This is a follow up post to Vision Quests & The Power of Intention.

“Now I certainly see the value in having goals and improving yourself. But I’m avoiding making a list of declarations to internally grade and beat myself up over.” — Kevin Rose in his January 2017 newsletter, The Journal

Goals are golden. New years resolutions intend well. They can serve as powerful propellers, mobilizing us toward grand achievements and new experiences.

When we set goals, we believe that accomplishing whatever we set out to accomplish will give us more. More money, more opportunities, more new experiences. Accolades, maturity, love, or happiness. Ideally all of the above.

Goals help us grow. But somewhere in between goal-setting and goal-achieving, life happens. Things change. The Tyson adage comes to pass: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

To those of us with especially harsh inner critics, when the giant gulf between desired outcomes and reality appears at 11:59pm on December 31, unrealized goals can have the opposite effect: self-flagellation, deflation, maybe even depression.

In January this year, I decided to try something new: setting intentions. Which I found to be very different from other common New Years rituals like resolutions, goals, and affirmations.

Whereas a resolution is “a firm decision to do or not to do something,” an intention is a gentle reminder to get back on track.

Where goals focus on achievement and doing, intentions promote a state of being.

Intentions might sound a bit like affirmations: “I am confident.” “All good things flow to me.” “I am prolific writer.” But I think intentions offer a soft distinction here as well. Instead of a wish disguised as fact, an intention is an always available truth dressed up like a directive.

Intentions are not “declarations to beat ourselves up over” but rather nudges back to center when we inevitably lose our way. While you may fail at following through on your resolutions, as long as you remind yourself of your intentions, fill your body with them, and let them influence your decision making, no matter how far off track you get, you can never fail.

Here are the intentions I set for myself in 2017:

  1. Think less. Feel / imagine / intuit / move / dream / create / do more.
  2. Deepen my relationship with nature. Spend time learning from and listening to her.
  3. Choose potential failure and rejection over fear and regret. Walk freely into unsettling situations, conversations, discomfort and challenges.
  4. Spend most of my working hours in deep work (vs shallow work).
  5. Be mindful of negative thoughts. Create habits and rituals to refocus mind on the positive.
  6. “Trust the soup.”* Trust yourself. Listen to your heart.
  7. “Swing for the seats.”* Think, dream, imagine 10x BIGGER.

*Thanks to Steven Pressfield for the quotes.

I’ve written these down and stuck them in my room. I’ll randomly flip to an intention, and if I let if fill me up, it might help influence my day and upcoming actions. It’s almost like putting on tinted glasses – you can see the world through that intention and act accordingly. They influence acts of doing.

In addition to my experience on the vision quest, intentions keep popping up in my life. Here are two more examples.

About 3 months into running weekend career change workshops, I found myself still getting worked up and doubting my abilities. One night before an a workshop, I jotted down 3 intentions for myself and stuck it in my wallet:

During the breaks, I’d pull the paper out and remind myself how I wanted to be. When I remembered my intentions, they influenced my state of being. Which in turn influenced my acts of doing. The result? I think it was the best workshop I delivered, I had the most fun to-date, and I think the participants walked away taller and more confident as well.

Another example: A few weeks ago my flatmate Alice was performing her first public solo act at a local street festival in London. She recently bought a set of Affirmator cards, and before her performance pulled the Mary Poppins card:

Via @hollergold on Twitter.

The cards call themselves affirmations, which seems to contradict my statement above. But it seems to me like a deliberate intention leading up to an event. The result? Alice’s set oozed of playfulness.

Here’s the beauty of intentions: When we fall off the path, when we lose our way, when we fall asleep in our lives – which we inevitably will – intentions can pick us back up, almost instantly.

Each moment we’re born anew. And if we’re deliberate about it, each moment can be breathed to life with a new intention. We can pump the space inside and around us with our intention. And no matter where, no matter what, no matter how far we’ve fallen – intentions point us back home.

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