Posted Aug 16, 2016
Intention is the human ability to redirect the electricity in your brain instead of just letting it flow down the path of least resistance.
Animals don’t do this. They just let their electricity flow into neural paths paved by their past experience. Their old pathways give meaning to the world around them because the sights, sounds and smells of an experience activate a specific pattern of neurons. Future experience with that pattern of sights, sounds and smells sends electricity into a pathway that is already connected the old response.
We humans do the same, but we can also but on the brakes and divert that flow into a different circuit. Let’s call this “intention.”
It’s hard to re-direct your electricity, especially if you’re trying to direct it from a big old circuit to a small new circuit. The familiar example is trying to speak a foreign language. The language you learned in childhood is made of big circuits thanks to the neuroplasticity of youth. That’s why the words flow so easily. When you try to speak a new language, those new circuits are so small that they’re hard to activate
It takes tremendous energy to send electricity down a path that’s not already paved by repeated early experience. You have little energy left for other things. So most of the time, we rely on our big old circuits.
When you act with intention, you are making a big investment of your energy. But each time you do it, you build the pathway so it takes less energy the next time. (Just like studying a foreign language.)
You can build your power to blaze a new trail in your neurons if you manage your energy. Grow your energy with healthy habits, and conserve your energy by refusing to waste it on minutia.
But no matter how careful you are with your energy, redirecting your flow is so hard that your ability to do it is quite limited. Indeed, we can only redirect a smidgeon of our flow. But we can redirect! It is our superpower!
Living with intention means choosing where to invest your smidgeon of superpower.
I am so grateful for my tiny mental bandwidth that I am determined not to waste it!
You can set and honor your mental GPS instead of doing everything on automatic pilot. You can hoard your mental energy budget instead of letting others decide where you should spend it. It makes you human!
Lots more on this in my book, Habits of a Happy Brain: Retrain your brain to boost your serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin and endorphin levels, and my website, InnerMammalInstitute.org.