The Discipline of Intentionality

Focus, Power and Action require the Discipline of Intentionality

Days like today are far from the business decisions of Monday morning. It’s a sunny Sunday morning and my role for the day, being chauffeur to my son and his girlfriend on their one year anniversary. Like all decisions of life, how we approach our day comes down to attitude, to our intentions. I am discovering how powerful the discipline of intentionality can be. This is a good opportunity for me to be actively involved in making their day special. We’ve driven to Queensland’s Gold Coast where they have a list to check off of the things that will make their day “just right”.

For me it was an opportunity to give them what privacy I could, as they turned up the car stereo so they could talk ‘privately’ in the back seat for an hour while ‘James, the chauffeur’ did his thing. At this point ‘James’ put on his Audible and started listening to the young voice on old shoulders of Jim Collins reading his book, “Good to Great”. It’s incredible to hear of the depth of research that goes into producing this accurate analysis on business principles that Jim and his team have been able to bring to the surface.

This morning, “Good to Great” has hit a chord with me on the subject of intention or intentionality. So often we have good ideas, maybe even great ideas but do we act with commitment to following through on the activation or launch of the idea? It takes more than sparked neurons to develop, plan, create, check and launch the ideal concept to reality. It takes an unwavering commitment to the intention of the idea. And like any discipline, the discipline of intentionality will require repeated actions for it to take hold. 

As Jim Collins outlined the foundations of his book, he very quickly provided an assessment of the unique elements in the companies that his team have researched. They were looking for a company profile where the business was able to sustain a 15 year growth pattern where their stock results were at least 3x the market and at the same time were not party to an industry boom or the effects of simply a great individual CEO. As a summary of one key element outlined at the start of his book, Jim talked about discipline in these three forms

  • Discipline in people
  • Discipline in thought
  • Discipline in action

A framework for intentionality

The reason these three topics resonated with me is coincidentally three-fold. Firstly, it got personal very quickly. I am the epitome of the ideas hub. The neurons don’t stop their endless production of thought and the synapses seem to continue a never ending flow of starting points like the tap dancers in a Las Vegas chorus line. My mind of good intentions, is great in being able to 4X4 on all fronts and help other’s who are stuck in a mind bog, but for me, this plethora of thought can also create a traffic jam on the on-ramp to intentionally following through and completing one great idea.

The ‘face in the mirror’ moment comes when I admit that I am generally undisciplined in life. While I have bursts of application the long term disciplines haven’t stuck well. Alongside this, I can see the habits in my life both good and bad, but what I wish to see is discipline applied by personal application that results in consistency to personal development, finance, business and parenting. Rather than habits that have simply settled in my life I wish to see more intention in the habits I choose.

Secondly, it has give me a values framework for the projects I am working on at the moment. A framework isn’t meant to define you or your project to the point that no creativity can be applied. However, it does allow you to develop the structure of your idea based on resource considerations like, people, time, budget and reach. Often when I’m talking with a client I will use the ‘tailors dummy’ analogy and explain that whether you are creating a piece of clothing for a man, woman or child may first affect your initial choice of the tailors dummy that you will drape your creation over. Some tailor’s dummy’s now have adjustable limbs and body so that you can make them slimmer or bulked up to reflect the frame of the end result. As a fashion designer will draw, cut, pin and sew, they can come back to the tailors dummy for regular project checks to ensure they ‘stay the course’. So, to take another famous quote and apply it, finding your framework allows you to “start with the end in mind”.

In this case, the discipline of people, the discipline of thought and the discipline of action, to me define key values in applying intentionality.

Finally, it was how these three areas in this line of thought provided individual levels of focus that I felt were easy to qualify and quantify when you are dealing with the enemy of intention, which is distraction. Think about that thought for a moment, very few of us sit around doing nothing at all. What we do is spend hours and days spinning in the washing machine of everything and accomplish very little. We are distracted with new ideas, activities and pleasures that take away our momentum and with it our intention.

Consider for a moment how pivotal these three topics are to the success of every project. The people, the thoughts (or thinking) and the actions taken in pursuit of the dream. Nail these and you nail the dream. 

Discipline of People

The “Discipline of People” could, in error, be read as discipling people, but the correct reading is having, or associating with, disciplined people. As Jim would outline in his book, one of the myths of great companies is that they had developed the culture with great people. What was found after research and interview after interview with key executives from the companies in their research suite, was that great companies had the ‘right’ people in the right roles and they were disciplined people.

One of the key thoughts that my wife and I endeavoured to bring into our parenting was telling our children to seek out healthy friendships. The idea that you become like the people you associate with has a lot of truth in it. However for our children, that didn’t always work out. Another competing thought that we endeavoured to teach them was to “be the friend” and so in the playground our kids were great at making friends with young children and being a caring thoughtful friend. This would sadly sometimes mean that they were friends to young kids who needed more help and the relationships effect on our children may have been more of a drain than a contribution. That said, it did bring about four children who would have a good caring heart for others.

As we move forward in our own lives, whether for reasons of personal growth, business development or simply the friends we choose in our adult life, the same principles should be considered in the value of having disciplined people around our lives.  Now I can hear your protest, “You’re Wrong!!” and I understand what you’re saying. You have immediately picked up on the focus on disciplined people bringing the process, boring, method based thinking to our lives and ignoring the creative spark we all need around us as well.

What is shown in this thinking is that we actually have a broken view on both the disciplined and the creative. Many of our engineers, disciplined by nature and by education, are some of the most creative problem solvers and creators on the planet. Look at our most esteemed artists in the form of artists who flaunt a brush to paint with flair or musicians who inspire the heart and senses and you will find disciplined craftsman who follow a rigid regime or method in order to achieve their finest works. When I think of discipline, I am far less interested in discovering a rigid person walking in one direction with no thought or reason. Rather, I am drawn to a person who has that focused intentionality that is magnetising them to their goal where the character and development of their own creative vision adds to the journey.

