We are all great planners of one sort or another. We like to think we are in control of life, and so we buy diaries, and write lists, and organise ourselves. But, sooner or later, life hits back with some hard lessons in frustration. People don’t cooperate with our expectations. Events don’t happen as we anticipated.
It’s worth looking briefly at the difference between planning and intention. Just to warn you in advance, I am going to argue that intention is more important than planning, as it lies deeper in our psyche, and can be more resilient and flexible than planning.
WHAT IS INTENTION?
To clarify some definitions: firstly, what is intention? I suggest that it is a kind of ‘ultimate wish’. If I asked you this question: ‘At the end of the day, if all else fails, what do you hope for those around you, yourself, and the universe?’… that question is really asking you about your intentions.
If you regard yourself mainly as a mother, then you may answer me that you wish for your children to be happy. If you regard yourself mainly as a teacher, you may answer that you wish for your students to learn to be happy. Whatever the case, the question of intention is a very basic issue of motivation. It really answers the question ‘What gets you out of bed in the morning? What is it that you feel you are here to do? What is most important to you?’
WHAT IS PLANNING?
Secondly, what, then, is planning, and how is it different from intention? Planning is the art of organising life so that your intentions have a chance of coming true, or being realised. It is quite a technical exercise, involving diarising, negotiating, communicating – doing the business of life.
So in the above examples, a mother may try to organise a good school for their child, in the belief that it will make things better for the child. Or a teacher may organise a class for their students, in the belief that it is the best way of helping them to learn.
HOW PLANNING CAN FRUSTRATE INTENTIONS
The trouble is, life doesn’t cooperate. No sooner have we made a plan, than life starts to answer back with all sorts of objections and contradictions. Perhaps the school answers back that it does not have a place for the child; or perhaps the teacher’s classes are such a success that the tail starts to wag the dog, and the teacher gets exhausted sometimes.
What you end up with is a person who had intentions, but now feels frustrated, and possibly a bit angry that life isn’t respecting those intentions.
STAYING MINDFUL OF YOUR INTENTIONS
Your intentions are, if you like, your ultimate ‘because’. If someone questioned you and questioned you as to what was important to you, your intentions lie fundamentally at your foundation.
When difficulties happen, and when you are frustrated, it is worth remembering what you’re in it for. It stops you sabotaging what you have.
Imagine a man walking ten miles to get some water. His intention is to get water for his family to drink. When he gets there, he sees that the queue for water is very badly organised. He feels this is disgraceful, and starts an argument with the organisers, and even with others in the queue. The argument is so intense that he forgets his original intention (to obtain water for his family). Using up all his energy on arguing, he later has no energy to make the journey back.
It’s like that in the world of your intentions. If you want your family to be happy, then you had better not get too involved in angry arguments about your plans to make them all happy. You may find that you all run out of energy for the happiness that was your ultimate intention.
In this context, it is useful to think of revising plans. It would make no sense for the man seeking water to revise his intentions to fit with his new life of perpetual argument. He would just become a bundle of frustration, so involved in politics that he had no time to keep his family alive and well. Instead, perhaps he could go back to his original intentions, and adjust his plans accordingly. Maybe it will take an extra day to wait in the queue. But is that so bad, in the context of his intentions?
However life has frustrated you recently, remind yourself of your basic intentions. Despite any recent upset, what do you ultimately wish for? I’m pretty sure it will not be a life of argument and fighting that you wish for.
So maybe ask, instead, how you might revise your plans to keep them in line with your original intentions.
WRITING A NEW STORY
Another way of putting all this is that we all write ourselves stories. They are fictional narratives of how our lifes should be, the images we like to portray, the plans we like to talk about… all these form part of our projected identity, represented by the stories we tell ourselves and others about our lives.
When our stories get interrupted, our first reaction is often to hit out, to get grumpy at life’s failure to understand our good intentions. Why is life so stupid? But maybe we could use our wisdom, go back to basics, check our intentions, and then flex our plans in the light of those intentions.
Remember, in the story of the man who went for water, his intention was to make his family healthy, not to get distracted in argument.
So maybe see what new story you can write, out of the ruins of whatever has frustrated your intentions. Your toy bricks may have been pulled down; but your hands are still yours, every day. The new story may even end up better than the old one! And you can write it better if you free yourself from too much conflict.
We like to plan, but sometimes the plans take over, and we forget our true original wishes. When life doesn’t cooperate with our plans, we get drawn into fussing and fighting, and can even damage the happiness we were originally intending. However frustrated you feel, maybe focus on conserving your energy, flexing your plans. Who knows – the new story you write for yourself might be even better than the old one.