The Art of Setting Daily Intentions (and How It's Different Than Goals)

Living intentionally is a favorite phrase in our constant hustling and busy-ness glorifying society. When media portrays living intentionally, we see visuals of mornings spent enjoying pour over coffee, having 10-plus minutes to sit in a blissful meditative state before heading off to do our day’s work, which if we're intentional, will be highly productive. This vision certainly isn’t unrealistic, if that’s how you envision your life when you carry it out with intention, that’s wonderful, but it’s important to distinguish that intentional living isn’t a noun, it’s a verb. It requires taking action and steps that carry through your day, ultimately providing you with the state of being that you wish to experience.

Understanding the Difference Between Intentions and Goals

Before we dive into the art of setting daily intentions, let’s gain some clarity around goals versus intentions and how they’re different, but can also be in support of one another. When we set goals, we’re focused on achieving an outcome. Inherently, the foundation of a goal is what one hopes to work toward so they can achieve it in the future whether that be a day, month or year from now. Conversely, intentions are defined more so as a practice that you take in the present to harness a state of mindfulness or being that you wish to currently experience. Where goals give us something to strive for and move toward, intentions provide us with a grounded stream of consciousness that can act as an undercurrent for everything we choose to do, think,  and be throughout our day. And although goals and intentions are not the same, by setting daily intentions, you may experience that the journey to achieving your goals becomes clearer and with fewer obstacles due to clearer decision making and a greater focus on taking the smaller steps that lead to the bigger goal.

What You’ll Gain From Setting Intentions

Beyond helping you to achieve your goals, daily intention-setting brings forth a myriad of benefits for your well-being. When you partake in a daily intention-setting practice, you’re dedicating mental space, which is typically filled to the brim with things to do and remember, with the desires for your day.  According to text in the Upanishads, which are the ancient philosophical texts from India, say, “You are what your deepest desire is. As your desire is, so is your intention. As your intention is, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny.”

Essentially, by acknowledging your desires and creating space to meditate on them and transform them into intentions you can carry out, you’re actively participating in the now of your own life rather than dwelling on the past or over-thinking on the future. This state of presentness opens the door for greater life satisfaction, richer experiences, deeper feelings of emotions, stronger resolve, less stress due to letting go of future outcomes, and a more clarified frame of mind.

How to Create an Intention

Returning to the example of living intentionally being visualized as enjoying pour over coffee and spending 10-plus minutes in a blissful meditative state, these examples illustrate the idea of savoring and slowing down. The physical aspects aren’t the focus of the intention; the intention is your attention concentrated on the feeling. To ensure that you’re setting intentions that you can use to guide your day, here are three important things to consider:

1. Make them malleable - Intentions that are rigid typically don’t serve you well because your mind wants to treat them more like rules to be followed. When you keep your intentions malleable, you allow yourself grace to shift into new intentions and let them evolve as you continue to act in congruence with your original
intentions. Just as we are constantly growing and developing, our intentions must take new shape as well. 

2. Detach from and release the outcomes - Yes, intentions are rooted in desire, but it’s important to release results of those desires and detach from them. This all loops back to presentness. When we’re focused on perceived outcomes, we’re not focused on the now. If we set mindful intentions and take aligned actions, we have done all we can to move toward those desires, the rest of our destiny lies in the laws of the universe.

3. Center on positivity - Because we are creatures that are motivated by personal development and growth, we’re naturally inclined to look at what we want to improve when setting intentions. While there’s no harm in setting intentions aimed at an area you’d like to improve, it’s important to frame your intentions positively. For example, if you would like to have more meaningful conversations with your moody teenager, don’t focus on what you don’t currently like about your interactions. Instead, concentrate on positive feelings such as patience, openness, and acceptance to help guide that intention toward the direction of your desire.

Inspired Ideas for Setting Your Intentions

Now that you know what intentions are and how you can use them to achieve the state of being you desire, now it’s time to set them. Typically, intention setting is best done during contemplative part of your day that provides you with quiet time to reflect inward, but you may find that time hard to come by or that you need a little more structure. Here are a few inspired ideas to assist you in getting started:

  • Incorporate Intention Setting into Your Routine - Whether you meditate every morning and set your intentions at the end, while you oil pull (which is our go-to routine!) or while brewing your morning tea, having a routine surrounding your intention setting is a great way to ensure that you don’t let your practice fall by the wayside or get lost in the shuffle of a hectic schedule.
  • Keep Them Visual - For some, intention-setting can feel too intangible, as if once they’re done setting intentions, they float away and are hard to stay focused on. If you find your attention floundering, keeping your intentions visual by writing them down each morning in a journal or on a sticky note you can keep in front of you. Having this visual cue can help you develop your practice, and you may find that it’s no longer necessary as your practice progresses or it’s a ritual you enjoy. 

  • Develop a Ritual - Speaking of rituals, taking a dedicated action that coincides with your daily practice can be an excellent way to ground your intention. Saying your intentions out loud, turning over a crystal in your hands, or flowing through a sun salutation are all mindful ways that promote the meditative thinking that intention setting thrives within.

    At the end of the day, the most beautiful thing about the art of setting intentions is that there are no rules and that with each new day, or really moment, brings the opportunity to set or reframe an intention. Your intentions are what you make them, and with dedicated time and focused attention, you’ll cultivate the routine, ritual, and practice that best aligns with what you desire.


    Photo by Ana Tavares/Unsplash