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How To Set Intention

As you get older you expect and want learning to be easier. But you likely have a problem. Distraction. Distraction; that fly in your cereal bowl or the itch you just can't reach. It comes in many forms; maybe it's your next door neighbor mowing the lawn at an hour that represents your peak performance time. Maybe it's that next season of your favorite show calling you on Netflix. Maybe it's the cell phone that you just can't seem to put on airplane mode. Or maybe, it's the nagging thoughts and ruminations that you have accumulated during the week. I've been there before. I know what distractions can do to hurt learning objectives. So what can be done to help us negate distractions? What can we do to ensure that we have the best learning outcomes? One solution I have found helpful is to set intention.


Setting intention is not a new concept and you have likely done it plenty of times before. Let's see if this sounds familiar: You take the bag of food from your favorite fast food restaurant, peer into the bag and ask, "Let's see, did they fill my order correctly?" You get home and before walking through the doorway, you tell yourself, "I'm going to say hello to my family and ask them how their day was." You park your car and look down, "OK, let me review my grocery list to make sure I'm not missing anything." Setting intention means priming yourself for interactions whether internal or external. The act itself is almost a form of self review. We do this often without even realizing it or assigning value to it. But how does this help prevent distractions and enhance learning?

Have you ever noticed that professional short distance runners generally have the same type of look on their faces? I find two words that best describe them: focus and determination. This focus helps them block out distractions and enhances their race quality. They probably aren't thinking about what their favorite color is or how the 'moon looked really nice the other evening'. They probably aren't telling themselves 'gosh I wish I looked like Sally over there, she is so lean.' What do you think they are considering before a race? Likely they are thinking about: the race at hand, the race they envision themselves running, a person that inspired them in some way, etc... All elements of their thinking is priming them towards this race and this moment. How can we use this to get better at learning?

By taking a moment to prime yourself before learning, you set yourself up for positive learning outcomes and negate distractions. Granted various things can hinder our ability to learn, but by adding this step to your pre-learning strategy, you will enhance your learning potential. After you get your materials together and find the appropriate place to study (try to avoid loud and busy locations), do the following action steps:

  • Take a moment and breath: Often without knowing it we never take a moment to reset from one task to the next. Take a moment and just relax. Do some stretches and deep breathing. The objective should be to relax and get ready for your learning objective.

  • Set a timer of 45-60 minutes: It is easy to think you can power through anything, but being refreshed by small breaks can increase your output and cognition. It may seem counter-intuitive to stop what you are doing every 45 - 60 minutes to increase performance, but studies show that concentration fizzles and processing slows down for most of us when we focus on a task for an extensive period of time without taking a break. Setting a timer also helps because it's a reminder that you only have so long to accomplish an objective. This adds focus to the task. Return to the "Take a moment and breath" suggestion then set your timer after you have followed through on that action step.

  • Ask yourself, "how do I feel right now?" Taking stock of how you currently feel will help you to gauge how much energy you are bringing to your learning objective. Additionally this affords you opportunity to do some self reflection. Consider why you feel the way you do. Be intentional and try to discover what contributes to either a positive mindset or a negative one, a lack of energy or a plethora of it.

  • Review previous learning material and get an overview of new material: It's important that you spend time looking at previous learning objectives to get a sense of what you already know. It's like the old saying, "You don't know where you are going if you don't know where you have been." Next, get an overview of what you will be studying. A brief overview of your material will go a long way in galvanizing your newly learned material. It's like looking at a road map before you begin travelling. If you have a concept of where you will be going, it becomes easier to make the trip.

  • Ask yourself, "why do I want to learn this information? How is it going to help me? What do I expect to get out of this study session?" Reflect on the answers to these types of questions to ensure that you know how the information is helping you. You need to know how the information or learning objective will fit into your future life, not just now. The answers to these questions will help you feed energy and commitment to your study session. If what you are studying will help you become the best version of yourself than it's only natural you will want to stay focused.

Try out these action steps for a week and see how much it improves your study sessions. At first you may be tempted to just try the points once or twice then go back to your original way of doing things. Give yourself some time to adopt this practice into your study sessions. You'll note how much more focused and attentive you are when you do study. Likely you will begin to spend more time coming up with learning strategies of your own and finding how to best utilize your study time. Don't let distractions take control of your learning potential. Set intention and engage your necessity; a love of learning.

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