The Intention Governs the Attention

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Charles Haanel pointed out the direct link between our intentions and our ability to see opportunities when he said that “The intention governs the attention.”

In other words, what we intend is at the root of our actions. If our intentions are clear, then our mind automatically shifts its focus toward those intentions and the actions we must take to achieve them. 

Think about this simple example: Let's say you've been walking down a city street for 30 minutes and eventually start to feel hungry. Your brain automatically shifts to a single intention: must find food, now! When that happens, it's like putting a lens over all of the information you process that filters out anything that doesn't involve your current intention. You may have passed 20 restaurants in the last 30 minutes and not noticed any of them, but now that your intention to find food is clear, your attention shifts to looking for restaurants--and you start to notice them all around you.

This connection between our intention and attention applies to our professional development, too. 

If you're clear on your intentions and Why you want to make changes or improvements, then that allows you to clearly see opportunities that you may not have noticed before--and will lead you directly to the ability to define and set goals with precision and specificity. And with precise and well-defined goals that align with your “Why,” you're able to direct your attention and energy toward their achievement.

For example, it's not good enough to say that you want to not work as much, have more free time, or be a better lawyer. You have to get specific about your intention and the reason why it's important:

  • I want to achieve this billable hours goal because then I'll earn a bonus to put towards a down payment on our new house

  • By being more efficient with my time, I'll be able to get home sooner and have time to exercise

  • Improving my ability to speak in public will increase my confidence and unlock more opportunities to represent clients in court


Getting clear on your intention will shift your attention toward that end--like achieving an hours goal, being more efficient, learning a new skill--and reveal opportunities that were there all along but that you hadn't clearly defined before. You'll see, for example, ways to bill more time, cut out inefficiencies, and take advantage of opportunities to practice speaking in public. 

Here's the takeaway: When you align your thoughts with something you desire, the motivation and actions needed to achieve the goal reveal themselves. If you want to improve your practice, it starts with getting specific about your intentions. That will allow you to view opportunities with a heightened level of clarity, which will then allow you to take action with confidence and purpose.