Choosing with Intention

What you don’t do, determines what you can do

Tim Ferris

One of the most powerful personal lessons I have learned in recent years is every time I say YES to something I am saying NO to something else. Equally, every time I say NO to something, I am saying YES to something else.

It seems so ridiculously logical and easy to do, and yet it is not.

Within the busyness of life, it is very easy to fall into the trap of saying yes to things that we have no desire to engage in.  Why? The reasons are multifaceted. We say yes, because of expectations, guilt, and societal or relationship expectations. Sometimes we say yes simply because in the moment we are too exhausted to put up an argument for no. We say yes because we feel we SHOULD rather than because it is something that will be rewarding, interesting, altruistic, or fun. When it comes to work sometimes, we say yes, even though it will annoy our partner, cut into our sleep/study/leisure/exercise/family time. We may be saying yes because of power imbalances, a hope that it will increase the chance of job opportunities, or we are trying to negotiate challenging relationships with colleagues. We say yes, even though within moments that decision feels awful.

Yes and No are two words that can provide a safe boundary for us to lead an intentional life, or two words that result in a world with no boundaries. Without intention for what is a yes and what is a no we can bounce from one thing to another without a plan, structure, or safety. Choosing with intention is not about becoming selfish and indulgent. Part of being a collegial colleague or a good parent means there are times we do activities, visit people or swap shifts even when it is inconvenient and exhausting. However, these moments are still about choosing with intention.

“I am going to take this shift because my colleague needs this appointment.”

“I am visiting my in-laws on my first weekend off in three weeks because my relationship and family are important.”

Unbelievably it is already April 2024, and another year is disappearing fast. If you had goals or intentions for 2024 that are yet to be eventuated, maybe it is time to really consider how intentional you are with your time and decision making. With the remainder of the year how would you like to prioritise your goals, your personal wellbeing, or your relationships? Wherever you place your attention and intention is where your time and energy will go. So, what is the difference between a ‘choice’ and an ‘intention’?

A choice is an isolated event often driven by a desire or value or competing demands. A choice is made as a judgement in the moment and may involve selecting one option over another.

 An intention is choice with a commitment. Intentions frequently have a course of action connected to them. An intention is a conscious decision or plan that is working towards a specific purpose. An intention is frequently a continuing condition or commitment. Intentions are more likely to resist reconsideration and have a plan of execution to improve the selection of actions (Boella, 2002). Intentions allow us to focus on an action plan and rationality rather than a desire or request in the moment (Kesting, 2006).


Having clear boundaries and personal rules for yourself and your life assists in choosing what you do with your time and energy. Clear intentions stops the pressure of making decisions in the moment.

Be mindful of intention. Intention is the seed that creates our future.

Jack Kornfield

Mia Freedman, is the successful co-founder of the Mamamia Women’s Media Company and provides wise words of advice around choosing with intention and setting boundaries.

Instead of saying ‘I can’t’, I say, ‘I don’t’. It sounds really subtle, but it is really important. I have important rules like I don’t do charity engagements on the weekend”. Freedman says that having these strict rules takes the “should I?” out of the equation.


These personal rules and boundaries are not to keep others out, they are to keep you well and focussed. These rules keep you engaged with people and activities that are aligned with your priorities. Ironically creating a matrix for your intentions can assist you to find time.

An example of a matrix for intention may include:

Does this decision fit with my intention for:

  • My values.
  • The needs of my family and those I love.
  • My current goals.
  • The demands of my work.
  • My wellbeing commitment.
  • My financial plan.
  • Rest.
  • Time to prepare for the week ahead.

Whatever is important to you, build it into a matrix and then build your rules and intentions around this framework. If someone asks you something and you are not sure whether it fits your intention matrix please do not respond immediately. Go away and think about your intentions and the request and then decide. If you are studying for exams, have young children, have a savings plan, or are simply exhausted by life, friends and family can forgive you for missing all sorts of things if you explain your intentions and boundaries. For example, “my exams are in October. Between now and then I will be a lousy partner 6.5 days a week, but every Tuesday night is dedicated to you. When I pass this is how I will make it up to you”

Here are a few of my personal examples:

Intention: I want to be more present for my family when I am at home.

  • When people ask to catch up with me to ask for advice etc I ask them ‘can we walk and talk’? This way I still get to exercise, I give the person my full attention and time, I don’t take time away from my family.
  • I have phone free time, where all devices are put away.
  • I tend to have long conversations with family and friends when I am in the dead space of time driving in the car. This way I still keep in touch with everyone who is important to me and when I am home, I can still be present.
  • I tend to only write on nights when my husband is on night duty and I am home alone.

Having a matrix of intentions does not stop you from doing lots of different things. It is about sanctioning when you intentionally stop to dedicate time to something.

Here is another example, I would love to say I never check my work emails on my days off, but that is simply not true. However, I don’t check my work emails all day long, (this can make you feel like you have not had time off!). I intentionally check my email at 9am and 3pm and 7pm. I intentionally step into that space for 5-10 minutes. Address anything urgent and then intentionally step back out.

Intentions can provide clarity and ACTION to achieve something important.

Intention can also help us to see that in choices things are not always either/or. It can be either/ AND.

The cognitive fatigue we can all experience due to busy lives can often find us saying yes and no without deliberation. Intention can help us realise that ‘yes’ and ‘no’ can provide boundaries to greater intentionality of time. Creating space for the things that really matter.

In the words of the beautiful singer Norah Jones:

Ain’t it just a little scary sometimes
To find the lies that you know to be true
I’ll find you smiling about
Things you don’t have to do
Things you don’t have to do.

Norah Jones


Liz Crowe

Further reading

Boella, G. (2002). Intentions: choice first, commitment follows. International Conference on Autonomous Agents: Proceedings of the First International Joint Conference on Autonomous Agents and Multiagent Systems: Part 3; 15-19 July 2002, 1165–1166.

Kesting, P. (2006) The Meaning of Intentionality for Decision Making, SSRN Electronic Journal, 10.2139/ssrn.887088

Cite this article as: Liz Crowe, "Choosing with Intention," in St.Emlyn's, April 27, 2024,

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