An intention is a guiding principle for how you want to be, live, and show up in the world — whether at work, in relationships, during your meditation, or in any area of your life. Ask yourself, what matters most to you? Your answer could form a powerful intention, for which you can align your thoughts and attitude for the day ahead. Having a clear intention with you at your fingertips can help guide your actions as you move through the day.
One place where intentions are often encouraged are at the beginning of yoga classes; many teachers invite you to set an intention. But that’s often where the invitation ends; intentions typically are not explained or revisited. Before I learned what an intention was, I set intentions to sweat, to strengthen my core, and to go to yoga four times a week.
But an intention shouldn’t be confused with a goal — it’s not something you attach an expectation or evaluation to. It is something you want to align with in your life. It’s an aim, a purpose, or attitude you’d be proud to commit to.
Intentions must come from your heart; they are not the tangible “boost sales by 25%” or “get a promotion” kind of smart goals that you set at work. They are heart-driven and evoke feeling and purpose, like “practice being non-judgmental of myself and of others,” “send compassion out to the world,” “open my heart,” and “let go of fear…” Setting an intention is a way to bring your heart and mind into alignment.
Why Set Intentions?
Setting an intention at the start of a new year, on your birthday, when a new month begins, or at the beginning of your day or week can be a powerful practice because it’s the first step to embodying that which you want. Wayne Dyer said, “Our intention creates our reality.” And how many times have you heard “What you think, you become,” or “Thoughts become things”?
If you’re focusing your mind on a specific intention during a meditation, you are bringing it to your focused mind, your thoughts, your heart … and in turn helping to bring it into your reality.
How to Set an Intention
Your intention should be closely tied to your personal thoughts, values, and perspective on life. Intentions can be a clear and specific wish, or as simple as a word or phrase you’d like to align yourself with, like “open your mind and heart,” “love,” “vulnerability,” “strength,” “kindness for myself and others,” “peace,” or “freedom.” Try to keep the intention positive, so instead of saying “stop being a coward,” or “spend less time alone,” choose the intentions, “be courageous” or simply, “community”.
Here are some thought-starters to help you get started in forming an intention:
- What matters most to you?
- What would you like to build, create, or nurture in your life?
- What would you like to let go of?
- Who would you like to forgive in your life?
- How do you feel when you are your happiest self?
- What makes you proud?
- What word(s) would you like to align yourself with?
- What fears would you like to release?
- What are you grateful for?
- What are your wildest dreams?
10 Intentions You Can Borrow
- Find balance
- Open your mind and heart
- Stay steady, calm and focused
- Act with courage
- Embrace change
- Give and receive love
- Allow yourself to be vulnerable
- Connect with others
You can borrow one of these if it resonates with you, but try to create something personal for yourself.
Intentions Put to Practice
Silently stating your intention at the beginning of your day, week, or meditation / yoga practice won’t be enough. You must revisit it often and when needed. Call it to the center of your mind when you feel off center and need to reset. Intentions are a wonderful way to help you stay grounded and reconnect with what matters most.
“Intentions compressed into words enfold magical power.”
If you want to explore your personal intentions further, check out this article that offers 18 questions to help you create more success and fulfillment in your life.
Join my monthly newsletter!
If you loved this article, join the monthly newsletter — featuring tips and reflections on leadership development and stress management in the modern world. Join the 5,000+ leaders who have it delivered straight to their inbox each month.
Leave a Comment
Join the monthly newsletter!
If you’re an executive, leader, or entrepreneur, you’ll love our monthly newsletters.
What is different between an intention and affirmations please ?
Hi Saaid, To me, affirmations can feel a little forced. For example, sometimes I don’t authentically feel “I am a powerful.” or “I am brave” or “I am financially abundant” and practicing that affirmation feels insincere. I like intentions because they offer a mood or emotion that I resolve to align myself with. This feels more active to me. It’s a slight distinction, but I hope that helps!
thanks ! nice and clear about intentions
Is there a ritual that you go through when setting an intention to really ground it in yourself? Also, how do you keep the intention alive? Do you repeat it or them everyday?
Hi Carmen, Thank you for you thoughtful question. I don’t really have a formal ritual for when I set an intention, although that is a great idea. I usually close my eyes and take a few deep breaths as I feel the intention rooted in my heart space. I think repeating it daily prior to meditation is also a great idea to keep it alive. 🙂
Thank you for your response. You speak of setting intentions for a meditation or a yoga practice. Do you have overarching intentions that are guideposts for your life? Some people will call these guideposts values. How are larger, overarching intentions different from values? Or, simply, how are intentions different from values?
Thanks for your continued interest! Yes, I set intentions at the beginning of each year, and often they are the same or similar year over year. These are similar to what you describe as values. I think they can be the same, but I also think you can get more specific with an intention, and tailor it to specific domains in your life, as in, an intention specific to your relationship, spirituality, family, etc. Does that makes sense? But overall, I agree that they are quite similar to guidepost values. 🙂 ~Melissa
Thank you, Melissa. That does make sense.
Excellent article Melissa! I encourage you to check out ReadyForBetterMethod.com.. a free noncommercial website that describes how to simultaneously blend movement, rhythmic breathing and intention. This active moving concentration technique is a powerful complement to the more passive approach to mindfulness. Namaste’
Do you ever use a Mala to help you to set your intention? Im just getting into meditation and im wondering if using a Mala might help me stay focused.
Hi Ginny, Thanks for your comment! I’ve never used a Mala specifically for intention-setting, but I do think they are helpful for meditation!
Can you please tell me what a mala is?
Hi Becca! A mala is a string of 108 bead that many people use for meditation practice. They can also be worn around the neck or wrapped around the wrist. 🙂
I appreciated this article and the commentary after!! Thank you for sharing!
Glad you enjoyed! Thanks for your message!
This is such a wonderful and clear article. Thank you for sharing your wisdom. I set intentions and goals for my day.. My community does a more spiritually focused intention setting before our dances. At home, with my kids, we usually use humandala cards ( humandalas.com ) .. Do you have any perspectives about ‘cultivating intention’ with movement and sound as a way to embody the intention?
Intentions are grand, and extremely useful throughout recovering from a car wreck in 81101. Was throughout numerous Trauma centers following MVA, and also some grand molments, and some trips along the way. rickyd227 at:) gmail.c
I found this very helpful as I have struggled with creating intentions and get confused between affirmations and intentions. Thank you!
Great! Glad it was helpful!
Thank you, Melissa, for this blog post, I have found intentions quite hard this year due to the Coronavirus but reading this has given me the mental boost I need to hopefully get back into the daily routines I need and not let the current situation stop me. I hope you are well and safe during this tough time.
Thanks for your comment, and I’m glad this article helped give you a boost! I agree that this year has been harder than most to stay on track with goals and routines. Good luck getting back into it all!
Greetings, At the top of the year 2021- I was in search of unpacking what Intentions are and how to create intentions for myself. In my search I found the article to be so clear and understanding with a gentle approach. I allowed myself to go through the exercises for my own personal intentions. And what I took from it was clarity. Thank you so much!
Hi Kamilah! Thank you for your comment, and I am very glad my article was helpful to you! Cheers to a brighter 2021!