How many of us have told ourselves year after year, “Starting Jan 2nd I’m going to lose that extra 10 lbs.,” or “I’ll stop eating sugar.” Maybe we even succeed – for a month or two. Then perhaps we have to work overtime and miss a few days at the gym. We go to a party and have some cake. Before we know it, we’ve slipped back into the same habits again.
Maybe we valiantly try to motivate ourselves again – some of us with negative self-talk – somehow hoping that if we get down on ourselves enough, it will get us back on track. Each year, we’re left feeling a bit more powerless – less trusting in our own ability to create real change. Recognize any of this? If so, I have a new word for you. It’s called Intention.
Goals Are Great for the Tangibles. Intentions work well for the intangibles.
Let me explain what I mean by intention and how it is different from a goal. There are differences between goals and intentions, but they can both fulfill a very similar function.
Goals are very good and necessary in the world of time, schedules, planning and getting from here to there. For example, if you have a goal to travel from Orlando to Seattle, you need to set a concrete plan to get yourself from Point A to Point B in the chosen period of time. You’ll need to buy plane tickets, arrange transport to the airport, etc.
However, an intention can be a great tool when you want to work with the intangibles in life – especially when you want to move into uncharted territory – like a new relationship.
Goals Work from the Past to Project Into the Future.
If you are setting budgetary goals, you’ll probably look back into previous years’ financials. Based on past data you’ll likely project the expected profit and loss in the coming year. Nothing wrong with that. However, in certain areas this can actually be a limitation. If we’re always looking to the past and projecting from the past into the future, one could argue that we are making the future nothing more than a revised version of the past. We may actually be limiting life’s potential to bring us something greater than what we planned for. And if we are overly focused on meeting our goals, we might even miss a greater opportunity that is standing right in front of us.
An Intention is Open-Ended.
Intention is a very powerful tool in those areas of life where we want to leave room for life to bring us more than what we planned or expected. It is a direction rather than a destination. A direction is like going North. We’re heading that way, but we are open to meet what comes to us. We don’t know exactly what we will see or experience. We may end up in Toronto, or we may not. We just don’t know.
I think of this as meeting life half-way. You’re not sitting at home waiting for life to come to you. You are traveling in a direction, and doing your part, but also letting life meet you. In fact, no matter how much we plan and make goals, in the end, life is going to meet us as it will – not as we want it.
Creating Your Dream Job
Let’s say you have a goal to get the perfect job. You might have a list of exactly how it needs to look and based on your past. You might even draw up a list of what your perfect job looks like. Nothing wrong with that – but can you see how that could relegate the picture of what you want in the future to nothing more than a reformed version of your past?
An intention, on the other hand, can act in the same way as a goal, but it is open-ended. You are moving in a particular direction – and you may even have some ideas in mind, but you are not attached to them. You are open to what life brings bring you – which could be so wild, out there and absolutely perfect for you in a way that you could never have imagined! Intention gives room for the intangible and the un-plannable. It gives room for the magic in life to meet you and to add to your life.
How to State Your Intention
Whatever you want to create, use your past to inform a direction you want to move in, but instead of being very specific on exactly how it needs to look, try to leave it open ended. It really comes down to releasing the attachment to a specific outcome. I sometimes even define intention as a goal minus the attachment to a specific outcome.
For example, instead of, “I want a job as a graphic designer in a large corporation.” It should be wider and bigger. Maybe something like, “I am richly rewarded to design, create and express my inspiration to the world.” See how that leaves room? You might even notice it feels more expansive and open. That is what you want your intention to feel like. It should make you feel good. You may even feel your body positively respond to your intention when it is the right one.
A Goal Can Mean We Miss the Journey
A Goal focuses on getting to the destination – let’s say your place of work. It has a specific endpoint in mind. If you need to get to work, of course a goal is useful. But the pitfall is that we can become so focused on getting there, that we end up missing what’s here.
If in the morning we have the specific goal, “I have to get to work,” it is very easy to dismiss everything between us and our goal as an obstacle to be overcome. Instead of enjoying the interchange with our kids, our partner, or the drive to work, all of these can easily feel like blocks that are in the way of where we have decided we need to be in our own mind.
