“Intentions compressed into words enfold magical power.”
– Deepak Chopra
Imagine this… you’re in your 90’s, sitting comfortably on your porch, looking out over the picturesque valley below. You feel relaxed, calm and content. With decades of wisdom behind you, you start to reflect on your life. What brings a smile to your face? From the vantage point of old age, what’s been most important to you? What are you grateful for? What are you proud of doing? Is there anything you would go back and change? What advice would you give to yourself at the age you are today?
What will you want your priorities to have been right now?
Without getting too spiritual on you, sometimes you need to look at life from a different perspective to get a sense of what your true priorities are. Your heartfelt purpose, if you will. And then you can start thinking about what you can do, from today, that will help you become that contented nonagenarian, sitting on your porch, happily reflecting on a life well lived.
That’s what intentional living is all about.
Intentions are a reminder of the bigger picture. They bring presence and purpose to your actions, guiding you down the path to happiness. As best-selling author Alan H. Cohen put it, “When your intention is clear, so is the way.”
What’s the difference between an Intention and a Goal?
A goal is a specific target, while an intention is a purpose – or a commitment to yourself. An intention is about being something, rather than achieving something.
An intention is your guiding light and your check-in along the journey. It sets the standard for how you live and act, regardless of whether or not you achieve a particular goal. There’s nothing wrong with setting goals along the way if you find that helpful, but your intention is what drives you.
Think of a goal like a hit of sugar that gives you a temporary high, while an intention is a healthy diet that fills you up and makes you feel good all the time. Both have their place.
Living an intentional life is about purposely choosing how you want to live. And it’s far more transformative and fulfilling than simply ticking off goals.
Your brain is wired to ‘help’
“Our intention creates our reality.” – Wayne Dyer
Yogi’s out there will be familiar with the Sanskrit term ‘Sankalpa’, which comes from the roots san, meaning ‘a connection with the highest truth’ and kalpa, meaning ‘vow’. It’s literally a commitment you make to supporting your heartfelt desire, a statement you call upon to guide your choices and remind you of your true nature. In yogic practice, setting specific intentions helps you align your choices with your heartfelt desire, your subconscious working away in the background to help make it happen.
It’s not only spiritual practice that has linked conscious instruction with subconscious action. Neuroscience has proven it.
Ever wondered how you can tune out a whole crowd of people, but hear when someone says your name? Why, when you’re thinking about buying a certain type of car, you then see that type of car everywhere? How you can wake to the sound of your baby stirring in the next room while your husband is snoring in your ear? It’s not magic, it’s your Reticular Activating System (RAS) in action.
The RAS is a bundle of nerves in the core of your brain stem that filters the information around you to keep you sane. It basically influences the world you see. The RAS uses what you focus on to process the information around you, passing only the important stuff on to your subconscious mind to influence your actions.
Importantly, your subconscious doesn’t know the difference between truth and untruth – it just looks for information that validates your beliefs. So, if your beliefs are negative (no way can I ever get fit!), your brain is going to point out information that justifies those beliefs (I can’t see any unfit people exercising) and it’s going to influence how you act (nope, not joining the gym). BUT… if you focus on positive intentions? You’ll find your clever little RAS will show you the way to make it happen.
5 steps to creating intentions
“Intention is one of the most powerful forces there is. What you mean when you do a thing will always determine the outcome.” – Brenna Yovanoff
1. Connect with your values
If you know me at all, you know my strong belief that living in tune with your values is critical to your happiness. Values are the foundation of everything you do. Whether or not you’re able to define exactly what your values are, they’re there in the background, guiding how you think, feel, connect and act. If you’re happy and content, it’s likely that you’re living your life in alignment with the values that matter to you most – whether that’s connection, ambition, kindness, sincerity, adventure, nature or something else entirely. And if things just don’t feel right? It’s likely that those values are missing from your life.
Your intentions and your values go hand in hand. Your intentions reflect the kind of person you want to be, and your values reflect what really matters to you. Your core values help you create your intentions – for example, if connection is one of your core values, one of your intentions might be to really listen when people are talking to you.
Knowing your core values helps enormously when it comes to setting your intentions. If you’d like a hand defining your values, download my free self-paced guide for a simple three-step system. I promise it’s an exercise well worth doing – in fact it’s the only mandatory exercise I undertake with all my clients!
