Today’s article on intention-setting is a guest post from Kate Phillips of Total Wealth. Kate is also the co-author (with yours truly, Kim Butler) of Perpetual Wealth and Financial Planning Has Failed.
“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”
— Henry David Thoreau
Aladdin’s lamp, wishing wells, magic wands and fairy godmothers symbolize our desires to turn our dreams into reality. But if you’re short on fairy dust or skeptical about lamp-rubbing, I recommend intention-setting.
Intention-setting is a twist on traditional goal-setting and an upgrade to the practice of making New Year’s Resolutions. It is also a powerful step towards a fulfilled life.
Intention-setting brings your desires into focus, offers clarity and creates momentum. It can also save years of misdirected energy and efforts. As Steve Pavlina writes, “If you don’t take the time to get really clear about exactly what it is you’re trying to accomplish, then you’re forever doomed to spend your life achieving the goals of those who do.”
In this article, I share why intention-setting trumps New Year’s resolutions, and seven keys for doing it effectively.
Creating an intention-setting tradition.
Over the last 15 or so years, intention-setting has become an essential practice in my life. It allows me to step back from my life to evaluate what’s truly important. What’s working—and what’s not. It’s a time to course correct, create what’s next, and become a truer version of myself.
To set intentions, I clear my schedule around the first of each year for a day or more. Armed with pens, a blank journal, and a list of questions, I step back from the hustle-and-bustle of the holidays to reflect, contemplate, and dream and create.
For years, I went away alone to set intentions in solitude. More recently, I’ve led intention-setting practices with others. Alone or in community—I wouldn’t miss it for anything! These are the days that truly give birth to dreams.
Why set intentions at all?
We may think we know what we want. But until we stop to reflect on the trajectory of our lives, we’re likely to spend more time “off course” than we want to admit.
Imagine flying to Fiji. The pilot must constantly check their instruments to make sure they are on course. Even if they are just 1% off course, they will miss the mark completely!
We are creatures of habit. Without intentional nudges from within or without, little changes. Tomorrow will be much like today, and today looks a lot like yesterday. People often stay in their comfort zones—even at the expense of their dreams and potential—for far too long. They continue along a trajectory put in place by parents, teachers, or the culture at large. (At least, until a crisis arises.)
Without an intentional structure, many remain stuck. Even those deemed “successful” can fall into ruts. Or worse—they discover they have successfully climbed a ladder hoisted against the wrong wall!
We need a pattern interrupt. We need time to work ON our lives rather than simply live out of habit.
Intention-setting interrupts the pattern. It helps us re-define our destiny, determine the best path, and find a new path when we lose our way.
I love harnessing the “New Year” energy to clear the slate and create something new. It is a natural time for looking back and looking ahead. Of course—it doesn’t have to be the ONLY time! Many people do intention-setting or goal-setting for their businesses quarterly or even monthly. The key is to HAVE a regular practice.
Intention-setting vs. resolutions
A resolution is typically a specific goal, outcome or result. Resolutions can be powerful! They can also feel like an overwhelming list of wishes declared on New Years Day and forgotten by February.
That’s because resolutions are cut and dried. Black and white. Resolutions focus only on an outcome. You succeed or you don’t.
When resolutions don’t “stick,” they can be counterproductive. They can lead to disappointment if you (once again) fail to develop six-pack abs, find your soulmate, and become fluent in a new foreign language in record time. After a few years of “failed” resolutions, you might stop trying.
In contrast, intentions focus on the journey. They are more forgiving than resolutions. Intentions go beyond specific goals to tap into the essence of what you desire. They aren’t so much achieved as they are nurtured and cultivated. Intentions require your engagement and creativity. Sometimes, they call for surrender and trust.
A resolution may be “to lose 20 pounds.” The path to achieving it may be quite direct: Exercise more and cut calories. Such focus can be effective, but can also lead to relapses. Have you ever wondered why some people make the SAME resolutions each year? (Hint: they lost the 20 pounds then gained it all back!)
Intentions are commitments that pull you towards a life that inspires you. They may represent a new way of living, a new identity or way of being. An intention may be to make health a priority, to love and honor your body, or to nurture your vitality so that you can remain active your entire life.
