Have you noticed that in legal cases, the intention of a person often weighs heavily in determinations of guilt? It is not simply what you do but what you intend to do that matters. Of course actions count and they have an impact, but much of what our actions mean stems from our intentions behind those actions.
Not only does your brain affect your intentions, your intentions affect your brain. An article in the journal New Scientist from back in 1997 describes how the intentions of monkeys affect the way brain cells fire. If a monkey is trained to look for a certain pattern of dots, when that pattern appears, certain brain cells fire actively, and when other patterns appear, those cells do not fire at all. The intention of the monkey to look for certain patterns affects how the neurons fire and which neurons fire.
In the book The Brain that Changes Itself, Norman Doidge describes his work with people showing that thoughts and intentions can change the structure and function of our brains. When we intend to learn something by applying effort with a focus on learning, we actually make our brains more flexible, in the sense of maintaining our capacity to learn and change.
Much of current brain and cognition research shows the impact of intention, which is a result of choice, on a person’s physiological brain and body structure and therefore one’s future capacities and well-being. In some ways, our inner experience can become habitual, and by deliberately making non-habitual choices, we can change not only our habits, but our brain structure itself.