Why Setting Daily Intentions Matters... Even More Than Your Goals

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July 24, 2021
Health and Wellness

What's the difference between having a goal, and holding an intention?

On the surface, they sound similar. Dig a little deeper, and you'll find that embracing the distinction might just change your life!

Goals vs. Intentions

A goal is a target. Goals establish what you want to DO in the world.

An intention speaks to your underlying values. Intentions clarify who you want to BE.

How is this significant?

Without realizing it, we often adopt and puruse goals that were set out for us by someone else. Think about it: social conditioning, family, religous and academic institutions, government, civic and political organizations, and even friend groups all serve to imprint norms upon us. Want an example? How many people have you known who aspire to attend a particular school or follow a certain career path because their parents told them they should?

Here's another thing.

The word “goal” itself can often send us into an analytical mindset, which narrows our capacity for creative thinking. It’s also not nearly as much fun.

Which inspires you more?

  • Imagining your ideal future
  • Creating a task list

While we love a good to-do list as much as anyone, what actually motivates and propels people toward achieving their goals has nothing to do with the steps you take to get there. What drives forward action has more to do with the vision you hold around why those actions are important to begin with.

Let's play this out with a real life example:

Intention: To love my body, feeling comfortable and strong within it

Goal: Go to the gym three times a week

Without a sense of where you're going and why, it's all too easy to blow off your goals. Or even worse - to end up somewhere you never intended to be in the first place. Creating intentions helps us to clarify what's most important, and fixes our mind on who we actually want to be. Touching into your intentions each day is like pulling out a road map that will help guide you toward your desired destination.

You may be thinking: yeah, OK. But isn't it enough to just know what I most value? Why does being "intentional" matter?

Let's take adeeper look at why so many successful people swear by setting daily intentions, and how to do it.

Why Living With Intention Matters

To understand why intention matters, let's start by exploring the buzz around mindfulness. It's all over the place these days, and you've undoubtedly heard there's a load of benefits associated with "being mindful." But what is it, really?

"Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally." - John Kabat-Zinn

The concept of mindfulness is drawn from Buddhist teachings that support us in cultivating clarity, presence, self-awarness and acceptance.

In recent decades, secular forms of mindfulness have been coming into mainstream awareness, and research studies have demonstrated both the mental and physical benefits of these contemplative practices.

Mindfulness + Intention

Like mindfulness, living with intention requires maintaining a deliberate and ongoing connection to our present moment experience. It also involves guiding our thoughts and actions toward the qualities and experiences we most wish to embody.

Consider these fun facts:

  • On average, we make 35,000 decisions each day
  • 95 percent of our daily decisions take place in the subconscious mind

Imagine trying to actively think about every one of these inputs on the daily. Your prefrontal cortex simply don't have that kind of processing capacity!

Luckily, the human mind is efficiently designed to handle this. Our subconsious pulls from stored memory to assist in the decision making process. What this also means is that we sometimes run on autopilot, with life decisions arising from our old blueprints and beliefs.

If you're curious about when and how subconsious decision-making might be problematic, especially as it relates to achieving your goals and future vision, check out: How To Throw Out Old Blueprints and Find Your Way.

What we think, we become.

Simply put, adopting mindful intentions helps to program your mental operating system. It's a powerful intervention for priming the brain in the direction you most want to go.

Benefits of Setting Daily Intentions

Increases focus and momentum

Intentions are the road map toward who you ideally wish to be.

Why do activities like vision boards work? It’s not just fluff - there’s actual science to it! When we regularly feed ourselves images of a desired future state, we’re creating a line of communication between our conscious and unconscious mind. We’re making a dream tangible and real inside our head… and body.

There’s even a name for this: the science of priming. 

By reviewing and voicing your intentions on a daily basis, you are effectively priming your mind. This helps your subconscious point you toward the actions and decisions that are most aligned with the future you're hoping to create.

Drawing from our earlier example, by reflecting a daily intention to "love my body", you'll actually be more inclined to go to the gym and work out... even on days you don't feel like it.

Eliminates perceived limitations

Our beliefs reside in the subconscious mind, and guide many of the decisions we make. Unfortunately, not everything we've internalized is good for us... and this is especially true when it comes to the beliefs we've formed about ourselves.

One of the major issues that gets in the way of goal accomplishment and overall flourishing in life is coping with self criticism. While we all experience some degree of unproductive chatter inside our heads, every person has a unique story behind what causes these feelings, and how they relate to them.

Focusing each day on our positive intentions and self-affirmations can help to offset the voice of your inner critic when it arises.

Expands your perspective

It's easy to get caught up in the everyday grind, checking tasks and errands off our list to just keep our head above water. And yes, years can pass as we run inside that hamster wheel! Without weaving intention into our routine, we might not pause to so much as question if we're on the right path.

  • Were the goals I set out to achieve once upon a time still the ones that inspire and energize me?
  • Do I actually like the career path I chose 10 years ago?
  • Am I attending to my friendships, showing up in my marriage, or parenting my kids the way I'd really like to?

Creating even just a little space each day to reinforce your intentions really does shift your trajectory over time.

3 Daily Intentions to Get You Started

I intend to love myself unconditionally

Self-love is a great place to begin. Regardless of where you are right now, or what you may achieve, you deserve to be loved. Self-compassion is a practice that helps us be more expansive, and cultivates resilience for when things don't go as planned.

I intend to be kind to myself and others

An extention of self-compassion, kindness benefits both you and the other person. Often described as qualities of being friendly, generous and considerate, kindness is more than just a quick smile... it's a state of being that we inhabit.

I intend to rest

We get plenty of prodding and tips around how to be more productive. However, what's often overlooked is the equal need for rest and recovery. We may know it is important, but we don't always make space for it. Fact is, your system is not designed to be constantly "on", rushing from one goal, activity, or thought to the next. Give yourself permission to regularly pause and refill your tank. We really do need to go slow in order to go fast.

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