As a therapist, part of my work centers around collaborating with clients to create manageable goals. Goals are an important part of reaching personal potential and fulfillment. Not to mention, they provide a pretty awesome confidence boost when met, as accomplishment can be the ultimate propellant for motivation!
But when we fail to attain a goal (because, ugh, we are still human), we can experience the opposite: self criticism for not having followed through, even a loss of motivation. Or maybe we experience anxiety over choosing the “right” goal(s) to work towards in the first place. Sometimes these feelings can be so overwhelming that we shut down, and resist setting any goals at all (...not that I am speaking from personal experience here or anything...).
At any rate the reality remains; if we want to attain things in our lives, no matter what they might be, taking action is necessary. And action begins with a clear plan - a set of goals.
So then how can we maintain perspective, while setting and working toward goals?
Where goals are result-oriented, intention addresses the bigger picture. Intention is concerned with our purpose driving those goals - our raison d’etre, if you will. Intention allows for us to slow down, reflect on what we really want and truly value, and then align our focus and energy accordingly.
Let’s say, for example, you set an intention to live in good health. To bring this intention into full realization, you may set a goal to exercise three days a week. Say you wake up on a Monday morning (a designated exercise day) planning to fit in a 30 minute jog before you need to shower and leave for work.
But on this morning, you wake up to find that your cat has vomited all over the floor. You go to the kitchen to get paper towels only to realize that you had forgotten to add it to the grocery list (wouldn't know what this was like at all, either…). Then maybe you spend some time searching for an old t-shirt you can fashion into a cleaning rag. By the time you have handled the mess, you are ten minutes behind schedule. Then, suddenly, you receive an email notification from your boss, asking you to prepare a last minute pitch for some clients (because why not, it is Monday after all...). So you spend 20 more minutes working on it. By now, you have just enough time to take a shower and head out the door. But somehow, you overestimate your time and you are still running late to work. As you drive to work, you begin to notice uncomfortable feelings popping up about this morning. You might notice a barrage of negative thoughts, all berating yourself for falling short on today’s goal. These inner voices might say something like, “You blew it!” or “If you can’t even follow through on this, why even try?”
But what if, in this moment, you were instead able to reconnect to your intention? You might question if beating yourself up for missing one workout supports this intention. You might also decide that to forgive yourself is more in line with living in good health than judging yourself. And maybe, in this mindframe, you are able to see that a lot of what happened this morning was out of your control, and that you made the best decisions you could in the moment to take care of yourself.
Intention is what keeps you on your path. It is not rigid, and doesn’t require that you meet every goal. Rather, it serves as an overall reminder of how you want to live. Once we can articulate for ourselves what we want to bring more of into our lives, the rest has a way of materializing. Many refer to this as “the law of attraction”. Basically, I create energy with my intention which allows me to “vibrate” at a certain frequency - where I am in vibration with others on similar wavelengths.
Like meditation, intention setting is a practice and might take some getting used to. I encourage you to use this as an exercise in getting to know yourself a little better. Notice what goals work and what don’t, question what you think is important to you, and acknowledge what might no longer be serving you.
Don’t overthink it - here are five simple tips in how to get started setting intentions:
Environment - Ideally, the start of the day is the best time to set an intention as it can determine the spirit of your day. I like to take a cue from yoga class: taking a few moments in a seated, cross-legged position, where I will focus on breathing and pay attention to my thoughts. A moment of meditation can bring clarity, and help define what you would like for your day to look like. Journaling and walking outdoors can also be helpful, especially for those of us who do better when the body has a focused task, which then frees up the mind to wander. I also know someone who does his deepest reflection while washing dishes...it can be anything!
Ask the Questions - Resist the urge to pressure yourself into having an immediate answer to your query. This is a practice, not a competition. And remember, we’re talking about elevated ideas here, dreams. So give yourself space to ask the big questions, and just let them land. An example of some questions for reflection could be: In this moment, what is most important to me? What is something I wish everyone could get to experience? What contribution would I like to make with my short time here on earth?
Create a personal mantra - Mindfully construct a few sentences into an affirmation that works for you. Invite anything you are in need of at this moment. Examples could be: “May I feel abundance”, “may I find kindness in everyone I meet today”, or “May I forgive myself for mistakes I might make…” Taking time to check in with your mantra throughout the day can help you refocus on your intention, as well as pull you away from distractions.
Reminders (visual/physical) - Write it down and put it in a place you can see it. Use post-its! Stickers! Whatever works! Or, keep/create a visual representation. When I was in graduate school, I used to carry around a pen with the name of a licensed therapist I had once met. Whenever I looked at it, it served as a reminder of why I was putting myself through the hassle of school. Having tangible objects such as that pen, or a keychain, or any other physical signifier can help remind you of your purpose. In addition, I find that having objects that I can touch or see to be incredibly effective in moments where mindfulness eludes me.
Focus on the positive - You can check back in with your intention at any time of day. You may be tempted to focus on (or obsess over) where you screwed up (hey, it’s just how we’re wired), but practice giving yourself permission to look at where you succeeded! Which moments in your day were in alignment with your intention? If so, how did that feel? What can you take from that experience moving forward?
Intention setting is an inherently creative process. Each of us creates our own lives through our decisions and actions, at any given moment. We have the power to act, regardless of our circumstances. Being in therapy can be useful in untangling ourselves from the obsessive thoughts and anxiety the pursuit of goals can arouse. Click here to schedule your FREE consultation.