the challenges along the path you stand a chance to not only survive but flourish if you learn more robustly and actively and routinely tend to your mental wellbeing.