2. Practice creating helpful thoughts
As Walt Disney famously said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” From ‘The Law of Attraction’ to ‘The Power of Positive Thinking’, there are literally thousands of books, concepts and research papers dedicated to proving the power of positivity (or, as I like to phrase it, ‘helpful framing’).
When it comes to intentions, the theory holds. Positive intentions create positive attitudes – though to help prevent the toxic positivity trap, I prefer ‘helpful’, rather than ‘positive’. Your wording has a huge amount to do with your mindset, so try reframing negative behaviours into helpful intentions. Rather than ‘I won’t be stressed today’, go with something like ‘I will be calm and unflustered’. Or instead of ‘I won’t spend most of my day procrastinating’, try ‘I will stay focused on the work that needs to be done’.
3. Ditch your self-limiting beliefs
Just as helpful words create positive attitudes, the same holds true in reverse. When repeated over and over again, negative affirmations become a living reality.
I can’t because I’m not… good enough/quick enough/smart enough/as good as…
Identifying and acknowledging your self-limiting beliefs is the first step in overcoming them. Work out what beliefs are really holding you back or getting in the way of what you want to achieve, and make space for new (more helpful) energy.
Let’s say one of your intentions is to live a healthier life. You’ve done a weekly menu plan, set aside time each day to meditate, bought a fancy pair of trainers and set yourself a goal of running a marathon. Problem is, you’ve never run more than 2km and can’t imagine ever being fit enough to run 42 of them. The limiting belief that you won’t ever be fit enough is going to stop you from living your intention before you’ve even laced up those fancy shoes.
So you’re not fit enough. Yet.
If you like having goals, set small, achievable ones that align with your intention and watch your self-belief grow. Sign up for a 5km fun run and work your way up as you get fitter. Your intention of living a healthier lifestyle, and the whole journey you go through during the process, will help you achieve your fitness goal of running a marathon.
P.S. Fun fact: Fauja Singh wasn’t particularly fit when he took up running at the spritely age of 89. He ran his very first marathon aged 90.
4. Focus, focus, focus
“When you have clarity of intention, the universe conspires with you to make it happen.” – Fabienne Fredrickson
When you’re setting an intention, really think about what you want, how you want it to make you feel, the impact it’s going to have on you. Focus on connecting with it – as the saying goes, ‘Where focus goes, energy flows.’
Keep your intention specific and relatively simple, and make sure it’s actionable. Write it down, and – if you’re comfortable – share it with others. Hold yourself accountable to it.
Once you’ve put it out there, make sure your actions set you up for success. If your intention is to be focused, remove yourself from distractions rather than trying to succeed in an environment where you’re likely to fail.
Check in with yourself regularly – are your daily choices aligning with your intentions?
5. Start with a daily intention
“Every morning you have two choices: continue to sleep with your dreams or wake up and chase them.” – Carmelo Anthony
Get into a routine of starting your day with one specific intention. It takes only a few minutes, gives purpose to your daily actions, and sets you up with the right attitude. Got a networking event on after work? Set an intention to be 100% present in every conversation you have. Got a billion tasks on your to-do list? Set an intention to tackle the hardest thing first – eat the damn frog! If you’re struggling to come up with a daily intention, here are a few ideas to get you started:
- I will spend less time on my mobile phone
- I will actively listen when someone is talking
- I will inject some fun into my day
- I will practice gratitude
- I will go with the flow
- I will lead by example
- I will embrace new ideas
- I will follow my intuition
Set a reminder on your phone to check-in with your intention during the day (unless one of your intentions was to stay off your phone, in which case a sticky note will do!). At the end of the day, take a few minutes to think about whether (and how) you upheld your intention.
If you’d like to try setting some intentions, take a look at this video from my Recalibrate coaching course – it’s a game of pause and play as I ask critical questions for setting intentions on an aspect of your life you’d like to change.
Now let’s go back to our earlier vision. Reflecting on the past from that future point in time, when you’re in your 90’s, sitting comfortably on your porch. Imagine how your life changed for the better from this very point when you started living intentionally. When you started purposely choosing how to live, and how it brought that happiness and contentment to your old age. Intentions are pretty powerful right? Forget X-Ray vision – this is your superpower. Now go grab a pen and paper, set some intentions and become your own superhero… cape optional!
If you’d like some help defining your values and setting intentions that will guide your choices and bring purpose to your actions, let’s have a conversation about how we could work together. Simply get in touch and we’ll organise a time to chat.