Intentions may inspire specific goals or habits, but they are larger than any single goal or habit. Intentions tap into both the WHAT and the WHY—what you want and why you desire it. Perhaps you want to stay healthy to watch your grandchildren—or great grandchildren—grow up. This intention might inspire you to find exercise you love, eat only when hungry—or lose 20 pounds for good!
Goals and intentions both have their place. Intentions can point us in the right direction and specific goals help us know we’re on track.
Now, let’s look at seven keys to an effective intention-setting practice.
The 7 C’s of Powerful Intention-Setting
Celebration is a powerful form of gratitude—and gratitude correlates with wealth, success and happiness. Celebrating wins and accomplishments affirms your progress. I love celebrating wins as they happen—and at the end of the year, as well.
It’s also important to celebrate the accomplishments of those around you, be they friends, team members or (if applicable) employees. Celebration encourages and conditions us for future wins.
Just as you wouldn’t likely paint directly over a canvas with an existing painting, you don’t want to layer the new on top of the old. Clearing and completing the past gives you a clear slate for creating something new.
I always begin intention-setting with a generous dose of reflection, journaling, and gratitude. These are powerful tools to help you complete the past and prepare you to create.
Some ideas for reflection questions: What were your favorite memories of the last year? Your most important learnings? What did you achieve? What has been left undone? Is there something – or someone – to forgive? (Perhaps yourself?)
(Download my free Intention-Setting Guide for my full reflection process.)
What would your ideal life look like? Perhaps you’d like to add 6 figures to your income, or 7 figures to your net worth. Why it is that important to you? Do you have BIG dreams? Get clear about what motivates and inspires you.
Examine every area of your life at least once a year if not more often. Are you satisfied and fulfilled in each area, or is something neglected or out-of-balance?
One year, in my 30s, I almost doubled my usual revenue! And while that was a big win, when I took time for reflection at the end of the year, I realized how exhausted I was. I had made some trade-offs that were ultimately unfulfilling, such as trading sunshine and exercise for extra work.
Now, I don’t believe money vs. health or happiness is an “either/or” proposition. Health and wealth and happiness can absolutely go hand-in-hand! I just needed to course correct to make sure that all of my important priorities were being met.
Another year, I realized my goal to “be in a relationship” really wasn’t what I wanted most of all. I set a new intention: to be happy… whether or not I was in a relationship! This new intention led to more personal peace—and better, happier relationships.
Every reality begins with a thought. Every dream fulfilled begins with the dream. But clarity is not enough. We have to KEEP creating what we want—both in our minds and with our hands and feet!
We participate in the process of creation by holding the vision and what we want daily. And by turning our focus and energy daily toward our intentions, new ideas and opportunities will arise. Guidance, collaboration and solutions will become apparent.
When Disney World finally opened, a reporter said to Walt’s brother, Roy, “It’s too bad Walt did not live to see this.” Roy replied, “Walt saw it first. That’s why we are seeing it now.”
The great Texas oil tycoon, H. L. Hunt once said, “There are only three requirements for success. First, decide exactly what it is you want in life. Second, determine the price that you are going to have to pay to get the things you want. And third, and this is most important, resolve to pay that price.”
Some people are committed only during fair weather, abandoning their intentions when challenges arise. Those with clarity and commitment will not be easily swayed off their path.
Consistency is another key to success. Perhaps you have seen someone else enjoy a success and thought to yourself, “I could have done that!” Yes, you probably could have. But you didn’t! And at the end of the day, it’s what you do or don’t do that moves you forward or holds you back.
Accomplished people swear by taking daily action towards their goals. Many aim to take 3 or more actions each day towards a goal. When you move consistently in the direction of your dreams, you will reach them!
A road map can come in handy, even if you don’t yet know the entire route. When setting intentions, identify the first steps to take. There may be 100 steps along the way, but first, the journey must begin!
Dreams and intentions thrive in the context of community and collaboration. Dreams die when dreamers are isolated and unsupported.
Who supports you in your intentions? Who are your co-creators? Community helps to ensure that you stay on the path. Accountability and collaboration can make a big difference. You may benefit from a coach, an assistant, or a mastermind group.
Ready to set intentions?
Download my free Intention-Setting Guide here. Carve out some quiet time for yourself. Settle in for a few hours with a pen, a journal and perhaps a favorite warm beverage. Take time to get clear on where you’ve been, what you want and your pathway to a fulfilled life!