The first time I heard someone talk about ‘setting an intention’ was during a yoga class. The instructor was talking to us all about how to get the most from our yoga experience, and she casually mentioned intentionality like it was something we were already familiar with. The crunchy granola folks in the room nodded at her sage advice, and then we all did the yoga thing; intention was barely mentioned during the rest of my time there.
What, in the name of the everliving Bard, is intentionality?
Setting an intention is pretty simple: take a chunk of time when you’re doing something, and assign a secondary internal goal to that time as well. Consciously use your morning coffee time to contemplate forgiveness. Deliberately think about inner peace during your run tonight. Set aside fifteen minutes of your dish washing to remind yourself of what you find important. And so on.
Different folks will define setting intentions in different ways. Most of them wrap it up in some kind of spiritual wrapper, talking about inner wellsprings of peace and horribly mispronouncing words in Sanksrit. The big thing is picking a personal goal that doesn't have a explicit end-state, and making a point to mentally explore it in a consistent and open way.
But for all of that description of what setting an intention is, it's really just mindfulness. Active, positive, mindfulness that takes place while you engage in other daily rituals.
You can practice intentionality without going full granola. You can practice intentionality without any granola whatsoever. The more trappings you surround yourself with, the more you rely on superstition than practice.
Rather than lighting some incense and chanting mantras you don’t understand, Pick a simple task and a simple intention and pair them for a while. All you need to do is center your breathing, tune out the distractions, and be present. That’s it.
If you’re smart, you’re still probably wondering what it is that you actually do when you set an intention. It’s actually pretty simple:
And that’s pretty much it. Achieving your intentions is typically a matter of consciously choosing positivity and separating yourself from the burden of stress. Your thoughts are going to be all over the place (if you're thinking at all), but as long as you avoid negativity you'll find your way through.
You know how the most random of things can trigger a negative thought? Same thing can happen when you’re setting intentions. It’s easy, when you take the time to reflect and pursue internal goals, to fall into a cycle of negative thoughts. Negative visualization has its place, but setting intentions is about bolstering yourself.
You control your reactions. You can’t control what goes on around you or what might pop into your head, but your reaction to it is yours. Setting an intention is you exercising your existential right to be the most awesome version of yourself you want to be.
Keep Doing It
The first time you unroll your yoga mat and decide to set an intention to be ‘more present,’ you’ll feel like an idiot. You’ll try to think about it. You’ll try to not think about it. You’ll try to recenter yourself and try it again. You’ll screw up your yoga routine, get angry at yourself, and ruin the entire mood. You’ll end up stopping early more than once.
Learning how to set intentions takes time. Improving your focus and energy takes a kind of analytic spiritualism; you have to trust the process and dissect it at the same time. You have to trust that centering and exploring yourself will help, while at the same reaching for better ways and clearer intentions. There’s absolutely nothing magical or special about it, but it takes patience and self control nonetheless.
There really isn’t a secret to setting intentions; at least not one that I can give you. What goes on in your head is your business, and anyone who tells you different is selling crunchy granola and a ten-step program. If you’re looking to make your head a happier place, just keep it simple, keep it positive, and keep doing it.