If we chronically live here, it can mean that little by little, without even noticing it, we could be eroding the fulfillment we are receiving from life. We can end up missing the connection…the joy of a car ride…the scenery…all the intangibles that together make up the meaning of our lives.
If this is what we have practiced all along the way, the risk is that even when we do have time – such as when we are retired – we may still continue the habit of dismissing the joy of the moment out of sheer momentum. We may constantly look to the next thing that needs to be done or the next thing we need to get to instead of just enjoying the richness of the moment as it is.
State Your Intention in the Present Moment
Even though your intention is a direction, we want to state it in the present moment – as if it is happening now. The reason for this is we want to feel our intention, which can only happen now. You cannot feel love in the future, you can only experience it now.
The more you feel what you want to create in your whole being, the more you begin to vibrate to that frequency, and the more you begin to attract that frequency to you. For example, rather than saying, “I will find love this year,” your intention could be “I open my heart to love,” so that you are feeling your heart open now.
Instead of the goal of, “I will go to the gym every day,” your intention could be more open ended and stated in the present. For example, “I choose activities that support radiant health.”
Intentions Are Reality Friendly
Even though your intention is stated in the present moment, it doesn’t mean you need to do it perfectly. It is a direction – the road you are on. Whenever you get off the road or take a detour, your job is to re-align with your intention and get back on the road towards your chosen direction.
I love this because it gives room for our humanity. Goals can often hold us to impossible ideals. If we have a goal to never be defensive again, and we are defensive even one time, that is a failure as defined by a goal. But if we have the intention of staying open and non-defensive, that is a direction we are moving in.
It is like being on a highway going North. You don’t have to do it perfectly. When you find you’ve taken a detour on “Defensive Street,” you know what to do. Just get back on the highway and keep on moving in the direction you want to go.
Instead of getting down on yourself for having failed to achieve your goal, short circuit the self-judgment with intention. Learn from the detour. Figure out what took you there and why. I call this being the detective versus the judge. Each time you reflect and learn, you will stay on the highway with even more skill and ease the next time around.
When living this way, there isn’t any losing. There are no mistakes. Everything is a part of the journey. Even going South can be a part of going North if you know the direction you want to move in.
Combine Your Intention with Yoga Nidra
A great way to work with intention is to combine it with subtle meditative states of being. Here you can plant the seed of your intention from beyond the mind rather than with the mind. Whatever the mind wishes, it will wash away. The same mind that decides to eat moderately, is the same mind that will say, “have some more!”
But when we go into a space like Yoga Nidra (mindful sleep meditation), we can plant an intention from a place that works from beyond the divided mind which often pendulates from one extreme to the other.
Instead of receiving the intention at the level of the doubting mind, every cell of your body receives the intention and begins to vibrate in accordance with that new intention. We become a magnet for that intention to come to fruition.
But we don’t stop there. We use that intention during the course of our day to consciously and deliberately keep us moving in the direction we want to go. We can even use it as a mantra to interrupt old habits and redirect to new ones. It becomes our North star – a point to navigate life by. Whenever we get off course, we simply reset, and course correct in the direction we want to go.
If you are not familiar with Yoga Nidra, there are free I AM Yoga Nidras available on YouTube, or try out this I AM Yoga Nidra app on iOS or Android to have it handy on your phone or handheld device any time you like.
How to Use Your Intention with Yoga Nidra
If the Yoga Nidra experience you choose does not cue you, you can bring your intention into your awareness three times at the outset of the experience, at any point in the middle when you find yourself semi-alert, and at the end when you are lying on your side or seated. If you miss the one in the middle because you were too deep, don’t worry. It has been tethered into the Yoga Nidra by repeating it at the beginning and end. Your intention doesn’t even have to be words. It could be a felt sense or an image.
The beauty of working with intention is that it begins to build your self-trust. You begin to see that you are capable of initiating the shifts you choose – minus the guilt, self judgement and struggle.
Kamini Desai PhD is the author of: Yoga Nidra The Art of Transformational Sleep, Life Lessons Love Lessons and developer of the I AM Yoga Nidra app. For the past 30 years Kamini has taught worldwide, helping people master the inner dimension of their lives uniquely combining ancient wisdom with science and psychology. Her corporate clients have included SONY and Mars candy company, and The Netherlands Department of Revenue.
For more information visit www.kaminidesai.com.
Online Yoga Nidra courses are available here.