Have you ever said or done something only to later wonder why or wish you hadn't? If you have a knee-jerk reaction to life, or speak before you think, you might want to begin a practice of setting intentions. An intention is an aim or a plan that coexists with anything you do. Just like you might make a plan for a Saturday night outing with a friend, you also have the capacity to make a plan for how you want to experience others, the world, and your life.
First, let's distinguish an intention from a goal. Goals, while helpful in many aspects of life, are founded on achieving and accomplishing something in a certain period of time. Results are usually quite measurable, and not getting to the goal is often interpreted as failure. Goals are usually driven by influences outside of the self, with a focus on getting to the next level, and ultimately to the next goal. Goals are time-limited, and they don't generally change or reshape the way a person walks through the world.
Intentions are quite different from goals in that they are founded on choice, and an internal desire for deep change. Intentions are affirmations put into action, and they have the ability shift your perceptions, emotions and overall thinking. When you set an intention, you are focusing on improving yourself, which organically manifests as improvement in your internal and external world. For example, if you set an intention to smile throughout your day, you are changing yourself and indirectly changing the world. If you set an intention to frown, you would accomplish the same level of change, but the results would be negative. You can have multiple intentions or just one big intention, and over time your intentions can become integrated as part of you on an ongoing basis.
Intentions are empowering and inspiring. Being in the world consciously encourages you to be more mindful, and to be more aware of how you are in control of your own experiences as you go about your daily activities.
Here are some ways to put it into practice:
Before saying something to another person, ask yourself what you are intending to accomplish? Is your intention to be liked? Or is your intention to make the other person feel good or bad? You still have the option of saying whatever you want to say, but being honest about your intention will help you decide if it will bring happiness or misery to you and the person you are speaking to.
Before doing something ask yourself what your intention is in taking that action? Are you doing it out of obligation? To get a promotion at work? Or maybe to bring happiness to yourself or the other? When you clarify your intention, you are making a conscious choice, and taking full responsibility for your actions. You are also acting out of free will and complete awareness.
Before starting your day set an intention for how you want to engage with the world. Do you want to set an intention to perform a random act of kindness? Or maybe you want to set an intention to pay a compliment to every person you meet? You may also be inclined to set an intention to do something nice for yourself. Beginning your day with an intention will encourage you to be more aware of yourself, to notice things you may never notice, and to deepen your connection with who you are.