Intention Deficit Disorder
My problem isn't Attention Deficit Disorder. It's not even Attention Management Disorder, a malady that I invented and blogged about.
A better name is Intention Deficit Disorder. Sadly I didn't invent the term. That's OK. It's a good term, and I'm going adopt it.
Attention Management Disorder
Let's start with my old post on Attention Management Disorder. I explained:
If what I've got is called ADD, it's misnamed. I don't have an attention deficit. I've got enough attention for somewhere between two and ten ordinary people. My problem is another of my inventions: Attention Management Disorder (AMD). According to Google, Attention Management Disorder is not yet a thing. So I invented it.
I've got so much surplus attention that I can carry out most simple tasks, fairly effectively. using a small fraction all of my available attention. Writing this post is about as demanding as it gets, and it takes a fair amount of attention--but not all of it. Once I know how a sentence ends, I need very little attention to get my fingers to type the rest of the words. With attention to spare I'm watching the New England Patriots kicking the butts of the Miami Dolphins on TV between thoughts as I type words.
But Attention Management Disorder is also the wrong term.
Intention Deficit Disorder
I have a new diagnosis, and I'm calling it "Intention Deficit Disorder." It turns out I didn't invent the idea. Someone has already posted about it here, and here and here among other places. Still, I think I have some insights to offer.
Here's how I perceive my own IDD: I intend to do something. I start to do it. And then I find myself unintentionally doing something else. Something that I did not intend to do. My distractibility may be due to poor management of attention, but under that, I think it's a deficiency in intention.
A simple example: I'm eating dinner. I've had enough food. I put down my knife and fork. I intend to not eat the rest of what's on my plate. Next thing I know, I'm eating again. Or worse, my plate is empty. Unintentional.
Since I came up with the idea I've been reviewing how I carry out intentional acts and when unintentional acts intrude. I've been thinking about what I might do to improve my ability to use whatever powers of intention that I have.
I've learned a couple of things worth sharing.
What is intention?
Let's start with intent. In law, there's a nice distinction made between motive--a reason for acting--and intent--the purposeful carrying out of an act. I might have a motive for killing someone, and then not do anything. No intent, no action. The law recognizes the difference and treats intentional and unintentional acts accordingly. Hitting someone with your car accidentally (unintentionally) is different than hitting them intentionally.
Intent is a mental state, and unless we are mind-readers or an individual confesses their intention, we can't know what it actually was. We infer it, though: if a person has a motive (judged from the outside) for performing an act, and then carries it out, we tend to believe they had an intention (only known internally). And if we deem that the act was intentional and injurious, we punish it accordingly.
Right now I'm writing this. I have several different motives for writing. I started writing it as part of my Daily Pages. I have a streak going, and I'm motivated to keep it going. I enjoy writing. That's another. I came up with this idea of Intention Deficit Disorder and I wanted to explore the idea. Writing is a good way to do that. Another motive.
My intention to write proceeds from my motivation. Without intention, I wouldn't be writing. Why? Because I'm motivated to do lots of other things. And I might even intend to do other things at one time or another. But I'm doing this, rather than something else because I looked at the universe of things that I'm motivated to do, and from the many, I have chosen this one. Deciding was not enough. There's something between decision and action, and that's intention.
Great. That makes sense to me. So what happens next? What are the failure modes for intentional action?
Let's take motivation as a given and start there.
To move from motivation to action, I need to make a decision. That's the first failure mode: sometimes I don't. I go back and forth between alternatives and never decide. That's the first failure mode.
Another failure mode: I make a decision, I form an intention, and I don't act.
Another failure mode: I start, and I don't see my action through to the end. I don't produce what I intended to produce.
Let's look at these failure modes in order.
First: I don't make a decision. If I don't, the usual reason is this: I never intend to decide. My decision process is itself unintentional. I'm sitting around with stuff going through my mind and considering alternatives, thinking about deciding. But there's no intention to decide. There is--wait for it--an intention deficit. It's a deficit so great that I don't have enough intention to form an intention.
Seems easy to fix. Just intend to decide.
Next: I make a decision but don't act. I don't start. Most times when that happens it's because the intention that I have formed is not a very strong one. It's what you might call a casual intention.
Likewise, seems easy to fix. Intend to have stronger intentions.
Not producing a result
This is the big one. I intend, but I don't follow through. I don't produce what I intended to produce. But did I actually intend to produce something? Or did I simply intend to do something?
Right now, as I write my first draft of this post, I have a clear intention to write, and a vague intention to turn this into a blog post. Alright! I can sharpen that intention. I can intend to write this as a draft, then intend to turn it into a blog post, and then publish it. Which I've done? Well, if you're reading this, then I have.
I intend to do something, I have an objective, something I want to produce and something gets in my way. There's an obstacle, but my intention isn't strong enough to be me over, around, or through it. Then what happens? Well: I've got an intention deficit. I need ten units of intention to get past the obstacle, and I've only got five. Most times, I'll veer off into unintentional behavior: get up and grab something to eat. Pick up my phone, and go to G+ or Facebook, or Twitter, or Reddit. My so-called ADD behavior is the result of an intention deficit.
What I'd like
What I'd like to do instead--what I intend to learn to do--is this: when I run out of intention, I'd like to reassess, make a decision, and form a new intention. I might increase my intention so that's enough to get me past the obstacle. I might decide to work on something else and intend to come back later--or not. But whatever I do, I'd like to do intentionally.
Well, I intended to write this, and I have.
And I intend to post it.
And I will have.