Intention setting on a regular basis can be a powerful and transformative practice. If you’ve never done it before, it can be a little intimidating. But once you try it, you may realize it brings a lot of clarity to the way you want to experience life. Learn how to set intentions anytime of the year.
When I first enrolled in my health coaching program, I remember one of the first exercises in the program was to set an “intention” for the year ahead. I vividly remember listening to the instructor talking online as I was folding laundry (multi-tasking at its best). Honestly, the concept was a little hard for me to grasp.
I remember struggling with the exercise because I hadn’t really ever thought about this concept before.
What are intentions? What does that word really even mean in this scenario? Wait, what about goals? What about all those clearly defined and measurable milestones I’m always setting? Can someone tell me how to set intentions?
Little did I know that this would be the first of many intention setting exercises I would undergo.
Intentions vs Goals
Let’s first talk about goals because I’ve noticed the two being used interchangeably lately with “intentions” being the new trendy replacement. Every other person I follow on Instagram has been sharing their intentions. And while this is such a great practice, I think there’s a bit of confusion between goals and intentions.
Goals are quantifiable and measurable, usually driven by numbers or a definite result, projections and historical data, and an end result. If you don’t reach that end result, you didn’t reach your goal.
I’m very familiar with goals as that’s how most of my life has been driven. Back in school, my goal was to have a perfect GPA. Then it was about getting a full ride through college and grad school. After grad school, my goal was to get a great job before I graduated. Once I started working, my goal was to get promoted quickly and get a raise. After that, it was to move up the ladder quickly. You get the idea. I did achieve all of these goals, one after another, the end result driving me through each day.
Naturally, when I decided to start my business, guess what I did? I set goals. S.M.A.R.T. goals, to be precise — they needed to be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound (I learned this concept early in tech). But what I didn’t realize was that it wasn’t achieving the goals that were going to bring me the most joy, but the incredible things that happened along the way. The things I never planned for and all the incredible opportunities, the connections, the new friendships, I would have missed out on if I only remained focused on my goals.
Why Goals Only Get Us So Far
While goals are wonderful and can really drive us to many forms of success (a great GPA, new job, promotion, a job at a great company, a test result), I think they can rob us of the everyday joys of reaching our goals and appreciating those little victories, like hey, I spoke up at work this week! or I learned all about clouds this week (back in grade school), or my favorite — I actually had the opportunity to apply what I’ve been learning in real life!
If I’ve learned anything through my own wellness journey and as a new entrepreneur, it’s that goals only take you so far. While they are important in moving you forward and in setting achievements to work towards, I now believe there’s a better way. Intentions.
Intentions: A Different Approach
So what are intentions really? According to the dictionary, it means “a thing intended; an aim or plan.” What’s the difference between a goal and intention? How can intentions help you get closer to your goals without missing out on all the wonderful things that happen along the way?
I like to think of it the following way. Intentions describe how you want to show up in the world rather than what all you want to accomplish. It’s not something we mark off on our to-do list (like “drink 8 glasses of water”) but feel every single day.
Intentions for the Month:
With intentions, I find that the less there are, the more impactful they are. Otherwise, they quickly become similar to long to-do lists. Also, having a few keeps the focus on the most important factors that can impact so many other parts of your life. So here are my three intentions for this month:
- Find more movement throughout the day: Take more impromptu walks. I’m not chasing a specific number on the scale anymore (more on that later). My intention is to find more ways to enjoy movement in my everyday life. To sit less at my desk. To explore my neighborhood more. And when exercising, to spend my time on the forms of exercise I enjoy most — these days, it’s been strength training!
- Be more present in every task and interaction: I’m so guilty of multi-tasking. And I’ve been doing it most of my adult life. If I’m driving, I’m always listening to a podcast, usually missing out on the beautiful scenic views of Seattle. If I’m talking on the phone, I’ll use that time to fold laundry, wash dishes or even shoot photos, not fully engaging in conversation. This month I’m going to challenge myself to do one thing at a time and being more present in what I’m doing. I know this will lead to more meaningful interactions and increased productivity.
- Sleep better and wake up feeling well-rested: I’ve been struggling with the quality of sleep lately. For me, it means setting practices around my sleep so I actually feel better when I wake up, regardless of how many hours I slept. Am I feeling tired and exhausted before the day starts? Or am I feeling well-rested, maybe even energized and ready to take on the day. Sleep correlates with so many other aspects of our life so I know if I can improve this, other parts of my day will naturally improve.
How to Set Intentions
So now it’s your turn. If you’ve never set intentions, it can be a little challenging when you (like me) are used to living life by goals. I encourage you to try it as an experiment. Focus on how you want to “be” and “feel” and less on what you need to “cross off the to-do list” and “achieve.” You never know — it might just change the way you look at your life and how you achieve those big goals you’re working towards but in a more joyful way.
A simple practice I use to set my own intentions:
- Clear up some time (a solid 30 minutes). Remove all distractions. Put away the phone. Maybe turn on some music or light a candle. Get in the mood to set those intentions!
- Now close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Remove any expectations you may have. Trust yourself.
- Now think about how you’d like to feel this month. Envision it. What are the parts of your life you feel need more attention? The parts you may be neglecting? The parts of your life that are working and you want more of?
- Write down whatever thoughts come to mind in a notebook. Pen and paper work best for this activity. Don’t worry about how many things come to mind, just write them all down.
- Once you’re done, pick a few that you think will have the biggest impact on you at this point in your life. You’ll notice that a lot of these intentions may be related. For example, moving more may lead to more energy, more productivity, feeling happier and experiencing more joy.
- That’s it!
- As you go through your days, keep these intentions in mind and guide your everyday actions. For example, if one of your intentions is to be more present this month, gently put away the phone when a friend or your child or your parent is trying to talk to you.
I’d love to hear your intentions. Let me know below!