Intentional living—the phrase has such a nice and satisfying ring to it, eh?
I know from personal experience that when I set intentions, I am more focused through my day. My intentions motivate me to do all that I’ve planned, and I forge ahead enthusiastically. This is especially true for our daily routine, when we start the day with a clear mind. With all of us juggling our own special to-do lists and trying to win the race against time, I believe that setting intentions can help us live easier lives.
During my childhood, my Mom enjoyed quoting quotes. And of course, she had her own personal gems of wisdom to impart. One of these was “we must live with purpose,” and that’s probably how setting intentions became a matter of routine for me. It changed my life.
First, let’s define intentions. Intentions are the blueprint of how we want to live, keeping in mind what matters most to us. When we set intentions, our thoughts are aligned with our actions, and our minds, with our hearts.
You may be wondering: if I am motivated enough to take action, isn’t that enough? Not really. Motivation has to be combined with intention. What’s the difference? Motivation is the reason we do something, while intention is the purpose with which we set goals. Intention helps us stay on the right track, setting the tone for our actions.
When I set intentions, I know what to do.
They help me recognize what I want, and tune my efforts towards accomplishing them. Intentions then turn into reality, or rather, thoughts become things. Easy, eh?
I remember when my son was little, and school summer vacation started, we would ask him, “what’s your agenda for the day?” and he would laboriously make a long list of intentions, including all the routine bits like bathing, eating, you-know-whats, sleeping at 9 and so on. Whether he actually followed it is a different matter, but it was fun to see him so focused and making that list, and today, more than a decade later, the habit has paid off. He actually starts the day with a plan. So there, win-win.
Oh, and how can I not quote an example with the ongoing A to Z Challenge! “Do you intend to participate?” is a question almost every blogger must have asked and answered. As long as you’re undecided, you just sit on the fence with no idea of which side you’re going to jump off. The moment you decide either way, you’ve set your intention: to participate or to focus on other priorities.
Once you decide to participate, your actions are directed towards picking a theme (or not) outlining your posts, publishing on time, visiting others, and so on. You’ve got your plan of action, you know what to do, and you set about doing it.
This applies to everything we do.
Since we all have the same 24 hours in a day, what is the best time to set intentions?
I generally prefer to set my intentions first thing in the morning. It is absolutely worth it to set aside a few minutes before you start your day. I like doing it with my first cup of coffee, enjoying the first rays of the sun in my balcony, listening to the sparrows chirp. It is a peaceful time to take stock of what one has to do during the day. If you commute to work and must leave early, do it at your desk, or even while commuting. Just ensure that the space makes you feel good. I’d even recommend waking 15 minutes earlier than usual to set your intentions – it takes all of five minutes to set your tone for the day.
How much time will you need?
Five uninterrupted minutes. And hey, if you feel at peace on your porcelain throne, that’s fine too!
You can do it after your favorite beverage.
If you are the sort that enjoys a ritual, that’s cool too.
I start my day with getting the coffee going and lighting the lamp at my altar for a few minutes of prayer. It puts me in a happy mood. The house is quiet and I enjoy the ambiance of the fragrance of the incense, and am filled with peace. I pray. I let my mind wander a bit and then, the aroma of my coffee gently brings me back. Then I carry my big mug to settle down, pen and paper at my side, to enjoy the coffee and plan my day.
And then, here’s the 5-step process I follow.
I start by sitting comfortably in my favorite chair. You can also sit on a cushion on the floor. If you use a chair, let the soles of your feet rest on the ground. And oh, you can also lie down—just find a surface that’s firm and flat. Point is to be comfortable and at ease.
I let my body relax. If I feel like stretching a little, I do it.
Next, I focus, with my eyes closed. Eyes open is fine. I take a deep abdominal breath. When I inhale, I feel it in my belly and fill my chest. Then I exhale, letting the air out from the chest. It is okay to exhale with your mouth. I repeat this five times.
The breathing makes me feel calm and at peace, and relaxed.
At this point, I ask myself: what do I want for the day? For myself, my family, my friends, and the world. Yes. I think about what matters to me the most. (and folks, I have a long list of things I want for my loved ones). Some questions I use are:
- What do I wish for?
- What do I want to let go of?
- Is there someone I want to forgive?
- What makes me happy?
- What words would I choose to live by?
- What fears do I want to banish?
- Is there something I would like to change specifically? Something I want to accomplish?
- And my favorite – what am I grateful for?
I also like to set a time-frame if I have specific intentions to help me work actively towards it. Think work to-dos and deadlines to meet.
On days when I do not have specific answers, I simply let the questions be. I allow the following thoughts to fill my head as an affirmation:
- I will be mindful of my health.
- I will be conscious of my speech when I interact with others.
- I will connect via kindness, without being judgmental.
This is how I set the tone for my day.
At the end of the day, when I go to bed, I take a moment to reflect and review the events and conversations of the day. I ask myself if the day was in alignment with my intentions. I try and pick a particularly good moment from the day, when I did something especially nice for someone. I take joy from that reflection. If there’s nothing to pick, that’s okay. I am glad I had positive intentions and that’s a wonderful start to the day, anyway.
This practice basically helps me identify gaps between my intention and action, the distance between what I aspire to do and what is. Reflection gives me the opportunity to close those gaps and become aware, helping me be more mindful of how I want to live.
Intentions are a great way to look within ourselves and live with purpose. You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes in your life. When you get into the habit, you will be tuned to looking for the happy bits. I am yet to meet someone who doesn’t want happy.
And just for the rec, I begin the day intending to have my post up before noon…however other priorities take over. And that’s okay!
Do you set intentions?
I would love to hear your experience in the comments!
P.S.: People often ask me how I am so positive. This post is one of the answers.