I first learned about intention as a practice from a yoga teacher who led weekly lunchtime sessions when I worked at the California Department of Health in Richmond. At the start of each class she’d ask us to set an intention. At first it confused me, but I liked that it gave my busy ‘monkey mind’ something to focus on during the class. My mind wandered back to work a little less. And I discovered it refreshed me for my afternoon like pressing a reset button, especially if I was having a bad day.
Over time I’ve incorporated intention setting into my life in multiple ways. Like many people, I set intentions for my year. The picture above is the center (heart) of my 2012 vision board.
Yesterday’s post described how using the question, “What makes you cry tears of joy?…Do That,” as my guiding principle filled 2011 with more tears (& joy) then I imagined at the start. This will continue through 2012 and beyond because it’s part of me. Part of the way I make decisions. It’s as natural and automatic to me as breathing.
I’ve discovered intentions are also a powerful way to get more out of daily life. Especially when I’m struggling. Here’s why.
For me, the reason intentions (or the ‘three words’ concept or guiding phrases or questions—I believe in adapting ideas to fit learning styles, strengths, personality and values) are so effective is because they filter information overload. Both from the world and my own brainstorm-loving, always-seeking mind. They focus me on my priorities.
More importantly, especially for a former perfectionist, they encourage flexibility. Years ago—before pole dancing became my obsession—I used to beat myself up when I skipped my morning swim. Seriously, I said really mean things to myself.
In addition to my harsh voice, my goals were rigid. If I skipped my morning swim, I’d failed. Then a friend suggested I set more flexible daily goals. Huh? “Why did you sleep in this morning?” she asked.
“I was tired. I got to bed late.” I should’ve gone to seep earlier. I know better. Why am I such an idiot?…
“What’s the main reason you swim?” She interrupted the dangerous path my thoughts were heading down.
“To feel more vibrant!” It was something I rarely felt and desired more than almost anything. I hated feeling tired and lethargic all the time.
“Maybe today you needed the sleep more than you needed the swim?” She gently suggested.
Ding! Usually, when I skipped my swim it was for good reasons. Sure, I’d made a mistake and stayed up too late. I needed to change that. It wasn’t reasonable to expect myself to get up early and go swim if woke up feeling tired was it?
I also needed to change my daily goal from am swimming to daily exercise. Sure, my preference was still a morning swim. But if I skipped it I could still exercise. Lunchtime walk by the water. Or yoga to a DVD when I got home to unwind from the day.
It worked. I stopped beating myself up about mornings I slept in because I finally understood my behavior in those moments was meeting both my immediate need for rest and my intention for vibrancy by avoiding exhaustion. The afternoon walks refreshed me. I stopped working late so often. The after work home yoga energized and relaxed me. I started getting to bed earlier. I swam more mornings. The more I swam. The more vibrant I felt.
Intentions are powerful, especially when practiced, because they become woven into our bodies and souls. They become part of our beliefs. Our values. Our priorities. And ultimately, our behaviors. They help us become better versions of ourselves.
My intentions for 2012 are illustrated in the picture at the top of the post.
Your turn. What are your intentions for 2012?