Intention setting: Does it actually work?

“Before you go into a difficult situation, set an intention. How would you like to behave in that situation? How would you like to come across? Just put the intention out there, and it will happen.”

I’ve heard this type of advice many times, but the skeptic in me retaliates. “What do you mean that putting the intention out there will make it happen?” I agree that if I think about how I’d like to act, I’m more likely to behave that way. But that doesn’t seem particularly powerful. Surely it’s not such a big deal whether you take 10 seconds to think about how you’d like to approach a situation.

To set intentions or not to set intentions

Paradoxically, over the last few months, I felt like I was lacking intent in my actions. I would go from one activity to the next because I knew it had to be done, but I didn’t connect to why I was doing it.

This led me to think that I should try this intention setting thing. I tried it a couple of times but quickly forgot about it. After all, who has time to set intentions when there are things to do?!

The wake up call came when my husband tried setting intentions. I didn’t think he’d really do it, but apparently my love for structure is rubbing off on him, so he stuck with it! After a week of setting intentions, he said, “This intention thing really works!”

He usually does this three times a day: at the beginning of the work day, after lunch, and before dinner. First, he notes his current attitude. Then, he thinks about the thing he’s going to do next and sets an intention for how he’d like it to go. He says he’s able to focus much better and, as he works with people, that he’s able to serve people better.

By setting intentions, we gain clarity about why we’re doing something.
Image credit: Pixabay (License CC0)

I started setting intentions

Well, once I heard this, I had to catch up! If my husband was setting intentions, I had to be able to do it too!!

I decided to combine it with my hourly breaks: once I sit down at my desk after my break, I take a few deep breaths and notice how my body feels. Am I anxious or excited? Tired? Thinking?

Then, I think about what I’ll be working on for the next hour. What would I like the outcome to be? How would I like the work process to go? This whole check-in takes about a minute, and then I start working.

I mostly do this at work but not only. I also aim to do it at the start of each meal and also at the beginning of my workout. It really changes how I feel during the activity because instead of just going through the motions, I connect to my priorities, i.e., the “why” behind my actions.

The pros and cons of setting intentions

I really enjoy it when I set an intention for a block of time. When I sat down to write this blog post, I thought, “I’d like to write on a topic I’m passionate about, and I’d like to convey information well. Also, I’d like to have a calm, thoughtful writing process.” With such a clear intention in mind, getting to work is easy and pleasant.

The trouble is that I often forget to set an intention. Especially if my schedule is a bit irregular or I have limited time, intentions go out the window. There’s suddenly no space in my mind to take a step back and think about why I’m doing something. Instead, I need to do, do, do.

In essence, that’s the problem itself. I’d like to set intentions to avoid being mindless. It doesn’t work if I’m already mindless (because I’m stressed, for instance), so I don’t remember to set an intention, which means I don’t get clarity and don’t connect to my “why.” It’s a vicious cycle, and I don’t see how to break it besides to remember to set an intention.

This is my main question with relation to setting intentions: is it actually helpful, or is it just wishful thinking? Is it possible to also remember to set intentions when things are not going smoothly? And in those cases, does it help?

I will try it out for a month and then report back. I will track how consistently I set intentions on different days and see how that influences my mood and my work output. I’ll let you know in about a month, so stay tuned! 🙂

More info about setting intentions

I got the idea of setting intentions in this way from Brendon Burchard and his book High Performance Habits (the audiobook is available to listen to for free as episodes in his podcast). He discusses setting intentions as a way to improve Habit #1, Clarity.

If you also try setting intentions, let me know how it goes! Or are you doing something similar already? Let me know by commenting below or on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.

Set an intention for the holidays

The holidays are an awesome time for fun and excitement, but they can also be stressful and frustrating. Think about what you want out of this holiday season and discuss it with the people you’re spending the holidays with to make it happen.

Many of us look forward to the winter holidays each year, while yet others detest the December period. Whatever your attitude towards the season, you can get the most out of it if you know what you want.

What do you want for Christmas?

