Making a change or committing to a new goal is an exciting (albeit somewhat intimidating) thing. Maybe you want to practice more gratitude in your daily life. Perhaps you want to better care for your body and mind. Or maybe you want to let go of something that's no longer serving you. Intention setting can help you commit to all those things (and countless others), but it's understandable if you're not sure where to get started or how to set intentions.
Intentions are ideas that you can set and carry with you throughout your life. Ultimately, your intentions provide a blueprint that guides your actions so that you can live in your values—or the values that you want to have.
Even better, intentions can be big or small, and they can be set at any time of the day. We spoke with experts to gather more information about what intentions are, why they add meaning and value to your everyday, how to set intentions, and how to make them happen. Here’s what you need to know.
What Is an Intention?
It’s important to note that intentions are different from goals. “In many ways, intentions are independent of the outcome of any specific goal,” says Steffanie Stecker, PhD, owner and clinical director of Mountain Vista Psychology, a group private practice in Denver. Rather, intentions are about how you want to be in the present moment, she says, while goals are larger things that you want to concretely achieve.
That said, intentions can help bring you closer to your goals. For example, if one of your intentions is to live in a way that challenges you and pushes your boundaries, that might lead you to a goal of signing up for a half marathon or taking an art class for the first time. In many ways, an intention is a powerful drive—your why—behind how you want to act, behave, or carry out a specific goal. (Pretty powerful, right?)
Benefits of Setting Intentions
Do you ever feel like you just go with the flow of the everyday? Meaning, life feels so busy that you’re simply surviving the day and getting done what needs to be checked off? That’s completely understandable (and all too relatable), but you may also feel like you’re not moving forward. That’s where setting intentions can come in.
“Intention setting is a really great way to reset your mind,” Kirsten says. “It’s a reset of where you want to be and claiming it as if it’s already done—and not questioning it.”
Ultimately, because intentions align you with your purpose and values, they can bring you closer to what you’re looking to get out of life. “When we are living our best life through intention setting and we are purposeful with how we live, we can enjoy the life we have in the present moment,” Stecker says.
How to Set Intentions
You know you want to be more intentional in your actions—but how can you begin? Here are a few tips for getting started with setting intentions:
It’s important to first know what you want your intention to be. “Realize where it is you want to go,” Kirsten says.
You can start by journaling, meditating, or talking to a friend, Stecker suggests. She also recommends looking at photos of times in your life when you felt really good. “Identify the feeling you had,” she suggests. “See if you can feel that emotion all over again, just as if you were back in that image.” Your intentions can reflect doing things or acting in a way that brings about those good feelings.
2. Infuse Them with Self-Belief
Be very clear about what you want your intention to be. Realize that your intentions are personal to you and no one else gets a say in them, Kirsten says. “It’s your calling,” she adds. “It’s your journey.”
This can be challenging since many of our thoughts are based on what others will say or think, Kirsten notes, but this is your opportunity to be clear about what you want—and know that you are the only one who matters here.
3. Know It’s OK If You Don’t Have a Plan
Remember, these are intentions, not goals with thoroughly researched, 10-step plans. “You don’t have to know when it’s going to happen or how all the pieces are going to fall into place,” Kirsten reassures. “Claim that intention out loud and then just move forward.”
4. Write Them Down and Hang Them Up
Reinforce your intentions by writing them down and putting them up in areas of your home where you’re most likely to see them. Think: your bathroom mirror or computer monitor, for instance. That way, you have a consistent reminder that helps keep your intentions at the forefront.
5. Practice, Practice, Practice
The final step is to put your intention into action by practicing it, Stecker says. Be prepared that it might not always come easily. (Remember how life can get in the way?) But as you remind yourself of your intentions (that’s where those visual reminders come in handy!), you’ll be able to adjust your actions and decisions throughout the day to live through them. With practice, it becomes easier to live out your intentions—and cultivate the life that you want as a result.
Mayur Kakade / Moment via Getty Images
How to Fulfill and Carry Out Your Intentions
Follow these tips to keep your intentions at the top of your mind—and act in ways that reflect them:
1. Set an Intention In the Morning
What do you want from this day specifically? How do you want to spend it? Setting intentions after you wake up is a great way to help yourself answer these questions. “I prefer intention setting in the morning as a way to anchor my day in how I want to be and show up throughout the day,” Stecker says. Of course, if another time in the day works better for you, then go for it—there are no hard-and-fast rules.
How you want to solidify these intentions is up to you: Some people like to write a few lines in their journals, while others prefer to say their intentions out loud or consciously think through them. But there are plenty of other great ways to set your intentions in motion, too. (More on that below!)
2. Connect It to a Habit
Increase the chances that you’ll practice intention setting by adding it to an existing habit, Stecker suggests. “For example, if you already exercise in the morning, then it will be easier to add intention setting to your morning routine either before or after exercise,” she says. Or, if you meditate, you can set an intention after your practice when you have a clear mind. It could also be as simple as saying your intention out loud after washing your face in the evening—basically, any habit could be fair game to stack with intention setting.
3. Pair It with a Walk
We’re huge fans of walking, and it’s easy to see why. The practice has countless benefits for both your body and mind, whether you’re strolling outdoors or on your Peloton Tread. Walking not only helps squash stress, but it also offers a chance to reflect inward and think along the way.
What’s more, it’s another great opportunity for setting intentions, which is why Kirsten leads guided walks where you set intentions, create positive thoughts, and visualize goals. “It’s a beautiful mix of challenging yourself physically and mentally,” she says. “There’s incline. There’s resistance. And there are moments where you think it’s not as easy as you thought it was going to be—but the same thing happens in life.” You can use the walk as an opportunity to create intentions and realize that the path forward might not always feel comfortable—but that you can succeed anyway.
5 Examples of Intentions
There are no real rules for intentions. What yours will look like will differ from the next person’s—and that’s because we all want different things in life. But if you want a little help getting started, Stecker offers a few ideas for what your intentions could look like:
I intend to move my body in ways that feel good.
I intend to get the sleep my body needs to be healthy.
I intend to listen to what my body tells me it needs.
I intend to practice self-care and treat my body with love and respect.
I intend to engage in my spiritual practice.
After setting intentions, try to notice how they help bring your values and goals to life. For example, if you intend to practice self-care and treat your body with love and respect, you might decline another alcoholic drink if you know it’ll make you feel awful the next day. Or you might decide to listen to your body and take a rest day when it’s really tired or you’re feeling under the weather. If you intend to move your body in a joyful way, you might focus on the types of exercise that you really love, and let go of what you don’t.
Intention setting is a commitment to yourself that’s tied to a purpose. It’s an opportunity to remind yourself to live according to your values, and intentions can support your journey toward your goals, too. You can set daily, weekly, or monthly intentions—whatever works for you, in whichever way feels best. Once you start tweaking your actions to align with your intentions, you may see some big personal growth and change.
This content is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute individualized advice. It is not intended to replace professional medical evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician for questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. If you are having a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.