Yesterday I gave a presentation at my research group’s journal club – basically a one-hour meeting where graduate students and junior and senior researchers gather to critically appraise and discuss a research article. Once everyone settled, I began. “Today we’re going to be discussing an article investigating the contribution of the journey to school to children’s overall physical activity levels. But today we’re going to do things differently. Our discussion of the article is going to center around the concept of setting an intention.” I could see a mixture of confused and amused looks throughout the room, so I continued. “This past year, I have spent a lot of time working through the idea of what setting an intention can mean to everyday life. This journey started off with me contemplating the Buddhist principle of Karma…” At this point, all but two people in the room started to laugh and I could hear some, “oh boy’s.” Laughter is good. It feels good to laugh. So I paused momentarily. But as the laughter and smirks continued, I did what any cuttlefish-in-training would do – I spoke the truth. “Hold on, you’re being mean. Just hear me out. I’ve thought this through…” I think this caught people off-guard and a wave of silence started to pass through the room and so I continued. I spoke about how initially I began thinking about the concept of intention in the context of Karma. The amount of Karma tied to an occurrence is very closely linked to the intention behind it. Then I gave a simple example: if you’re driving down the street while text messaging on your phone, and so you’re distracted and run over a cat, there’s negative Karma attached to the event because you just killed a cat. However, the extent of this Karma is nowhere near the amount that is tied to purposefully choosing to run over the cat. The difference in the karma associated with both events boils down to intention – in the first instance you did not intend to run over the cat, but in the second instance, you did.
At this point, the laughter in the room has stopped and people now have amused and confused looks on their faces. I can see and feel that people are starting to open and trying to follow where I’m going with this. Good, good.
“Then I started to think about intentions more and more when I began practicing yoga. You always set an intention before the start of each class. I found that doing this helped me focus in the class and so I extended the concept to help me focus in everyday life. Like, for example, when I wake up in the morning and think about what I intend to get done that day. Or when creating to-do lists… that’s a set of intentions that helps increase focus and productivity. I’m sure several of you do this too. Or, think about meetings – how much more do you get out of them when you set an intention… as in, you go in and know what deliverables you want to get out of it… know what your purpose and asks are. See, we all set intentions and they are a really powerful thing. So, today, I want to get us to think about the power that setting intentions can have in our day-to-day lives. And we’re going to start off on doing this by appraising this research article in terms of whether or not it met its proposed research objectives, which, if you think about it, are its intentions.”
I then went into my intentions behind choosing the article we were discussing, my intentions (what I wanted us to accomplish) for the meeting – including getting people to reflect on how intentions factor into their daily lives – and the intentions (stated objectives) of the article. As we worked our way through the article, I kept directing the conversation back to whether the study’s authors were staying true to what they stated they had set out to do… and this had a powerful influence on how we evaluated the article. Then came the beautiful moment when I could tell my message really clicked with the people in the room – the point when we started to discuss the article’s analysis approach. Without boring you with details, let me just say that superficially, there was nothing “wrong” with the analysis – it was a standard approach to deciding what data to include… yes, it was standard, but did it address the study’s intentions?!? Well, no. Bing! By focusing on the intention, we saw through the smoke and glitter of the article. The article was well written and had methodological rigor… which concealed the fact that the authors did not actually address what they had stated they set out to do.
At the end of the presentation, I stated that I hoped that our meeting today would encourage at least one person to reflect on the power that consciously setting intentions could have in his/her life. I concluded by saying, “mindfulness, it’s not just for hippies.” Everyone laughed. Throughout the day I was approached by people who attended the meeting, as well as received emails, telling me that my presentation was well received and appreciated. I’m thankful that I followed through on my idea for the presentation and for the openness in the room. Life is full of opportunities to share the life-changing concepts of mindfulness with others. Tomorrow, I’m taking part in a conference call about a campaign that will encourage people to connect to their surroundings by becoming aware of local bird migration patterns. We’re going to start a re-love-ution my friends. One teachable moment at a time.