At the beginning of the holiday season (which is right about now), think about what’s important to you at this time of the year. You can write about this in your journal, ponder it while going for a walk, or reluctantly think about it while being tortured by Christmas music in the supermarket.

Do you want to…

  • Spend time with family?
  • Avoid getting annoyed with your partner/mother/father/aunt/parents-in-law/insert random relative here?
  • Eat your favorite Christmas-themed food?
  • Eat food that is aligned with certain health goals?
  • Get some movement?
  • Get enough sleep and rest?
  • Give nice gifts to people?
  • Do voluntary work?
  • Be left alone to watch movies?
  • Complete a reading challenge before December 31?
  • Take time to reflect on the past year?

Once you have identified what is most important to you during this holiday season, you can condense it to a phrase. In this way, it’s easy to remember. When you start to get pulled by someone else’s idea for what you should be doing, you can remind yourself of your intention and decide how to act.

Clarify in your own mind what you’d like this holiday season.

Image credits: Pexels (License CC0)

Ask the people close to you about their intentions

If you’re spending the holidays with other people, it would also be useful if you know what their intentions are. By knowing what each of you would like for the holiday season, you make it much easier for everybody to get what they want and for people to be less grumpy. In the end, that means that everyone enjoys the holidays more!

For instance, my mother and my brother will be visiting my boyfriend and me for the holidays. My intentions for this time are: spend time with my close people, get some rest, do some fun things (but not too many), and read. I know that my mom shares these interests, but I don’t think my brother does. He probably wants to stay up late and sleep late, which doesn’t match our intentions. And my boyfriend doesn’t like Christmas and also has to work during the holidays, so I don’t think he wants to do lots of fun things. Mostly he’d just like to rest.

So the way I see to combine everyone’s preferences is to, primarily, have enough time for rest (which also gives me time to read). We can do some fun things, but I shouldn’t try to pack too many activities into a few days. And I should also accept it if my brother and/or my boyfriend don’t want to join and not take it personally.

It really helps when everyone is honest about what they want. For instance, a couple of weeks ago, I proposed that my mom, my brother, and I go to a Christmas concert during their stay. I didn’t really want to go but thought it might be nice and fun for my mom. My brother didn’t really want to go. And then my mom also said that she’s been going to plenty of concerts recently, so she’d rather go for walks in nature parks. Perfect! That’s what I prefer as well.

Then I realized I’d really like to watch the new Fantastic Beasts movie in the cinema, and I asked the others whether they wanted to go. It turned out that everyone was up for it, so now we’re doing a simple, easy, fun thing together. What a nice outcome.

It really helps to first clarify in your own mind what you’d like out of the holiday season and then discuss that with the people you’ll be spending that time with. If everybody is clear about what they’d like, it’s much easier to find a way to make people happy.

What is your intention for the holidays? Do those align with how your close people want to spend this time? Let me know by commenting below or on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

How I un-freaked myself out about planning my own wedding

I was seriously freaking out about my wedding. But once I figured out what was important to me and how to put that into practice, it became much easier and less stressful.

When I mentioned I am planning my wedding, many of my friends made jokes: “You love organization, so this must be heaven for you!” Everyone knows planning a wedding is stressful, but people assumed it was easy for me.

The truth is, it wasn’t heaven at all. I was freaking out. Completely! What kind of event should we have? Where should it be? How should we do it exactly? I had no idea.

Also, there are so many expectations around weddings. They are supposed to be gorgeous, elegant, fun, romantic, delicious (the food), entertaining… I felt like there was no way I’d be able to fulfill all these expectations and that the guests wouldn’t enjoy the event for one reason or another.

Whenever I shared this concern with friends, they said, “But you don’t need to worry about that! It’s not about the other people, it’s about you. This is your day!”

“Really?” I thought. “This is supposed to be my day? But if it really were my day, I would do it very differently.” But this was a strange thought because I had an idea of what weddings should be like, and that didn’t particularly attract me.

 

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Photo credit: Logan Zillmer

I was fortunate enough to have multiple people around me consistently ask, “What do you want?” The truth was that I didn’t know what I wanted. I had never thought about it, and I had no clue.

