If you want to be successful at anything, whether it’s being a more relaxed parent, quitting smoking, or running a marathon, setting an intention—and then concentrating on it mindfully—will give you the focus to help turn your dream into reality.
Intentions help you stay oriented toward your goal when strong emotions, exhaustion, boredom, or hunger threaten to throw you off course. Intentions connect deeply to your true heart’s desire, to what really matters to you, and use that rudder to set your course forward.
An intention isn’t a wish or a fantasy. It isn’t a proclamation of who or how you think you should be. It comes from truly listening to what’s important for you to feel most alive and, well, yourself.
Not an intention: I want to lose 25 pounds and fit into my old jeans.
Intention: I am listening deeply to my body’s desire to be healthy and active, and my heart’s desire to feel vibrant and whole.
We offer ourselves the greatest potential for easing our own suffering.
Here’s where mindfulness plays an essential role. When we take the time to tune into ourselves, to learn our inner landscape, it’s easier to discern our truth from fantasy. It’s like when you investigate a sudden craving. Is it that your body needs chips right this minute to function, or are you looking for a distraction (a crunchy, salty, flavor-bomb of one) while you nervously await word from your publisher about your manuscript?
Perhaps what you really want is to have fulfilling, creative, intellectually stimulating work, own a home you love, where friends and family will come to visit and where you have a place to garden, or learn to manage your stress better, and feel more grounded and happy.
From this place of deep knowing, you can craft a plan to achieve what you’ve identified. And when you veer off track—you’re tempted by the mind-numbing job because you’re scared no one else will hire you; you contemplate spending all your savings on a trip to Paris; or find yourself (again) stress-eating at 9 p.m.—you have something real and true to anchor you.
Saying Yes to Commitment
Change isn’t easy. But it’s often exactly what’s needed. Knowing what really matters to us, and setting an intention that helps create the circumstances for that desire to flourish, also makes it far easier to commit to changing behavior or habits that keep us from our goal.
After mindfully reflecting on my experience with my stepdaughter, I realized that my deepest desire was to have a warmer relationship with her. I set the intention to be loving and warm toward her, as I am with other people I care deeply for. On a recent visit, when I felt myself becoming cranky and brittle, I recalled my intention. In an instant, I saw the extraneous stuff that wasn’t contributing to greater love or warmth but instead lessening my resolve to keep my intention. I recommitted to what I really wanted, not to the random thoughts and feelings that were triggered by, say, my low blood sugar or my petulance. And because it mattered—this is how I want to live—that commitment felt invigorating, and was easy. The rest of the day went beautifully.
Two things here speak to the power of intention: When you know what’s important to you, and you intend to honor that, your intention is an alarm that goes off when you forget what really matters. Then you can choose to chart a different way forward.
Saying No to Resolutions
You may want to lose weight, get your real estate license, or be a better listener—but if you don’t know why you want this, you will quickly lose motivation and fall back into your old habits. However, discomfort and resistance are no longer insurmountable obstacles when we know what we really want and recommit to it again and again.
I’ve never been able to diet. But I have managed to control my diabetes by setting the intention to stay alive through changing the way I eat. I tell people, “I’m not on a diet. I just don’t want to die-yet.” Once I focused on my intention of staying alive, eating healthfully was a breeze.
Intention can also, simply, help you align your values with the way you live your life, in ways big and small. Without it, life can feel a bit like a pinball machine, slinging you about, miserable, confused, never satisfied with what you have because you don’t know what you really want. In this way, intention becomes less about making wishes come true; it’s really about honoring who you are.