Intentional thinking is the conscious, willful control of your own thought processes so that you can actively direct your own life toward success. By thinking intentionally, you determine your own place in the world and gain control of your daily life.
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A young graduate starts a new job. Unfortunately, there is some friction early on and the new employee quickly fails at an important task, which costs the company huge amounts of money. Rather than admit his mistake, though, the employee delays alerting management, stuck in indecision about what to do.
He can’t stand knowing that he’s messed up, and will be reprimanded by his employers—or worse. He tries to hide his mistake at first, and then, when he realizes he can’t, he falls into a deep depression, knowing that people will question his competency. He starts to feel bad about himself, wishing he’d never taken the job.
He used to be at the top of his class! He’s a genius, really. The more he thinks about it, the more he realizes it’s his superiors who are in the wrong—it was their fault for giving him the assignment, their faulty software, their lack of oversight. When a meeting is held to discover what went wrong, the employee is almost hostile to the rest of his team. Seeing this, management are understandably not pleased, and things only get worse and worse for the employee.
The employee in this example has demonstrated all the pitfalls that come with a lack of conscious intention. Can you see his inability to take responsibility, to be flexible, to become consciously aware of his own role in the unfolding of his life?
First, his inability to bear discomfort leads him to delay admitting to his mistake. His fixed mindset and closed-mindedness cause him to react with stubbornness and indignation—rather than looking at the situation neutrally and asking what he can honestly do to improve the matter.
Because he is in a purely reactive and passive frame of mind, he wastes time in indecision, never quite knowing how to get out of his predicament. Finally, when he does act, he doesn’t take ownership of his actions, and resorts to self-delusion and blame. Not only does this make it impossible for him to learn from his mistakes and genuinely become better at his work, but it alienates him from his colleagues and makes the consequences of his original mistake so much worse.
Throughout this example, the employee is merely reacting, responding unconsciously, always on the back foot. He never stops to ask himself, What am I doing here? What is my role and my full scope of action? What do I want here and how I can achieve that?
Consider how things could have played out differently. A new employee messes up at work, badly. They feel panicked at first but quickly realize that they have the power to shape the outcome, depending on how they choose to behave from that moment on. They look at all possible courses of action and realize that owning up to the mistake as quickly as possible will reflect the best on them.
Before they do this, though, they take a deep breath and realize that it’s going to be uncomfortable. They are going to feel embarrassed and it’s going to be unpleasant to have everyone angry at them. They may even be fired. But they are in control. Of themselves, what they say, and what they do.
They quickly own up to the mistake, and follow up with some realistic suggestions for what they can do to remedy the situation. They bear the anger and disappointment with humility, accepting full responsibility. They act immediately to do the right thing. They might have been a star student in university, but clearly, they have a lot to learn—so they commit to seeking the help of more experienced colleagues to learn a few things, even though this will take their ego down a peg.
Sure, the situation may be difficult for a time. But you can imagine that an employee who behaved this way after making a serious mistake has actually taken a bad situation and made something great from it, as management gets to see how they resolve conflict and act with maturity.
In this example, the employee acts, and doesn’t just react.
He makes conscious decisions according to what’s important, even if it’s uncomfortable or unpleasant, and would be easier to blame someone else. He doesn’t dissolve into self-doubt and delusion, but looks at the situation squarely and neutrally, trusting himself to handle things. He acts with decisiveness, flexibility, humility and an open-minded approach that guarantees he’ll learn from the experience.
Here’s what matters about these two examples: the event that started it all is exactly the same.
One employee can turn it into an embarrassing failure that he bitterly blames others for; the other can use it as a springboard to learn to become better at what he does. Each employee had the same amount of luck, opportunity and competency. They were faced with the same tricky situation. But the second one had something the first one didn’t: a willingness to engage his intentional thinking and conscious awareness to behave in ways that ultimately served him best.
When people say “your thoughts create your reality,” it’s easy to imagine that they’re talking about something quite mystical and far-out. But in fact, nothing could be more plain and obvious than the fact that your thoughts and attitude determine the kind of life you live.
There is no magic to it. It’s simple: your thoughts determine your actions, and your actions shape your world. Your attitude creates your sense of possibility, your feeling of who you are and what you want (and deserve!), and these then impact the way you interpret events, respond to them, and take action of your own.
The world out there is what it is, but objective events get filtered through your own unique set of expectations, beliefs and mental blocks. We don’t see the world as it is, but the world as it looks when passed through our particular mindset.
If we conduct ourselves with positivity, deliberate intention, compassionate awareness, flexibility, and so on, we will naturally find ourselves living in a different world than if we’d closed ourselves off in mindsets plagued with fear, negative habits, self-doubt, passivity and mindlessness.
Intentional thinking is your birthright. As a human being, you were made for conscious awareness, self-control, mastery, understanding and goal-directed action. But this is a skill set that doesn’t come automatically—by its very nature, it has to be claimed deliberately. To develop and cultivate our intentional will, we only need to choose to do so. Nobody else can choose the path for us!
As we move through the chapters of this book, we’ll be looking at everything that gets in the way of this natural, inbuilt capacity for self-determination and conscious, intentional thinking. If we can identify all the ways we don’t want to think and behave, we can clear the path for all the ways we do. We’ll look at all the mental blocks that trip us up, including the ones we saw in the examples above: self-doubt, indecision, self-delusion and closed-mindedness.
It can be difficult at first to build up a strong sense of intentional thinking. After all, how many of us were taught this skill at school, or see it modelled around us by people in our environments? Where do we even start? This is why it can be easier to begin with identifying what we want to avoid, and go from there.
In the chapters that follow, we’ll use a simple and practical formula for identifying and tackling the mental blocks that threaten to get in the way of our empowered, intentional thinking. Whether the mental block is uncertainty, comparing yourself to others, or low self-esteem, these steps are a handy framework to help you untangle your limitations and build a robust mindset that will create real success.
Before we examine the steps in detail, though, be aware that from most of us, it can be difficult to honestly identify our mental blocks. Our most harmful and persistent blocks are those we don’t even know we possess! For this reason, try to remember to practice a little open-mindedness and self-compassion as you attempt these steps on yourself later on—you may be surprised at what you find.