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How to Set Intentions For Your Life

You’ve probably heard about the power of intentions. 

It’s a buzzword that’s been floating around in the world of personal development for awhile, but my guess is that you’re a little fuzzy on how to set intentions and actually make them an integral part of your life.

When it comes to building the life you want, clarity is power. And that’s exactly what intentions do — they give us clarity on the type of person we want to be.

If you wake up each day without a clear intention for what you want out of your life, it’s the equivalent of getting on a bike with no destination. And when you know when you’re going, it’s helluva lot easier to get there.

Let’s talk about how to set intentions the right way and actually turn those intentions into concrete action steps that you can use to improve your life.

 

Why Set Intentions?

 

Before we talk about how to set intentions, let’s talk about the difference between intentions and goals, and why I prefer the former as opposed to the latter.

Intentions help you get crystal clear about who you want to be, while goals prioritize the outcomes you want to achieve.

I don’t have a problem with goal-setting. If it works for you, then great! I’m not here to tell you to stop doing something that is already working for you. 

However, my experience with goal setting is mostly negative. As I started to dive into the world of self-improvement, I became hyper-focused on goals.

After all, everywhere you looked there would be a successful person talking about the importance of goals. All of this exposure led me to believe that in order to achieve success, I needed to think big. I needed to set these giant, Mount Everest-like goals, and then everything else would fall into place.

But instead of everything falling into place, mostly everything just fell apart.

No matter how specific they were, or how much time I spent honing them, my goals always felt like an endless uphill climb. Each day that passed served as a reminder as to how far I was from my desired state, and this demotivated the hell out of me.

Big goals seemed to paralyze me and hinder my ability to take action. 

It’s easy to say things like “You just need to push through it.” or “You need to exert your willpower.” But for most people, this advice doesn’t work. It certainly didn’t work for me, so I knew there had to be a better way to get the life I desired.

Failure after failure with goal-setting led me down the rabbit-hole of behavioral psychology. And after burying myself in that rabbit role for quite awhile, I shifted my focus to building identity based habits. That’s when things started to change for me.          

I started focusing on who I wanted to become as opposed to what I wanted to accomplish. Because here’s the thing about changing your identity — when you change who you are, achieving your goals becomes inevitable.

Suddenly, my failures with goal-setting made sense — I was placing too much emphasis on the outcome itself, and not enough focus on the type of person who could actually achieve the outcomes I wanted.

 

how to set intentions roadmap picture

 

What Does it Mean To Set Your Intention?

 

When it comes to how to set intentions, you have to realize that what you’re really trying to do is hone in on your core values and declare who you want to be.

If you have a goal to build a business to $50,000 per month, there’s a lot of ways you can make that goal a reality.

You can scam people by over-charging for a crappy product and still hit that goal. But you wouldn’t be acting in alignment with your values.

What about if you have a goal to lose 20 pounds? 

You can eat only one meal per day, get hooked on fad-diets that bring short-term results, and still hit that goal. But again, you wouldn’t be acting in alignment with your values. 

And if you don’t change the underlying habits that led to your previous state, you’ll likely put the weight back on pretty quickly.

That’s the true power of setting intentions — there’s no shortcuts, which means you can’t cheat yourself

Setting goals is about achieving specific outcomes. Setting intentions is about embodying a certain identity.

 

  • When you say that you want to lose 50 pounds, what you’re really saying is that you want to embody the identity of a healthy person

 

  • When you say that you want to get a promotion, what you’re really saying is that you want to embody the identity of a reliable, productive employee

 

  • When you say that you want to save $100,000 for your retirement, what you’re really saying is that you want to embody the identity of someone who is smart with their money

 

  • When you say that you want to add 5 friends to your social circle, what you’re really saying is that you want to embody the identity of a social, likeable person.

 

The beauty of intentions is that your success isn’t tied to arbitrary targets 

Intentions tie success to one question — are you living in accordance with your values or not?

 

finding purpose

 

How to Set Intentions: Step #1

 

Given that context behind why intentions are so powerful, let’s talk about how to set intentions using a simple, two-step formula.

If you’re reading this right now, there’s some things about your life that you want to change. Maybe you want to be more productive, deepen your relationships, or make more money.

