The art of intention setting has taken the world by storm. From the rise of bullet journaling to daily yogic mantras to a burgeoning range of smartphone apps and tools to help you plan your day, week, or even life. While the driving force behind setting intentions begins with – funnily enough – good intentions, sometimes setting and sticking to your intentions can become an unnecessary pressure. Here’s how to avoid falling victim to intention setting stress, and how to set your intentions in a healthy, fulfilling and life-affirming way.
While intention setting can be a really nice way to help you accomplish anything from office tasks to life ambitions, it’s not just about ticking something off of a list. Setting intentions can be much more spiritual than that, which is why it’s probably a good idea to start this article off by explaining what an intention actually is.
What Is The Difference Between An Intention And A Goal?
It’s important to distinguish the difference between an intention and a goal. The two terms are often used interchangeably, but they don’t actually mean the same thing.
An intention is something to help guide you through the present moment, whereas a goal is something you wish to achieve in the future.
One of the issues with confusing goals with intentions is that we become too focused on achieving something in the future. This means we lose track of what’s actually going on around us – we go around waiting or preparing for something significant to happen, and so end up missing out on the most significant thing of all: life!
Many of us spend a lot of our lives projecting ourselves into an imaginary future. We often have a very romantic, idealised version of our future too; “when I achieve this, it’ll be so much better,”; “once I’ve done that, everything will make sense,”; “as soon as I achieve this milestone, I’ll be happy.” Sound familiar? The problem with this attitude is that it’s generally unrelenting. As soon as you achieve ‘this’ goal, you then think the same thing about achieving your next goal. This is because your idea of happiness and contentment becomes indissolubly linked to the future, and not the now.
In yogic philosophy, there’s a concept called Santosha. Santosha is a state of simple yet profound contentment with where you are and what you are experiencing in the present moment. If you can’t be happy in the now, but only in some imaginary future, you’re always going to be in a state of resistance, of non-acceptance in the present moment. This is not conducive to Santosha.
Of course, it’s great to have something to work towards. However, if this special something is detracting from the beauty of everyday life, that’s not so great. This is where a healthy intention-setting attitude can really make a difference and help you to reach santosha.
How To Set An Intention?
So, intentions do sort of trump goals insofar as they help you to stay present. They prevent you from getting too attached to a future that may never exist. Intentions allow you to stay rooted in the now, prompting you to focus on taking little but conscious steps forward in your everyday life.
How do you set intentions though, exactly? Sadly, there’s not a straightforward answer. Setting intentions is not black and white, and one size certainly doesn’t fit all. Some people like to write down their intentions, other people like to have a little internal mantra which they can repeat to themselves whenever they lose sight of their intentions.
There really is no right or wrong way to set an intention, but there are a few little tips that can help you to keep them (a) realistic and (b) rooted in the present moment.
When setting yourself intentions, it’s important to not overcomplicate things. Try not to create a huge narrative out of your intention and why you want to follow through with it. Getting too emotionally attached to intentions can lead to disappointment if you don’t manage to stick to them. Yes, you might object to this by stating what’s the point in setting intentions if you’re not going to carry them forward. The answer? Things happen. Life happens. Our intentions should be flexible and open to the changing states of the mind and the times.
An intention that serves us perfectly when we wake up in the morning might not be of any use to us by dinnertime because of any manner of reasons. A lot can happen in just a few seconds, never mind a few hours or days.
It’s also a good idea to not set yourself too many intentions either. This will turn your intentions into a never-ending to-do list, and we all know what happens when we don’t get through our to-do list. We feel guilty! We feel like bad humans. This is NOT what intentions are for!
When setting your intentions, think about things that you can realistically achieve (no climbing mountains or winning the lottery) and things that will be nourishing for you and your soul. Intentions should be little reminders or pointers – healthy call-to-actions if you like – to help guide you. You shouldn’t feel pressured by your intentions – they’re not something you need to achieve by a certain deadline – but held by them, gently led forth by them.
When Should You Let Go?
As already said, your intentions are going to change, and that’s okay. In fact, that’s a great thing. We must allow ourselves to transform (including our intentions) as many and as many and as many times as we need in order to become the best version of ourselves. This is where self-study is vital – we must know ourselves to truly understand which intentions will serve us best. This doesn’t mean the self that we like to show on social media, or the self we think we want other people to see when they meet us, but our deeper selves, a true inner essence, someone only we can know deep down. We’re not setting intentions to please other people, to uphold an external identity or to seem like we know what we’re doing, we’re setting intentions for our selves.
With this in mind, you should keep track of your intentions by means of checking in with yourself every so often to see if you’re (a) present and conscious of the steps you are taking and (b) staying in line with what is true to you and your principals. Allow your intentions to evolve with you, and vice versa.
With this in mind, sometimes you’re going to need to let go of intentions. As already touched upon, while intentions are a beautiful and soul-refining way to help you lead a more nourishing, caring life, intentions can also, like goals, become burdensome if you become too attached to them. Always try and remember that your intentions, like your goals, are concepts, ideas, born from thoughts which you have brought into existence. They are not real – they won’t break if you drop them, they won’t wilt and die if you don’t water them.
Be aware that single intentions don’t have to define who you are, and they don’t have to be a part of your identity. It’s the collection of all your efforts and intentions, and the changing state of all these wonderful, blossoming, heartfelt ideas you’ve had, that matter.