In the end, it all came down to identifying my priorities. What’s important to me and what do I enjoy? I am not much into ceremonies and formal rituals, but I enjoy being in nature and being together with friends and family. (Fortunately, my fiance has the same priorities.) Once I identified these things as the most important, instead of expectations based on past experiences, things became clearer in my mind.

I also had to battle FOMO (the fear of missing out). What if, at some point in the future, I regretted not having a formal wedding? What if it turned out this was something I wanted?

I had to think about something Gretchen Rubin said: “If it’s right for us to throw something away, we should, even if someone else would pick it up.” In my case, it might be right for someone else to have a formal wedding, but it’s not the right thing for me. Why? Because it’s not what feels right right now. I have no idea what will feel important to me in the future, but I can try to figure out what feels right now.

Once I identified what my priorities are and what feels right to me, I knew what to do. As I described in the blog post about my system, I made a Trello board for our wedding, identified projects and tasks, and started getting stuff done.

Before, I had felt paralyzed and couldn’t start acting because I didn’t know what I wanted. But once I identified what I wanted and broke it down into manageable tasks, it became easy to act. It’s amazing how having clarity about what we want and why we want it can reduce our stress and get us going.

Have you been stressed about a major project you had to undertake? Did you find a way to reduce the stress and manage the project better? Let me know by commenting below or on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

How I Learned to Pace Myself So I Don’t Burn out

Six years ago, I got close to burn out for the first time. I was in college, it was exam week, and I had my last exam the following morning. It was for the course Psychopharmacology, probably the most difficult exam I’ve ever taken. I had studied so much that I knew I’d do well, but nevertheless I was miserable. I lay in bed, trying to sleep, but names of pharmacological compounds and various brain areas were swimming in my head incessantly. What was more, I had a fever, and I kept tossing and turning in bed. My stress levels were through the roof because I couldn’t sleep, and I knew how important sleep is for performance at an exam. Needless to say, trying to make myself sleep only made things worse.

It was a truly terrible night. I felt exhausted beyond belief but still unable to rest. My mind was incredibly anxious, and every single thought was torture. Perhaps the worst was that I felt helpless to change anything or to make myself feel better. None of my usual tricks worked, so I just had to lie there, waiting for morning to come.

Lying there, I thought about what I had done to bring myself to this place. The answer was clear: I had overworked myself. I had worked hard for many weeks and months on end, without taking proper breaks and without letting myself rest. I was taking five classes instead of the recommended four (because of course I could do more), and I had three side jobs (because I could do it all!). My only time off of studying and working was Friday and Saturday evenings. Literally.

I still can’t believe I did that to myself. I know how important it is to get some rest, exercise, and have at least a little bit of free time. But I found myself in a situation where every single minute was crammed full of things to do, and I felt constantly anxious about whether I’d manage to complete everything I needed to do.

I think it had a lot to do with the environment. When everybody else appears to be pushing themselves to their limits, it seems to be the right thing to do. And since my self-worth was on the line, i.e., I felt like I would not succeed if I didn’t do that as well, it seemed like the only thing to do. There was no choice, I just had to keep pushing.

On that night when I lay in bed and couldn’t sleep before my last exam, I felt incredibly sad for us humans. We push ourselves so far, to the point of breaking, and we usually only realize it once we are broken. We feel that the only way to be happy, or to deserve to be happy, is by completing that impossibly long to-do list. But we never quite get to that happy point; instead, we just pass out at the end of the day, utterly exhausted. The next morning, we have a new to-do list to complete.

———

That experience (and many others like it) have led me to make some changes. For me, that sleepless night marks a ‘before and after’ point. Before it, I used to take on as much as possible on my plate, trusting that I would figure it out somehow. After that night, I knew that I was able to do all those things, but that wasn’t necessarily a good thing. What’s the point of succeeding at a bunch of stuff if I broke myself in the process? To me it was clear that it wasn’t worth it.

What followed was an extended (and still ongoing) search for how far it’s good to push myself. It must be a dynamic balance: I don’t want to sit around and do nothing all the time, but I also don’t want to burn myself out. So what’s the right balance?

