How to Set Intentions to Support Your Goals
Guest blog post written by Parivash Goff
Setting new goals lingered in the back of Valentina’s mind. She wanted to try it, but each time she sat down to do it, emotions bubbled up. Excitement. Anxiety. Hope. Nervousness. She had an idea of what she wanted her future to look like, but it was vague, and she wasn’t sure how to capture it into words.
In the past, Valentina set goals, but, when she met them, she was left with an empty feeling. She would find herself with more time and less direction.
Things changed for Valentina after she attended a yoga class. At the beginning of class, the teacher invited the students to set an intention. The teacher explained that an intention is something you wanted or needed from the practice, or for the day. She said it could be an emotion such as, peace, or a statement such as I communicate assertively with friends and family. Valentina did as the teacher advised and, after class, found herself constantly circling back to her intention throughout the day. Because of her intention, she found that her decisions about how she spent her energy were more purposeful. Valentina realized setting intentions was the missing link in her process of setting goals.
Inward Gaze of Intentions
A goal is something realistic and measurable that you set out to accomplish. Setting and working towards goals releases dopamine—the hormone associate with happiness and motivation. However, achieving goals can be anticlimactic as the dopamine release ends. The motivation that drove you dissipates, and you may find yourself left with that empty feeling of now what?
To combat that let-down feeling, it can be helpful to center goals around intentions. While a goal is a measurable mark to achieve, intentions are more about who you are and what you need in the present moment. Intentions are independent of goals; they are lived each day and focus on the relationship you have with yourself. Goal-setting causes you to look forward while intention-setting causes you to gaze inward. Daily intention-setting allows you to touch base with who you are and what you want to bring to the day. Intentions help guide your emotional energy, which in turn helps guide your physical energy. Setting intentions empowers you to define and live your values each day. By holding space for both practices in your life, you can consider what you need in the present moment while working toward a defined future vision.
“Goal-setting causes you to look forward while intention-setting causes you to gaze inward.”
While driving to work one morning, Valentina caught herself in a swirl of mounting to-do tasks. Her palms grew sweaty as she checked the clock and wondered how she was going to get everything done. Valentina’s phone began to buzz, and she took a deep breath. At the next red light, Valentina paused to notice her senses: the vinyl wheel beneath her fingertips, the hard rectangle of the brake pedal against her foot, the vague piney smell of her car. Valentina took another deep breath and recalled her yoga class. She began to feel more present in the moment and realized she needed to make that her intention. Throughout the rest of her day, when Valentina felt the to-do list threatening ominously, she took a few deep breaths and focused on her senses to bring herself back to the present.
How to Set An Intention
Intentions can be set daily, weekly, or monthly. Before considering your intention, it can be helpful to ground yourself with meditation or deep breathing exercises. To set an intention you may want to bring to mind things you hold important in your life:
- When are you happiest?
- How would you like to stretch yourself?
- What emotion would you like to drive your day?
- What would you like to bring to the world?
Your intention can take the form of a sentence, a phrase, or a word. It is helpful to use the present tense, for example: I approach new situations with curiosity and an open mind. Or, captured in a word, an intention could be peace or happiness.
In contrast to goals, intentions aren’t tasks that will be crossed off. They are ongoing statements or feelings that help you to live life more intentionally with your values nudging you forward.
For the last two weeks, Valentina set intentions each morning as she showered. She wrote her intentions on sticky notes and placed them on her mirror. As she reviewed the sticky notes, a common theme began to take shape. Many of her intentions centered around being more in tune with herself and her needs. Valentina decided to set a goal to practice fifteen minutes of self-care three days a week for six weeks.
As she considered her goal, Valentina asked herself what a more in-tune future self would look like and created the statement from that: I identify what I need and act on it to keep myself nourished.
Valentina then elaborated on her statement in four categories. As she considered each category, she kept her statement in mind and completed each with the focus of connecting more with herself. Physical: I nourish my body with healthy food choices. Mental: I practice meditation. Spiritual: I express gratitude. Relationships: I assertively communicate my needs to friends and family.
How Intentions Help With Setting Goals
Intentions support goals. Whereas a goal is achieved and checked off, an intention gives lasting guidance to everyday life. When thinking about goals and the future, it is not uncommon to feel the way Valentina did. Many survivors have mixed emotions as they consider their futures. Through the practice of setting intentions, Valentina defined what she valued in her life and was able to mold measurable goals to align with her values. As you practice living more intentionally consider this starting point: in this moment, what do you need most?
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