Setting intentions is a powerful way to focus your attention and energy on specific goals, tasks, or outcomes. More importantly, intentions assign meaning and purpose to our actions. When we take action without having an intention for that action, our actions can feel irrelevant, unimportant, boring, and meaningless. By setting intentions, you can positively impact your day, mood, success, and life.
Intention setting is a mindfulness practice that helps you clarify what you want to achieve, cultivate positive attitudes and emotions, and increase your chances of success. Intentions can be set regarding a specific action, for the day, and/or for your life.
How a Lack of Purpose Can Result in Chaos
Recently, I had a personal experience that highlighted the importance of intentions. I had a rough week. By rough I mean I was feeling pretty much every negative feeling possible. It was overwhelming. I was bored with my work, sad about life, felt this unbearable need to get away, and found myself withdrawing while feeling lonely. I tried to analyze the reason. Was it the cloudy, rainy weather (I’m a sun lover)? Was it a sign I needed to make a change in life?
I knew intellectually these were feelings that couldn’t necessarily be trusted. Yet, I still wanted to get to the root cause. And then one morning I was reading a book and the word “intentions” jumped out at me. For most of the last 30 years, I’ve started my day with a focused purpose. I get up in the morning, set intentions for the day, look at my calendar, and determine the purpose of each meeting and interaction I might have. I realized I hadn’t set an intention all week. I was just getting up and going through my routine much as I had the previous week.
Without intentions, I had no purpose. There was no purpose in writing content, in my bike rides, or in my interactions with others. I was getting things done but it all felt meaningless. And that was depressing.
Whether you’re starting a new project, working on a difficult task, or simply want to have a productive day, setting intentions can help you stay motivated, focused, and aligned with your values and priorities. More importantly, with purpose (i.e. intention), you have a reason to live and contribute.
The Science Behind Setting Intentions
By setting intentions, you activate your brain’s reticular activating system (RAS). The RAS acts as a filter for incoming information and signals what to focus on. When you set a clear intention, you give your brain a specific goal to work towards. This increases your attention and awareness of opportunities and resources that can help you achieve that goal.
Moreover, intentions can affect your mindset, emotions, and behavior, which can in turn influence the outcome of what you do. For example, if your intention is to be more confident in a presentation, you may feel more empowered, motivated, and prepared, which can help you deliver a stronger performance.
Intentions can also help you overcome obstacles, such as procrastination, self-doubt, or distractions. When you face challenges or setbacks, you can remind yourself of your intention and recommit to it. This can provide a sense of purpose and direction. Additionally, intentions can help you cultivate positive habits and attitudes, such as self-care, gratitude, and resilience, which can improve your overall well-being and effectiveness.
How Intentions Affect Success
By setting clear intentions, you create a roadmap for yourself and increase your chances of success by providing direction and purpose. Here are some reasons why intentions are crucial to success:
- Clarity and Direction: When you set intentions, you clarify what you want to achieve and why it matters to you. This clarity helps you stay focused on your goals and make choices that align with your values and priorities.
- Prioritization: Intentions help you prioritize your time, energy, and resources on what’s most important to you. By setting intentions, you can distinguish between what’s urgent and what’s essential, and allocate your attention and efforts accordingly.
- Activate Motivation and Drive: When you set intentions, you activate your brain’s reward system and motivate yourself to take action. Intentions can inspire you to overcome obstacles, persist in the face of challenges, and stay committed to your goals.
- Enhance focus and attention: Intentions help you direct your attention to what’s relevant and filter out distractions. By setting intentions, you train your brain to notice opportunities and resources that can help you achieve your goals.
- Boost confidence and Self-efficacy: When you set intentions, you create a sense of purpose and agency that can boost your confidence and self-efficacy. Intentions can help you believe in your abilities and increase your sense of control over your life.
Examples of Intentions for Various Situations:
- For the day: “My intention is to be present, grateful, and kind to myself and others. I will accomplish (my most important tasks) with focus and determination.”
- Before a meeting: “My intention is to listen actively, ask thoughtful questions, and contribute ideas that align with the team’s goals.”
- Before a workout: “My intention is to challenge myself, push through discomfort, and nourish my body with movement and breath.”
- Before a difficult conversation: “My intention is to speak honestly, listen empathetically, and seek understanding and resolution.”
- Before writing an article: “My intention is to create content that helps others be successful. If this article helps just one person, it is worthwhile.”
- Before an evening with family: “My intention is to put work aside and be present for my family. I will give them the very best I have to offer today without regard to tomorrow or any other time in the future or past.”
Setting intentions is a simple but powerful practice that can help you clarify your goals, activate your focus and resources, and align your mindset and behavior with your values and priorities. By setting intentions, you can enhance your performance, well-being, and satisfaction in various aspects of your life. Most importantly, you can live a life with purpose!