Setting an intention before acting is like programming your GPS before driving. Intention gives direction to your behaviour and makes your doing purposeful.
I have been in the habit of expressing intention for my actions for years now, particularly before engaging in signifiant events, and as the start of the day.
Recently I have begun to clarify intent for more trivial actions that I am taking, as a means of self-inquiry to discover what motivates me, and as a means of aligning more of my actions to a greater purpose for my life, in an integrated, coherent way.
What I am discovering is at times uncomfortable as I am making myself aware of all the hidden motives behind some of my actions, and some incongruences between my actions and my values. Academically speaking, I am uncovering my own BS!
An example, I am meeting an acquaintance for coffee, and asking myself: Why am I meeting with this person? What am I seeking to achieve by meeting with her? Am I looking for a friend to connect with for mutual support? A teacher to learn from? A client to coach? I may or may not be clear of the answer, and remain open to possibilities, in which case my intention is to explore what is possible and how can meeting this person enrich life for me and her.
Another example is, I am now learning Comedy Improvisation. On my way to a class I ask myself, what am I seeking to achieve? Why am I taking the class? The answer is: in order to play with others, laugh, express my creativity, make people laugh, cultivate spontaneity and learn relational skills which I can translate to life. By stating this intent to myself, I experience something very different in my comedy improv class than if I were to participate, say, because I want to leave the house out of boredom and can't think of anything better to do.