How to Turn Your Best Intentions Into Actions
Time gets away from us so easily. We have goals, to-do lists, and schedules, but if we take a step back, we often realize our highest priorities don’t fit within that framework.
Think of setting intentions as building a new framework that honors your highest priorities.
Are there relationships you want to nurture? What personal, spiritual, or creative pursuits do you want to make time for? Are there habits you want to form?
First things first: Let’s come to this topic with grace for ourselves. No comparison. No perfectionism.
The invitation is simply to reflect on the way we move through the world, and make some intentional choices. Then, we’ll turn those intentions into baby steps that will lead us in the direction we want to go.
First, Verbalize Your Intentions.
In order to turn your best intentions into actions, those intentions need to be clear. Here are a few places you might find the words:
What do you need?
This can be a tricky question when you’re overwhelmed, but here are a few ideas to get your creativity flowing:
· Rhythms of work and rest
· Savor the season
· Nourish myself and others
· Make space for healing
· Be open to new experiences
· Practice gratitude
· Practice curiosity
· Practice forgiveness
· Listen to understand
· Come out of hiding/Allow myself to be seen
· Take time alone every day
· Be fully myself, stop trying to fit into someone else’s mold.
· Practice self-compassion
· Actually pray, every day — instead of just worrying at God.
· Practice being fully present when I’m with family & friends
· Nurture my soul through art
· Draw boundaries so I have energy left at the end of the day
Goals that start with “Be.”
When you think of your goals, do any of them start with “Be?” In other words, do you find yourself setting goals like “be more patient,” “be kinder,” “be less reactive?” These are tough as goals because they’re intangible and never “done,” but they can make great intentions.
How do you want to show up?
It can be helpful to consider words you hope describe you. For example: affectionate, balanced, brilliant, capable, confident, courageous, curious, decisive, deep, generous, inspiring, joyful, kind, motivated, passionate, peaceful, positive, reassuring, respected, sweet, thoughtful, warm.
If one of these resonates with you, you could set an intention to cultivate that characteristic within yourself. This could look like setting an intention to:
· Practice curiosity
· Live simply, give generously
· Cultivate joy every day
· Pause before responding in tough conversations
Side note: If looking at this list makes you feel badly in any way, remember: No perfectionism. Speak kindly to yourself, and honor all of the ways you are already more than enough.
Second, evaluate your margin.
Most of our best intentions require some margin. In some cases, they lead us directly to holding stronger boundaries and taking time off. In other cases, it’s simply a matter of practicality. It’s hard to be a patient, loving, kind person when you’re running ragged all day, every day.
There are seasons in life that will push you hard, but we usually have more control than it seems at first glance, so don’t give up just yet. Your intentions should ultimately be good for you. If this is just one more thing to add to your list and resent, please reach out and let’s talk.
Here are a couple of things to consider:
If the only time you have to yourself is in the shower or falling into bed at night, how can you make that time as restorative as it can possibly be?
What is truly non-negotiable? Why? For how long?
Does everything on your plate still belong there? Or are there things you’re carrying from a prior season that no longer fit?
Where might you have taken on someone else’s priorities at the expense of your own?
Are there ways you can adjust your schedule to do the same things, but at different times, and use your best energy for the things that matter most to you?
Third, Imagine What Your Intentions Will Look Like In Real Life and Set Yourself Up
This is where we start to get practical. Which of your intentions are tangible? Which could benefit from the support of a friend or family member? Which can go on your calendar? Or how else can you remind yourself of your intentions?
Wherever you can add structure, it will help you turn your intentions into actions. Here are some examples:
If your intention is to create rhythms of work and rest, schedule your rest. Communicate to whoever needs to know that you will be unavailable.
If your intention is to nourish yourself, would it be worth purchasing a nutrition plan? Or can you begin a practice of weekly meal prep? Are there ways you can make the process life-giving?
I love to read cookbooks, and a common theme is that they make cooking an event. They pour a glass of wine, turn on some music, put out some cheese and fruit, have family members hanging out around the kitchen island while they make something that smells fantastic. It sounds lovely, but I rarely do it. I could, though! And when I set an intention, I’m more likely to.
If your intention is to come out of hiding and allow yourself to be seen, make a practical commitment to share your art, your words, or your presence in a specific way.
If your intention is to practice gratitude, define what that practice will look like.
If your intention is to make space for healing, see if you have an option to get away. Could you attend a retreat? Or spend a night in an AirBNB? Or maybe just take some time alone in your bedroom one night a week? Carve out whatever time you can.
Then, there are the intangible, nebulous intentions.
How do you practice forgiveness, or patience, or listening to understand, when you don’t know when or how opportunities will present themselves?
There are a few general rhythms that can help:
- Do you have a reflective practice? If you do, integrate your intentions into your reflective practice. Think about the real-life situations that came up, how you handled them, and whether there’s anything you wish you’d done differently. Be kind to yourself, but invite yourself to grow. If you don’t already have a practice like this, begin scheduling a little bit of time every week for reflection, and see how it feels. Adjust the frequency until it feels helpful and healthy.
- How do you set up your day? If you don’t already have a method that helps you decide how to spend your time, it’s worth creating one. It will help with more than just setting intentions. This isn’t just about productivity, it’s about being who you were created to be, and doing what you were created to do. It will help you spend your time on the things that are most important to you, and will give you a fighting chance against the tyranny of the urgent.
Last but not least, be kind to yourself.
We begin and end with a reminder to release comparison and perfectionism. No matter how strong your practices are, none of us will be perfect in this life. And so, I invite you to set an intention to be kind to yourself. Love yourself into the future. Set intentions, take baby steps toward them, and watch what unfolds.