Setting Intentions

Most of the time, we drift through the day switching between various task without much thought about them. If we are thinking about a task or activity happening later, it’s often about thinking about what we might do during it, rather than how we should approach it. Setting intentions before starting a task or activity makes it easier to act in a desirable way.

Imagine that you’re about to meet up with some friends. Spending a moment to consciously think about how you want to act and how you want to be perceived can help you behave in a more desirable manner.

If I set an intention to be cheerful and positive before I start talking to someone, I notice myself being more cheerful and positive than if I hadn’t consciously set the intention.

If you expect that you might experience some conflict, setting the intention beforehand to not get angry or raise your voice will make it much easier to consciously notice when you do, and you’ll be more likely to keep calm.

This also works before starting a task, such as a revision session. Telling yourself that you want to spend half an hour undistracted and focussed will make it easier for this intention to manifest than if you’d only just decided to start a revision session without setting the intention. It doesn’t guarantee that your intention will manifest, but it’s still an intention and not a goal — you shouldn’t beat yourself up if you fail.

We can also set intentions before we start each day. Taking a minute each morning to decide how you want to act in the following day can also help you act advantageously.

You may wake up and decide you need today to be productive for the first half of the day, followed by spending the evening relaxing with your family or friends. For the first half of the day, you’ll be more inclined to follow your intention and remain productive; if you hadn’t set the intention, you might not even decide to get any work done and spend the time watching TV or on your phone. In the evening, you should be more distant from the stresses from work because you’ve explicitly set this time as relaxation time. Hopefully, you won’t let your mood from working carry over to the time you spend socialising.

I need to get better at setting intentions for the day myself. I love setting intentions for individual tasks or activities soon before they start because it helps me act in a better way than if I hadn’t — with surprising consistency. However, I often let my mornings slip away from me if I don’t decide how I’m going to act that day. It’ll get to 1pm, and I’ll realise that I’ve spent the morning relaxing when I should be getting the day’s tasks done. If I wanted to rest one day, I should set my day’s intention to relax — so I don’t get stressed as much from my lack of getting stuff done. Setting a day’s intentions early in the morning increases the chances of me later thinking that I’ve had a good day.

You can think of intentions as a sort of short-term version of goals. Goals are often framed over the timeframe of weeks or months, and sometimes you may not have goals in a particular area of life. Intentions are more for lasting a few hours or a whole day. You don’t need goals in an area of life to be able to apply the principle of setting intentions, and it can help motivate you to be a better person in whatever you do. I don’t set goals for my social life, but setting intentions benefits it similarly to how setting a goal would.

Regardless of whether you set many goals for yourself, setting intentions is a valuable tool for becoming a better version of yourself in your tasks and activities; and days in general. Before your next social interaction or productive work session, consider setting intentions. Same goes with starting each day. Little effort is required to think up some intentions, while they can provide noticeable value and assist you in living more in line with your values.