How to Learn Any Skill Twice as Fast in Half the time, Pt. 3: Intent

by Alexander Heyne · 4 comments

 <Note: This is part 3 of a three part series.  The first part can be found here. The second part can be found here.>

Check out the look in that guy’s eyes.

Bet you wouldn’t want to mess with him, huh?

Well let me tell you a little secret here: one of the greatest, most powerful tools that is relatively unknown is the power of intent.

And I’m not talking law of attraction stuff here.

I’m talking friday night in a club, the look that girl gives you that makes your knees weak.

The half squinted, knows what she wants, in control, ready to attack you and take everything look. Sexy.  To the average joe, it’s like the look of a prizefighter ready to smash your face in.  Intimidating.

Warriors of China

On the other side of the globe, practitioners of 内家 (the internal martial arts) knew this power for a long time. Taiji, Bagua, and Xingyi are the most famous martial arts that place an emphasis on intent training.

Entire combat systems are based upon the concept of intent! 意拳 (Yiquan) literally means “intention boxing” 形意拳 Xingyiquan means “form/intent boxing.”

Entire schools of kung fu make students train years holding single poses just to train their intent.

So what’s the deal here? And what the hell does kungfu have to do with business, travel, or life in general?

Remember back in the second post about avoiding automation?

Let me refresh your memory with one of the seriously important quotes:

“Frequently, when we see great performers doing what they do, it strikes us that they’ve practiced for so long, and done it so many times, they can just do it automatically. But in fact, what they have achieved is the ability to avoid doing it automatically.  Great performers never allow themselves to reach the automatic, arrested development stage in their chosen field.  That is the effect of continuous deliberate practice — avoiding automaticity.” (Emphasis mine)

Everyone knows there’s a difference between an unproductive 3 hours of work, and a productive 45 minutes.  They are probably worth the same in terms of “work accomplished.”

And I bet you remember learning to play sports as a kid, baseball for example.

“Keep your eye on the ball…” “See yourself hitting it out the park…” “Put all your attention on the pitcher…”

These are about intention.

Intention is one of the key foundations of learning a skill rapidly, not wasting your time, and improving personal productivity. 

Even just putting all your attention into the moment and saying, “I have to get this shit done” is using the power of intent.

The same is true for any nightly rituals (to aid sleep), pre-surgery rituals (to ensure the surgeon’s mind is in the game), or morning rituals (exercise, meditation, stretching).  You are doing an exercise in intention.

The cold blooded killer’s secret

We’ve all had that creepy feeling that someone is watching.

Even more often, we’ve had that feeling that someone is watching us – and looked right in the direction of the person to their surprise.

A skilled con artist can make you believe anything.  They can make you feel anything. They can make you trust them, and be willing to go along with anything they say.

How? They are masters of intent.  They know exactly how to emit a certain vibe of being calm, cool, and normal.

I talked a lot about the danger signs, intuition, and danger avoidance in another series of posts.

The surgeon’s swordsmanship

Dr. Mihaly Csikczentmihalyi in his Book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience mentions surgery as being a profession that has the principles of flow inherently built in.

Surgeons #1 go through a ritual to prepare- most of them have their own thing.  Playing basketball. Listening to classical music.  Going for a drive in the car.These are all rituals to get their heads in the game (read: get their intent straight).

According to many surgeons, based on Dr. C’s analysis, time is described as being rather enjoyable in surgery.  It passes quickly, the goals are clear and distinct, and there is an obvious entry and exit point at which the surgeon can tune on/off.

That moment when the surgeon expertly excises a diseased organ, when a basketball player makes a crucial shot and makes it, or when a person narrowly escapes death in a freak accident — is often due to intent. That intense focus on the current task.

It is much more psychologically demanding than regular attention or focus. And much more rewarding. It is deliberate practice.

When you hit the zone, you have gotten your intent straight.

What intent can teach us

As a brief recap so far, we have established that:

  • A woman can seduce you with just the intent in her eyes
  • China has a long history of martial arts based on training intent/intention
  • In the book Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else, maintaining a strong presence of intention and avoiding automaticity, are cited as key points in accelerated skill learning
  • Criminals can fake intent to lead you in a certain way
  • You can pick up on the intent of others
  • Rituals are a way of establishing intent for a certain goal or task
  • Surgeons are well-acquainted with the flow producing qualities of their job – where they are placed in the zone and have crystal clear intent
  • “The Zone” in sports is a state of harmony between your intent and your actions

The power of intention is worth paying attention to.

The ultimate test of how quickly you’ll learn a new skill is how well you master intent.

 <Note: This is part 3 of a three part series.  The first part can be found here. The second part can be found here.>


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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

catherine September 15, 2011 at 11:09 am

thank you so much for this series! I see it being very helpful in pushing myself in photography. Question: what were your concentrations in school?


afheyne September 15, 2011 at 12:02 pm

Believe it or not, Biology. I first and foremost love medicine and alternative medicine, but ironically don’t write about those at all.. (yet?). I have varied interests, haha.


Abe October 4, 2011 at 4:19 pm

Thanks for your insight and great material, Alex!


afheyne October 4, 2011 at 4:44 pm

Thanks Abe! How have you been man? and where are you? Last I saw Turkey?


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