Here’s an interesting article, about the interaction between intention and motivation, in Tricycle written by Thupten Jinpa, which he took from his book A Fearless Heart. Jinpa is a Tibetan Buddhist scholar of religious studies of both Eastern and Western philosophy. He is the principal English translator for the Dalai Lama. 

He says that we often use the words “intention” and “motivation” interchangeably as if they mean the same thing. But there’s an important difference: deliberateness. Our motivation is our drive that moves us. That drive can wax and wane. We may be more or less conscious about why we’re motivated. Thus, motivation may not be deliberate. 

Intention is always deliberate. Jinpa says it’s an articulation of a conscious goal. We need intentions for the long view. We set and reaffirm our intentions to point us in the directions we want to go. Intention sets a conscious direction; motivation sustains our drive in that direction. 

Jinpa says that setting an intention in the morning sets the tone for the day. He suggests that once we feel settled, we should contemplate the following questions: 

  1. “What is it that I value deeply?”
  2. “What, in the depth of my heart, do I wish for myself, for my loved ones, and for the world?”

Simply stay with the open questions. Trust that the questions themselves are working to develop a conscious intention for the day. Then, throughout the day, find opportunities to check in with your intentions. You’ll become distracted. Therefore, redirecting your focus to your intention is important. Expect to do this many times during the day. 

Jinpa says the intention-setting practice in the morning is paired with another contemplative exercise called dedication. The role of this exercise is to complete the circle. At the end of the day we reconnect with the intentions we set in the morning, reflecting on our experience. The point is to reflect on your day in an objective way. In The Warrior’s Way, we do this by asking two questions: 

  1. “What did I do well?” 
  2. “What do I still need to learn?”

These questions dig specifically into how consciously and deliberately you set your intentions in the morning and your awareness of how your motivation waxed and waned throughout the day. Simply being aware of how motivation waxes and wanes gives you insight into your level of interest in whatever you’re doing. That shifts your motivation from being unconscious to conscious; the first step toward sustaining it. 

This “dedication” practice needs to be nonjudgmental. Jinpa suggests that whatever thoughts and feelings this reviewing might bring, just stay with it. There’s no need to push them away if they have a negative quality; or grasp at them if they seem positive. Simply stay with it for a while in silence. Don’t lapse into self-criticism; remain self-compassionate. Compassion relaxes you into the details of what you discovered, which is important for working with that discovery. 

Jinpa says that with persistence, awareness, and reflection, we can bring our motivations more into line with our intentions. Appreciating how our emotions play a role in motivating behavior gives insights into aligning them. 

How do we tap our emotional reservoir? Jinpa continues: Cognitions play a critical role, which the early Buddhist texts characterize as seeing the value of doing something. Through cognitive engagement, such as seeing the benefits, we connect intention with motivation. So, within this causal nexus, the crucial link to watch for is the one between our awareness of the goal and why we would go for it.

This cognitive process is a starting point. It focuses on the connection between the goal and the benefits. We need to move on to more intrinsic reasons for why we are motivated. Thus, Jinpa clarifies: Then, again, it’s the joy we take in our efforts—the courage to try, the dedication to stick with it—and their results that helps sustain our motivations over the long run.

We know that intrinsic motivation is far more stable and enduring. The process of setting intentions and joyfully reflecting on them is how we transform extrinsic into intrinsic motivations, and thereby sustain the energy and purpose to live true to our best aspirations.

Our intentions are sustained over time if we want to do the work that separates us from the goal. That wanting to means we do the work for its own sake. The achievement of the goal is simply one part of a larger process that makes our motivation more deliberate.

Practice tip: Open, Maintain, and Close the Circle

Begin, maintain, and close the circle of your day with a morning routine, reminders, and an evening dedication. I’ve found it helpful for the morning routine to be more body oriented than intellectual. You can do a simple T’ai Chi or yoga movement or pose that ends in a standing posture. It’s here that you set your intentions. 

Morning routine: set intentions

  • “What is it that I value deeply?”
  • “What, in the depth of my heart, do I wish for myself, for my loved ones, and for the world?”

Maintain deliberateness: observe how sustained your motivation is

  • You need to become conscious of your motivation throughout the day. How does it wax and wane? Find ways to remind yourself of your intentions. Set a reminder on your smartphone. Each time the reminder alerts you, reaffirm your intentions. 

Evening dedication: review your observations

  • Do your dedication process nonjudgmentally. These questions will reveal answers that are more objective and less tied to your identity. That’s helpful for making changes tomorrow. 
  1. “What did I do well?” 
  2. “What do I still need to learn?”

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