I immediately made some changes after that psychopharmacology exam. For the following semester, I signed up for four courses (apparently, it’s the recommended number for a reason) and dropped one of my part-time jobs. I also made time to exercise regularly and to meditate. Moreover, I prioritized sleep: I made sure I got seven hours of sleep each night. (Side note: seven hours a night was still not enough for me, but I only realized that a couple of years later when I started sleeping eight hours a night and suddenly I didn’t need caffeine anymore! How surprising!)

Nowadays, I am much stricter about taking care of myself. I monitor my energy levels and my anxiety levels to make sure I steer clear of ‘the danger zone.’ It’s still a struggle sometimes when other people are (or appear to be) so much busier and doing so much more, but I need to do what works for me. Even if I feel that anxious urge to do more, I force myself to do less. For example, at the end of the work day, I know it’s time to get up and go to the gym, but I feel guilty leaving my work. If I could only stay and do a couple more hours of work… but no, I get up, go to the gym, get moving, and give my mind a break. I inevitably feel better than if I had stayed at my desk and kept working until I felt exhausted. And the next morning I’m actually excited to do my work again! What’s more, in this way I have more energy for the important relationships in my life as well.

There are several simple things I prioritized to make sure I don’t overwork myself:

  • Sleep
  • Exercise
  • Good food
  • Meditation
  • Rest/free time (at least a little bit)

In the next blog post, I will describe specific things I do to ensure I don’t overwork myself and to maintain stable energy levels and a fulfilling lifestyle. Stay tuned!

What Is It Like to Be You? Description 5

I spend my days vacillating between experiencing small pleasures (recently eating mango ice cream with fresh lime juice or noticing acts of kindness or a sunrise) and noticing small discomforts (often fatigue or noticing disappointments). I am intensely happy when I feel loved or when I feel like I can make a difference or when I can lose myself in the act of creating something. I feel deeply sad when I am isolated, betrayed, or don’t feel understood or cared for. I worry a lot about whether I’m competent or smart or talented or likable and if that’s enough. I like to feel like I’m a deeply good and caring person. I like to feel like an artist. I like to analyze what has made me the way I am.

What Is It Like to Be You? Description 1

Let me share the first description I received:

Hmm… let me think, what is it to be me. It is to be disciplined (of course not always but in many cases), to analyse constantly, what do I do right or wrong, what others do right or wrong and to learn from my own and from others’ mistakes. To be me is to be very tolerant and do my best not to judge other people. To constantly search for the positive sides/signs in everything. To be me is often to worry about things which I probably shouldn’t worry about. To love food and bakery very much but at the same time worry if I eat healthy enough and not too much. To always create plans and if something goes not according to my imagined schedule or sequences, I feel irritation, but then again try to teach myself to see it as a positive thing for my flexibility training. Uff… didn’t expect that would say so much about being me☺

What Is It Like to Be You?

A couple of weeks ago, I was doing a friend’s experiment, looking at simple lines and colors and pressing buttons. I thought, “Would someone else perceive these images differently from me? Certainly, she would. What would those differences be based on and how would the impression actually be changed?”

It’s very difficult to understand how we ourselves perceive the world, let alone other people. And the point is that how things appear to us is subjective: how can I explain to you what it is like when I drink a cup of aromatic tea? How can you explain to me how a red rose appears to you? It’s very difficult because it’s subjective.

But humans came up with language. We can use words in order to communicate complex ideas, and writers spend their lives trying to find the words to convey a particular concept or feeling. Apparently words can be powerful. So I decided to ask people about the way the world appears or feels to them.

I asked: What is it like to be you?

A great deal of people responded, and the responses were very, VERY different. I certainly got a sense of what it is like to be these people. While we can never inhabit someone else’s mind and heart and fully see the world from their eyes, I like to think that reading these responses can get us a little closer to that. Perhaps by describing what the world is like for us and sharing that with each other, we can gain a fuller understanding of what being human is all about.

I will share one description per day. Stay tuned to find out what it’s like to be someone 🙂 And feel free to share what it’s like to be you!