Whatever it is, we need to get it out there into the world. So first things first, get out a pen/paper or open a document on your computer.

The first step in setting intentions is to figure out who you want to become. Your intention needs to be closely tied to your internal dialogue and your personal thoughts.

Here’s the format you’re going to use to create the first part of your intentions

I want to be the type of person who {insert desired identity here}

 

Examples:

  • I want to be the type of person who is confident in social situations

 

  • I want to be the type of person who consistently produces high-quality work

 

  • I want to be the type of person who lives a healthy lifestyle

 

  • I want to be the type of person who is a good partner to my husband/wife

 

  • I want to be the type of person who adds value to other people’s lives

 

As you can see, these are broad statements about the kind of person you want to be. They’re not meant to be about attaining specific, tangible things.

Now in order to live out these intentions, you will need to formulate a daily habit that aligns with your desired identity. But at first, you’re going to start broad. We can worry about the specifics in step 2.

If you’re struggling to come up with ideas for the first part of your intention statement, here are some questions that you can ask yourself:

 

  • What matters most to you?
  • What would you like to build, create, or nurture in your life?
  • What changes have you been putting off?
  • What do you feel is missing from your life?

 

Once you’ve come up with a broad statement about the kind of person you want to become, let’s move onto step #2:

 

How to Set Intentions: Step #2:

 

My overarching formula for how to set intentions properly looks like this:

 

Broad Identity Statement + Specific Daily Intention

 

We’ve already covered the first half of that equation, so now let’s talk about how to engineer the second part.

You have an idea of who you want to become, but the question remains — what are you going to do each day to live out this identity?

That’s where habits come into play. After all, you don’t change who you are until you change something that you do daily.

In order to accomplish this, you need to commit to small daily shifts in your identity that compound over the long-term.

The keyword there is small. Don’t make the classic mistake of overwhelming yourself. 

If you’ve ever told yourself that you were going to make radical changes to your daily routine, you know how that typically goes.

You set a huge goal. You get super motivated. And then one of two things happen when the time comes to take action:

 

  • You never start working towards your goal because it’s too overwhelming
  • You push through the first few days relying on sheer willpower, but eventually you end up back where you started.

 

If you want to form new habits that help you transform your identity, you’ve gotta start with something tiny that you can actually maintain.

Let’s put these two parts of the intention formula together to give you an idea of how you’re going to complete your intention statement:

I want to be the type of person who {insert desired identity here}. In order to embody that identity, I will commit to {small daily habit} every single day.

So think about your statement from Step 1 and brainstorm a few small daily habits that will move you closer to the type of person you want to be.

Now you might be wondering — just how small are we talking here?

Really small. In fact, when you’re trying to make a new habit stick, it should take you less than two minutes to do.

The goal is to make it impossible to say no too. As you start getting the reps in every day, you’ll build up evidence in your brain that you’re a different person. 

You really have endless choices here when it comes to which habits to pick. Any behavior that aligns with the type of person you want to become is a net positive on your life, so don’t obsess over what to pick. 

Here are a few examples of intention statements that combine everything that we’ve been over in the previous two sections

 

  • I want to be the type of person who has a healthy lifestyle. In order to embody that identity, I will commit to eating one bowl of fruit every single day.

 

  • I want to be the type of person who has deep personal connections with my friends. In order to embody that identity, I will send a quick check-in text to someone in my social circle every day

 

  • I want to be the type of person who creates high-quality content for my readers. In order to embody that identity, I will commit to writing 50 words every single day.

 

two kids looking up at the world

 

Final Thoughts

 

You’ve likely heard about intentions before, but I hope this article provided some clarity on how to set intentions and actually make them an integral part of your life.

If you’ve struggled with goal setting before, then the framework I’ve outlined in this article should make things a lot easier for you.

When you tie your success to specific, lofty targets, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and discouraged. 

I went through this phase for years. Setting goals. Not hitting them. And then trying the same thing three months later.

Luckily, I was able to find a solution that made behavior change achievable. Once I started focusing on the type of person I wanted to be as opposed to the outcomes I wanted to achieve, things turned around drastically.

Every day, I knew I was making progress. And as long as you’re making progress each and every day, achieving your goals becomes inevitable.