It could have been as easy as looking up the definition of "intent" in the dictionary and contemplating it. But enlightenment big or small comes in the form of peeling away layers. In the case of 'intent', it has taken many layers, many examples, and many similar notions to help me reach clarity on what Intent is, how powerful it can be in our lives, and how to actually use it. For the record, the definition of intent isn't quite as useful as the ways that I've come to understand it:
Intent is more than intention or purpose - though it's technically a noun, it should be a verb. Intent is the active, conscious attention and energy you put into something you want to achieve or accomplish. Intent is the equivalent of envisioning your goal and using the power of mind, and taking active steps to get to it. It is conscious energy thought manifestation (is that a proper sentence?!). Intent is "the secret".
I've been taking Forrest Yoga classes with inspirational teacher Brian Cambpell, which is far different from the power or vinyasa flow that I've been doing for the past few years. This form of yoga is an awakening experience in intent and what happens when you put that big mind muscle to work while doing a pose. Doing a movement when your mind is fully focused, with intent, on making that movement count, even for a brief period, is more effective than several mindless repetitions. For example, abdominal exercises that mostly get done with many repetitions/sets, with you doing them as fast as possible; usually in pain, moaning and groaning for 10-15 minutes or more. That's a form of small hell as far as I'm concerned. In Forrest yoga, we do around 3 ab exercises per session, but concentration on small micro-movements (intent). Your mind is focused on that tiny movement for a very brief period of time but with a lot of mental force and focus. The results are really incredible. That's intent.
Intent is placing focused awareness on what you're doing because you know what you want to get out of it.
I recommend the book, Infectious by Achim Nowak. His book gave me this intent ah-ha moment! Taking my thinking about intent from the tangible example of the body to the difficult-to-pin-down mind it becomes very obvious that using intent - aware, focused, concentration is the deal 'maker'. As Nowak points out in his book, using intent when engaging someone in conversation, especially in business, can dramatically alter the potential outcome.
For example, say you're getting ready to negotiate a business deal, you want to put a lot of thought into what your intent is. Is it to be hard-nosed, or serious, or unmovable, or open to ideas, etc.? Watch your thoughts, and if you have none, make them! Think about what and how you want to be perceived by the other person, because it allows you to shift into the state of mind for being just that. It's a little bit like acting.
I want to be super specific about this being more than setting a goal or just thinking about a specific outcome like "I want to close this deal" or "I want to get a 15% discount". Why? Because if you only think about the outcome, you won't be open to the necessary flexibility and maneuverability needed when having an interaction with another person. The more helpful thoughts to this scenario would be: "I'm going show this potential client why my service (art, etc.) is exactly what they need because I am professional, visionary, skilled at xyz, etc."
As an entrepreneur or creator there's a lot at stake because YOU are at least 90% of the other person's business decision. You yourself are the key piece of the equation, so you must always have very clear intent in business relationships. When you engage in an important interaction, watch your thoughts. What are you thinking? What is your intent? And can you focus on that intent and drum up the necessary energy to BE that?
What do you want to get out of an interaction? Put another way, what do you want people to think of you? That is (your) intent that will determine your behaviour.
It's like getting dressed or picking an outfit; if you rummage in your closet and throw on whatever you find without a thought or intent as to what you want to wear, you're going to most likely look - at best - not put together. That's what people will see when they look at you. But, when you know what you want to wear because you know how those clothes make you look, feel and be perceived, and you dress with that intent, you will be perceived the way you intended - whatever your style may be.
Your thoughts will affect the way you act, speak, and the way you come across. An obvious example is when you're angry and you're going to make your mind known! That's the same with less stark emotions or situations. Your Intent will, in large part, determine the starting point and/or the outcome. At the very least you will be in control of yourself and how you come across. By the same principle you don't throw on whatever you can find to go for a date or into a formal meeting, don't go into an interaction without intent, without knowing how you want to be perceived, how you want people to respond to you, and most importantly, what you want out of it.