The Power of Daily Intention Setting

“…Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything” – George Bernard Shaw

Any change that we want to make in our lives requires adopting a different mindset. Whether it’s about overcoming self-limiting beliefs, building resilience or grit, or learning how to thrive, the change process involves identifying what mindsets we need to adopt, and then adopting them. The first part, the “what”, tends to be easier. A quick google search will reveal a litany of books, articles, webinars, and TED talks, all expounding on the particular mindsets underlying the mental health buzzwords of “resilience”, “thriving”, and “grit”. Also, therapy can help us identify the thinking patterns and negative or limiting beliefs that hold us back. However, the second part, the “how” is not as straightforward. How do we actually adopt these positive, success-attracting mindsets? How do we change the way our mind works? This is where intention setting comes in. Intention setting is a powerful tool to help us cultivate the mindsets and skills we need to achieve our highest potential.

What is intention setting:

Intention setting is the practice of taking a moment with yourself and stating what it is you wish to do or achieve or think or be.

What intention setting does:

When we consciously state our intentions, it gives the mind a direction to go in, like setting the course of a ship. At a more granular level, when we set intentions, we’re helping to rewire our brains and patterns of thinking by creating new neuronal pathways in our minds, colloquially referred to as new patterns of thought. When we set an intention, we’re getting neurons to fire along different pathways from our habitual ones. 

Step 1: Identify the mindsets you wish to adopt

First we have to decide what it is we want to think or believe. Here is a list of struggles and some potential corresponding mindsets that could be helpful to adopt:

StruggleMindset or Intention for the Day
Beating yourself up for making mistakesEveryone makes mistakes. Remind myself to be kind
Can’t stop thinking about your ex and feeling sadIt’s ok to not be ok
Jealousy, comparing self to othersEveryone has their own journey in life. Set your course by the stars, not by the lights of every passing ship.
Fear of getting things wrongGround yourself and come from a place of self-compassion. See setbacks as stepping stones. Act from a place of courage not fear
Needing to control thingsLet me accept the things I cannot change, change the things I can, and have the wisdom to know the difference
Feeling that things lack meaningTake a deep breath and reconnect to your purpose

Step 2: Everyday, choose one to focus on: 

Once you’ve identified the mindsets that you want to cultivate within yourself, daily intention setting is like going to the gym for your mind. Mindset shifts don’t happen by accident, they happen by choice and by intention. When you want to tone your abs, you have to do a certain number of sets and reps consistently. Similarly, when you’re looking to do a mindset tune-up, you also have to practice a certain number of set and reps consistently. Write down a list of the mindsets you would like to adopt, or skills you’d like to cultivate, and choose one to focus on for the day.

Step 3: Set the intention:

Find a moment to sit still. Ideally, somewhere quiet, but if not, then wherever you are – whether it’s at your desk, in meditation, or on the MTR/bus. Still the mind by taking a few deep, concentrated breaths. Focus on the mindset you want to adopt, or the skill you want to remember to practice. Then, state it. For example, you may say to yourself, “Today, I am going to remember to stop and take 10 deep breaths 3 times today”. Or, “Today I am going to focus on being patient”. Or, “Today, I am going to remember that I am capable and that everything I need to succeed I already have within me”. Or, “Today, I’m going to practice zooming out of the situation so I can practice getting perspective”.

Step 4: Visualize

Just as athletes go through their races in their heads and take the time to visualize exactly when in the race they’re going to speed up and when they’re going to slow down, we need to visualize when in our day we’re going to remember to bring our mindsets to the forefront of our minds. So, take yourself through your day, and visualize exactly when in the day you are going to remember your mindset. You can do this by mentally picturing yourself going through your day chronologically, noting the time that you’ll be doing different things: walking to work, getting lunch, attending whatever meetings you have. Then choose 2-3 times in the day that you are going to remember your mindset, or remember to practice that skill. Finally, visualize yourself thinking that mindset or practicing that skill at those times in the day. 

And, off you go! That’s it! Give it a try and experience how your mind obeys when you set your intention from a genuine, single-pointed, and still mind. Happy intention setting!

About The Author

Bhavna Bharvani

Bhavna is a US-trained Clinical Counsellor, registered with the California Board of Behavioural Sciences. She is trained in San Francisco, where she worked with individuals, couples, teenagers, and LGBTQIA+ folks whose lives have been disrupted by chronic and complex trauma. Bhavna has worked across a range of community mental health settings, high schools, and residential substance use treatment centres.