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Explanations > Motivation > Intent

What is intent? | How does intent appear? | So what?


Intent is an important motivational force, although not all intention leads to action.

What is intent?

Intent is motivation to act. It is a powerful internal driving force that pushes us in the direction towards doing some things and away from other things. We may intend to mow the grass, work hard or just be a good person by not hurting others.

Intent is the result of decision. It is the inner force that bridges between choice and action, guiding us towards what we have decided to do. As decision can be unconscious, so also can intent exist without our realizing this.

Short-term intent comes from simple decisions and leads to everyday action, such as the intent to make a cup of coffee. Longer-term intent shapes future decisions and guides our lives, such as the intent to succeed in a chosen career.

Intent often aligns with inner forces such as beliefs and values, for example a paranoid person may have the intent to avoid others. Just as intent shapes actions, so also do inner systems shape intent. Positive intent seeks to do good, for oneself and others. Negative intent seeks to harm, perhaps with selfish purpose.

Yet intent is not the same as doing, as it can be deflected or halted. We may procrastinate, change our minds or simply forget. We may also be persuaded by others into different actions.

How does intent appear?

Intent can appear in several ways.

Deep motivation

The source of all motivation is a combination of inner systems. We have deep needs which we are driven to satisfy. We have emotions that drive us in the moment. We have beliefs about how things (and people) work. We have values that tell us what is right and wrong. These and other motivators combine to create decision and subsequent intent.


Decision is often a fairly logical process where we weigh up possible courses of action and hence develop intent. Important choices are often made through conscious thought, while less significant decisions are made quickly and with little reflection. This can cause problems when it results in unhelpful, weak or vague intent that cause later problems.


Intent can also emerge more slowly, perhaps from long reflection and perhaps as a purely unconscious process. Our unconscious minds are good at complex integration of thoughts and experiences and our more significant choices can bubble up into an intent that we may even not realize we have.


Intent can be shaped in a 'negative' way, by a process of removal, much as a sculptor removes excess marble to reveal the statue within. We may hence create our futures not so much by what we want to do as by what we do not want to do. 'Negative intent' in this sense means intent not to do something rather than the perhaps more common interpretation of intending harm. When there is negative intent for everything except one course of action, then that one action becomes effective intent.

So what?

Intent is a key step in changing minds for action. The person may start with interest and then develop intent before finally moving into action. If you can facilitate this process, then you can change minds.

Watch others to guess their intent then act to change this when you want to guide what they do. Work with their deep systems to create desired intent.

Also look inside and reflect on your own actions to discover your intent.


See also

Goals, Interest, Values, Needs, Emotions, Beliefs


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