Self-Awareness and Setting Intentions
Setting intentions can help us understand our life's bigger picture.
Posted January 11, 2022 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan
- An intention is a commitment to oneself—something to be, rather than to achieve—best done in the morning.
- Intentions can set the tone and focus of one's day, as well as help one navigate through difficult times.
- Setting an intention can influence the trajectory of one's life and highlight those aspects that give it meaning.
For many people, the start of a new year involves making New Year’s resolutions. But for others, setting intentions might be more attainable and something that can be done on a regular basis.
Self-awareness is important when setting intentions. It’s the ability to possess the knowledge, understanding, and recognition of who you are. Knowing yourself means being mindful of your disposition, character, motives, strengths, weaknesses, passions, and desires. Self-awareness allows us to identify what makes us unique in terms of our thoughts and actions. Having all this information can be empowering; you are more likely to be introspective and ready to decide on your intentions when you know yourself, which is an important element of healing and transformation.
One thing to remember: even before you set an intention, you need to make sure that you believe in it, that your heart is in it, and that you cannot be swayed by those who have other belief systems. Also, your intention should be in line with your life purpose, i.e., the direction you want your life to take.
Intentions may be set first thing in the morning. You can think of them as creating a plan or focus for your day. On a broader scale, setting intentions can also be a way to navigate through difficult periods of time. They can help you break down the task of navigating troublesome situations, encounters, or events that might emerge in your life.
An intention is a commitment to yourself. It’s something to be, rather than something to achieve. Intention-setting involves focusing your thoughts in the particular direction of what you want to bring about or manifest. The first step is deciding that you want to accomplish something specific or, more importantly, to make a change.
Setting an intention in the morning is also a good way to set the tone for your day. For example, if you wake up in a bad mood, setting an intention can change whatever trajectory may have resulted from staying in that mood. In other words, you can choose to turn a bad mood into a good mood. To set an intention is empowering because it provides you with the choice to make a change where change is needed.
Some years ago, I heard an addiction therapist share a fishing story to illustrate the idea of setting intentions. For example, you decide to take the day off and go fishing. You are completely focused on catching a fish. You make all the preparations to make this happen; you prepare all your equipment, find a place to fish, and prepare your fishing rod. You then cast your line. All of your thought processes are geared toward catching that fish. The task becomes your focus. If you never acted on your intention and made that choice to go fishing, you would not have had the chance to catch a fish. This is what setting an intention is all about. It’s about having a clear focus on what you want.
The second step in setting an intention is the decision to surrender to and manifest it. To continue our earlier example, let’s now say that you will continue to focus on going fishing, even if you are distracted by other opportunities pulling at your attention that day. Maybe a friend asked you to go shopping together, but you declined because you have already surrendered to your intention to go fishing. You suggest that the two of you go shopping some other day.
Goals and intentions
Setting an intention is slightly different from setting a goal. An intention is a theme you have in order to achieve some kind of balance in your life. It’s a path that you might follow for the day or another designated period of time.
It is important to keep in mind that you can only make intentions for yourself; you can offer hope to other people, but you cannot make intentions for them.
Setting a goal means that there is a desired or chosen outcome. In other words, goals are typically made for more long-term needs or desires, such as wanting to get a doctorate in psychology.
Intentions and behavior
There are many different reasons to set an intention. Intentions are useful in changing behavior, as in the case of addictive behaviors. Intentions are easier to accomplish because their lead time is typically shorter.
Perhaps a troublesome situation is approaching. For example, you are feeling stressed because you will soon have dinner with a difficult family member and you know you have a pattern of being overly reactive towards this person’s bad or inappropriate behavior. Consider tapping into your self-awareness techniques, such as observing yourself, being open-minded, and practicing active listening. On the day of, you might decide to set the intention that you will take a different stance, to instead be a calm observer to the circumstances in which you find yourself.
Using intention cards
One way to gain ideas for intentions is by using intention cards. Some people use tarot or oracle cards for this purpose. The card’s message is to be the intention for the day. If you are journaling your intentions, consider writing the card’s message on the top of your journal page. Then, elaborate on what the card said and how it resonates with you and your life.
Our search for meaning
Like the choice of picking an intention card, we all have choices in most realms of our lives, and the choices we make today can affect the trajectory of the rest of our lives. The choice can be setting an intention that highlights something that gives our life meaning.
Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, in his poignant book Man’s Search for Meaning (1984), discusses his concept of logotherapy—the belief that finding life meaning can help us navigate difficult or challenging times. Knowing he had meaning and life purpose helped him survive. Even prior to the Holocaust, Frankl saw his life purpose as helping to love and care for others, so he carried that with him through the Holocaust experience. In clinical practice, Frankl discusses paradoxical intentions whereby therapists encourage their clients to intend to wish for something, even if it is something that they have reservations about or something they might fear.
A daily practice
Making time in the morning to set an intention is one way to pause before the day begins, and ask yourself what you want. This will help you be more mindful during the course of the day. A daily practice will not only set the tone but will give you a mindset for the day.
Years ago, while in Maui, I had daily meetings with a shaman who spoke a lot about setting intentions. On this trip, I brought my own intention cards with me and I pulled one for each day. Together, we set the tone for the day.
Whatever choices you have and decisions you make, always remember to follow your bliss and what is in your heart, and be true to your authentic self.
Frankl, V. (2017). Man's Search for Meaning. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.