Action Point: Discipline of People

Become like the people you associate with and be found in the company of disciplined people. Their momentum will charge and direct you. Not only will this bring focus to your project and also your personal development but it is the preparation you need to provide this level of care and support to others. If you are like me you will desire quality mentors in your life and at the same time you have an inner desire to provide that mentorship to others. In fact they say that for you to be a great mentor, you must have first both been and understood the role of the mentee. What do you still have to learn?

Discipline of Thought

This is my Achilles heel of the mind. I like, and I mean adore, thinking about how to solve problems. The creative process working on objective ideas that have an element of “all care and no responsibility” can be a drug to the creative mind. 

The start of any process of problem solving starts with the gathering of information. Great problem solvers are great listeners. It enables them to have a clear picture on the situation in order to evaluate a path forward. The exceptional problem solver is also exceptional at asking questions. These prompts are like fracking the mind in order to bring truth to the surface. A hero of mine as a child was Sherlock Holmes. His ability to observe and decipher information was a superhero power to me that I would have preferred in the playground of life over invisibility or superspeed.

But here lies the problem, that even the great Sherlock Holmes would sometimes suffer to the point that some form of self-medication would be his salve to clear the clag of the mind. Holmes could absorb massive amounts of information but like even we lowly sidekick superheroes, he wasn’t always able to process it in a timely manner.

In our waking hours, the absorbition of information is a our strength and our weakness as we try to bring focus to a project or development of a new discipline. In days gone past it was the number of newspaper articles or books to be read that could lead to those moments of overload. The digital era is no different, except that the access during our 168 hour week has grown exponentially. From 160 character micro messages and blogs of opinion through to Kindled tombs of literary works, our brain is literally assaulted by form of distraction. And, let’s not forget the cat videos!

To bring Discipline to Thought will require focus and just like the ability of a great film director or camerman, the skill of excluding or prioritising content from the film frame is the secret to highlighting the essential story elements. Reduction brings focus and focus leads to discipline.

Action point: Discipline of Thought

It may seem simple but the only sane way to bring Discipline to Thought is to rationalise the inputs. Allow your brain to go deep on projects by stopping it going wide on media inputs. For me this wasn’t as much about stopping any particular media channel but about turning down the flow. Reducing email, blog, podcast and YouTube subscriptions. Cancelling online services I didn’t use and culling the mobile apps and social channels that contribute to notification overload. What will you reduce today?

Discipline of Action 

Right now I’m fighting distraction. I have been thinking and writing this blog for nearly four hours and I probably haven’t chosen the best of environments. Here I am outside a McDonald’s (Maccas for the Aussies) in the middle of one of Australia’s busiest tourism destinations. My flat white (latte sans foam) is finshed. Seagulls are fighting for chips and the tourists are bustling, competing for a way through the crowd with Hare Krishna dancers in the middle of the mall providing both the spectacle and the obstacle.

What can I do to refocus? One more action!

It’s an interesting assessment on how to combat distraction and improve the Discipline of Thought. It comes through the Disciple of Action. As I was looking around with temptation to shop online for geek collectibles, work on my WordPress plugins or find another Cafe with another coffee, the epithany of what had allowed me to complete four hours of focus was action. Typing had provided focus. A commitment to one more action provided the impetus for new focus and momentum is restored.

It occurs to me that I’m great at ideas and from ideas I can write notes, from notes a list and this brain dump will then allow me to develop a plan.

Action point: Discipline of Action

For myself, in this writing moment, the action point was a commitment to writing. For you, this may mean a distinct commitment in this moment to put aside a time and place for your next enagement. It’s surprising how valuable your production will be when you intentionally set aside the place first, followed by the time. You are carving out a portion of your time. This will be a retreat in the space time continuum where you and you can do business. Your decision now. What place, what time? Make it so! 

What are three things you can do to apply your discipline of intentionality today?

One thing I have realised is that if you can’t commit to the small things in life you can’t commit on the larger scale.

Today is the day you move into a new level of commitment with a focus on the discipline of intentionality. It’s of no use to you to make a huge commitment to develop a discipline if its not sustainable. It’s equally not productive if you make the habit, project or task to difficult to sustain due to the frequency required while trying to fit in with ‘daily life’.

Here’s the 3-step challenge.

  1. Choose one personal daily or weekly habit that benefits your well-being. It could be as simple as enjoying a drink with no inputs except your own thoughts. No phone, tablet or magazine, just you and your favourite drink and it’s aroma. For some it can be the pleasure of sitting on the edge of the bed at the beginning or end of the day and either preparing yourself or letting go as required.
  2. Choose one weekly or fortnightly (biweekly) activity that brings you in touch with focused learning information. It could be an hour of reading, doing an online course or listening to a podcast or Audible book. Again, the focus must be on just the task with no device distractions in reach. That may mean you must go back to a simple paper book. For others it will mean turning off your phone or browser notifications or using your browser in incognito mode without the other 5-10 tabs open.
  3. Once a month set aside the time and place for an hour with yourself reviewing your progress, projects and presence. In progress you can evaluate what time was well applied or lost. In projects you can set the path ahead for the next month. In presence you can ask yourself how comfortably you have sat with yourself, encouraged yourself and developed the personal discipline of intentionality.

If you have read between the lines you will understand that this journey towards the discipline of intentionality is my own journey.

I look forward to hearing about your own approach to bringing intention to life and how you are setting your own sails to bring the wind and direction to your future.