The power of intention

A few years ago if someone had told me that one day I would be diarising football fixtures and organising parts of my life around them, I would have scoffed. But that’s what has happened. Recently I invited people for Sunday afternoon tea at 15.30—not later—so that my husband and the visitors would be back in front of their respective TVs for a 6pm kick-off.
They support different teams.

I’ve married an addict. I checked the Oxford dictionary, and the colloquial non-drug usage of the word is defined as “an enthusiastic devotee of a sport or a pastime”.

As I write this, today is another day on which social arrangements are contingent on football. It’s Arsenal against Manchester United, which reminded me of April 2009 and a night when our flat fizzed with tension.

The occasion was the second leg of the semifinal between the same teams. John and his co-dependent addicts, Vhonani and Thabiso, were gathering for a pre-match supper. The trio had been dreaming and scheming. If Arsenal were to win, who did they know who could swing tickets for the final in Rome? But Arsenal had already lost 1-0 to Man United in the first leg. John seemed to be mentally preparing himself for disappointment.

I listened with my coaching hat on and asked him: “If thousands of Arsenal supporters are in your frame of mind, how do you expect the team to do well?” He laughed and asked if I really believed that what he and other supporters thought could influence the outcome?

I told him about Lynne McTaggart’s book The Field and one she subsequently wrote, The Intention Experiment. At the end of The Field Lynne writes about the effect of prayer. Sick people who are prayed for recover better than those who are not, irrespective of whether they are believers or not.

I expect this kind of proposition to be met with scepticism and so I pursued this line of questioning with my addict husband:

Do football teams win more matches at home or away?
The statistics show more wins at home.

What contribution, if any, does knowing the home pitch make to this?
Actually, football fields are pretty standard. Some differences but nothing like cricket pitches.

So what makes the difference?
Playing to the home crowd, feeling the support.

Over supper the trio debated the intentionality proposition and then sat down to watch the match, beaming their positive support through the stratosphere across continents.

I’m telling the story because as a coach one of the first things I want clarity on is this: “What intention does the person have when they decide to engage a coach?”

It will influence the success of the assignment.

A psychologist I know does work with couples. Conditionally! Before accepting them as clients, he clarifies their intention.

Are they seeking his help to work out a way of talking amicably about divorce? If so, he’s not interested. He works with people who can say, without ambivalence, that they want a shared future.

A coaching colleague told me of a mistake she’d made. She accepted an assignment with a senior leader. She discovered he wanted the experience of “being coached”. But there was nothing he wanted to change about himself, nothing he wanted to think through.

The coaching sessions were flat and went nowhere.

The client’s intention is priceless compared to the actual cost of time and fees. What is it that they want? It could be: “I want to work out what I want to do next in my life.”

Or: “On the basis of feedback from my colleagues, these are the development areas I want to address.”

Or: “I need a sounding board”. The client identifying the “I want” is very important.

Intention affects the energy that a client brings to the assignment. The energy of dissatisfaction is welcome. In fact it’s the client recognising and interrogating what they have now, versus what they would prefer to have in the future, that creates the basis for successful coaching.

A young woman I coached was a coach’s dream. She wanted to enhance her leadership skills and get a promotion without compromising her softer style of leadership. She used the sessions to talk through the feedback she got, to work out what she could do differently.

She worked out progress steps. She shared her intentions with others so they could be supportive and also hold her accountable. She’d arrive at our next session clear about her purpose for the coaching conversation. She kept a journal, reflecting on things that happened, conversations that sparked an insight.

She succeeded.

We don’t always get what we want. Arsenal lost 3-1 to Manchester United last April.

But there are many parts of our lives in which we have more control over the outcome of our actions, especially in our work and our personal relationships.

How we behave, how we act, are expressions of intention. Don’t underestimate the power of making your intentions as positive as possible, as early as possible.

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