Connect with my breath.
Be present with my child.
Finish that project.
Meditate for 10 minutes.
Call my mom.
Go for a run.
Drink two glasses of water before breakfast.
Complete two tasks from my to-do list by the end of the day.
You know what it feels like to start the day on the wrong foot. A thoughtless comment from your partner, an inconsolable crying baby, worries about an upcoming deadline, or an anxiety attack upon waking can rock your world and leave you feeling raw or unnerved. When you wake up this way, it can make your day feel impossibly challenging. What if you started your day on a better foot? What if you started your day with purpose? Beginning your day with a clear intention, such as one of those listed above, or one that you develop on your own, can shift your energy toward the positive.
What Is an Intention?Intentions can guide us. According to teacher and author Mallika Chopra, an intention is like a seed that already contains the essence of what it will eventually become. When you plant your seed of intention and nourish it with your attention, you start to notice all of the people, events, and situations that can guide you to experience greater happiness and well-being.
An intention can be as simple and specific as “get out of bed by 6:30 a.m.” or “meditate each evening for the next week” or “make that doctor’s appointment by noon tomorrow.” Your intention can also be broader, such as a quality you wish to cultivate more of in your life, including present-moment awareness, self-compassion, wholeness, and faith.
If you have taken a yoga class or participated in a guided meditation, then you may be familiar with the teacher asking you to set an intention at the beginning of your practice. This intention can help to guide your practice and positively influence how you experience your time. Similarly, setting an intention at the outset of your day can affect how you experience all the hours that follow.
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Starting your day with a clear intention can set the tone for your day ahead. When you have an intention in mind, you may be better able to stay aligned with your values. Then throughout the day, when your values will undoubtedly be tested, you will have better access to them when they are most needed. Consider the example of setting trust as your intention for your day ahead. Then, if you can’t find your keys as you head out the door, or you walk outside to a flat tire, or you miss an important phone call by one minute, you can remember to trust and move forward from there. Tapping back into the intention you set at the beginning of your day can help you remain calm and present as you deal with life’s inevitable upsets.
Here are a few ways to develop your intention, as well as some more tips to prepare yourself to stay on an intentional track throughout the day.
1. Get Clear on Your ValuesMaybe you are interested in setting an intention for your day but you are not sure where to begin. Getting clear on your values can be a great place to start. Your values are your principles or standards of belief—your judgment about what is important in life. Vulnerability researcher and author Brené Brown writes that when we live our values, “We walk our talk—we are clear about what we believe and hold important, and we take care that our intentions, words, thoughts, and behaviors align with those beliefs.” Brown supplies a list of values you can consider for your life. Your intention for your day or week or month or year can be chosen directly from one of your values or it can be an action or goal inspired by one of your values.
2. Get Clear on Your DesiresMaybe you are interested in setting an intention for your day but you are not sure what you want. How can you focus on an intention if you are not clear on what you want and intend? Author and teacher Danielle LaPorte suggests setting goals based on how you want to feel. She writes, “You get to choose how you feel … and shape your reality—it’s the ultimate self-agency. Our feelings inform our thoughts. And our thoughts inform our behavior. Feel. Perceive. Act. Change your feelings, and you could change everything.”
Get clear on how you want to feel in all the aspects of your life, including your health, livelihood, relationships, spirituality, creativity, and community. Then set some solid intentions from there.
3. Set Your Intention Before You Get Out of BedThe morning soon after you wake is a wonderful time to set an intention. During sleep, your body and brain engage in many activities for repair and renewal, including releasing toxins, regenerating cells, balancing hormones, and consolidating memories. Your body is primed for a new day and while it may be necessary to shake off the inertia of sleep before learning something new or making a big decision, the morning brain is generally receptive.
If the first thing you do upon waking is to listen to the news or scroll through social media, your mind is tuning in to negative images, comparisons, and external messages to focus on first thing. On the other hand, if you set yourself up for some personal reflection, intention setting, or positive awareness at the outset of your day, then you have more agency about where your day will head. As you move through your day, you will be responding to outside stimuli through the lens of your intention rather than simply reacting.
Begin your intention setting practice before you even get out of bed. Upon waking, take several deep breaths and allow yourself a few sweet moments to fully awaken. Place your hands on your body—your heart and belly if that is comfortable for you—and feel your breath. Consider what is present for you this morning. Consider all the demands the day will bring. Carve out these first few minutes of the day for some self-care or positive affirmations. Call in your intention based on what arises for you. If necessary, set an alarm for five minutes before you really need to get up to make this self-care time possible.
Helpful Hint: Set yourself up for success by preparing the night before during your restful sleep routine: put your phone out of reach so you won’t be tempted to reach for it the first thing in the morning, set your journal near your bed for morning intention setting, and prepare to awaken with natural lighting if possible.
4. Stay Focused on Your IntentionBut are intentions enough? You’re likely familiar with the aphorism “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” You didn’t mean to hurt your mom’s feelings. You didn’t intend to eat all of the leftovers. You certainly didn’t mean to offend anyone with your ill-timed joke. But you did. According to Yale psychiatry professor John Bargh, despite your values and intentions, you may sometimes “get blown off course by the powerful unconscious motivations and environmental cues that also influence what we do.”
You may set your intention in the morning as healthy eating, but then someone brings donuts to work. You may set your intention as “peace” and then another driver cuts you off, your heart rate immediately increases, and you react with anger. You may set your intention in the morning as “love” and then your partner forgets that you are working late and you feel the irritation rise and the loving feelings dissolve. Indeed, intentions need support to be maintained. This means that even if you wake up with clear, strong intentions, it is crucial to have reminders and tricks to stay on track.
Writing yourself a reminder note in your phone, keeping a little note folded in your wallet, or texting an accountability buddy each morning with your intention can help you stay mindful of your intention throughout the day.
5. Make It Creative and FunHere are some other ways to get inspiration for intentions and to make them sustainable throughout your day.
- Draw an oracle card. Ask the cards what you might need to know for your day ahead and let the message or image on the card guide you from there.
- Practice a guided meditation. Allow the message or insight from a guided meditation inspire an intention for your day ahead.
- Be grateful. When in doubt, move forward in your day with the intention to look for as many people and things to be grateful for as possible. You will thank yourself for it.
- Move your body. Integrate your intention into your cells with yoga, running, dancing, or any mindful, meditative movement.
- Make a small note in your phone or set an alarm with a note that reminds you of your intention at certain times throughout the day.
- Write a small note that you carry in your wallet or your pocket and look at it frequently throughout the day.
- Text, email, or call an accountability buddy each morning with your intention. This person may be able to help you stay mindful of your intention throughout the day.
- Feeling really committed to your intention? Get a tattoo that expresses your intention.
Whether your intention is grand or small, personal or professional, set it at the beginning of your day. Starting your day with a clear intention can influence the flow of your day so it may as well be self-determined and nourished with your own positivity. Set your to-do list aside and use your values, core desired feelings, and life goals to inspire your intention for your day. Set your intention first thing and watch your best life unfold before your eyes.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health programs.