The Simple Magic Of Setting Intentions

how to set intentions


You may have heard the term “setting intentions” being tossed around and gotten a mental image of someone doing yoga at 6 a.m., meditating in an open field, or journaling for hours by candlelight.

While all of these things can be ways to actualize your intentions, the process of intention setting does not always have to be so picturesque or time consuming.

Setting intentions can be integrated into your own life in ways as simple as putting affirming sticky notes on your mirror, going on 10-minute walks, or cooking your own meals instead of eating out. It’s all about taking your values — the ones you intend for your life to reflect — and actualizing those values, even in the smallest ways.

ryans tiny house

Hi, I’m Ryan

Over the past decade, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the type of person I want to be and what it means to live a meaningful life. It’s easy to settle into complacency. Even today, I have a tendency to settle, but I’ve built a habit of calling myself out on it when I slip.

ryan mitchell simple living expert

Why Should I Set Intentions?

why should i set intentions

Setting intentions can be scary for some because it feels vulnerable. I think a lot of fear surrounding the concept is rooted in our fear of not living up to our own expectations or setting a goal we don’t achieve.

When we set out to say, I will do X, Y, or Z, but then don’t do any of those things, we often judge ourselves. We also feel like others will judge us, or perceive us as weak. So we stay away from goal setting and dream chasing to combat the fear of failure.

But is that really any way to live? It’s much easier to say que sera, sera, to let whatever happens to us become our life without taking control. But easier doesn’t always mean better, and giving into circumstance without actively working to set intentions and have goals is too complacent for me. I want to live a life that matters.

How Do I Set Intentions?

How Do I Set Intentions

The process of setting intentions can get muddy and take on many meanings in the mindfulness community. For the scope of this post, we’re talking about intention setting as the practice of outwardly declaring the traits you want to adopt in order to allow those traits to shape your life.

Of course, life is always going to bring unexpected hardships — that’s just the nature of the game. We can’t control life’s unpredictability. But we don’t have to coast through our lives like spectators either.

By practicing setting intentions that mirror the values you want to emulate, you are the author of your own story. You have a say in who you want to be and the way you want your life to look.

personal goal setting

Reflect To Set Intentions, Make Two Lists

Reflect To Set Intentions

Intention setting starts with self-reflection. In order to define who you want to become, you must first understand who you are. Evaluate your life as it looks right now and ask if this is the kind of life you want to live.

What elements of your life right now are difficult and draining, and what could you use less of? What elements of a full life seem to be missing from your experience? What are you searching for?

Also consider the traits you could use less of or want to have more of. Could you work on being less angry? Do you want to become more confident?

Get out a piece of scratch paper and make two lists. The first list should contain elements of your life you intend to reduce or traits you want to work on leaving behind.

This list might look like:

  • Less time on social media
  • Less anxiety about my future
  • Less comparing myself to others
  • Less reactionary anger
  • Less self-isolating
  • Less substance abuse
  • Less people pleasing
  • Less judgement of others
too much social media time

Now, make a similar list of things you want to allow more of into your life, or traits you want to see more of in yourself.

This list might look like:

  • More creative expression
  • More peace of mind
  • More time spent reading
  • More empathy
  • More self confidence
  • More risk taking
  • More time spent outside
  • More honesty
spend more time outside

Discover Your Deeper Intentions

Discover Your Deeper Intentions

Now that you have these two lists of the type of energy, traits, and habits you want less and more of in your life, you can use them to set intentions.

discover your purposeObserve the lists and think about themes you see within both sets. Maybe you’ve stated that you want to people please less, have fewer friends that put you down, and stand up for yourself more. This might lead you to the intention: I intend to value myself.

Maybe you’ve listed that you want to spend less time binge watching Netflix or scrolling through Tik Tok and are seeking more creative expression, reading, and time outside. This might lead you to the intention: I intend to be mindful with my time.

See how this works? Oftentimes, the smaller desires we have for what our lives look like are actually connected to bigger-picture themes. We may want to judge others less and stop blowing up so quickly when things don’t go our way. These two desires are connected to the larger theme of empathy: I intend to be more empathetic.

Setting intentions is about discovering the overarching themes that are hidden in our smaller desires. It’s the difference between knowing you like tacos, quesadillas, and enchiladas, and knowing your favorite type of food is Mexican.

When we know these themes and say them out loud, we are more likely to absorb them.

Writing Your Intentions Down Creates Accountability

Writing Your Intentions Down Creates Accountability

The biggest suggestion I have when it comes to intention setting is to actually take pen to paper and write out the intentions you want to set. Don’t let your intentions live in your head.

In a neurological study conducted by Forbes, it’s explained that the act of writing down our goals and intentions does much more than merely help us remember them. The study explains that people who are able to clearly describe or articulate their goals in words are anywhere from 1.2 to 1.4 times more likely to accomplish them.

So grab a piece of paper or your favorite journal and write out a list of the intentions based on the overarching themes that your desires reflect.

This list might look like:

  • I intend to value myself
  • I intend to have empathy
  • I intend to have confidence
  • I intend to maintain calm under pressure
  • I intend to be a leader
  • I intend to have unconditional love
  • I intend to show kindness
  • I intend to see the good in life
write down your intentions

By actually writing your intentions down, your brain is processing, visualizing, and translating your desires into words all at once. You are more likely to see your intentions manifest in your life if you actually write them down.

building good habits

Reinforce Your Intentions Daily

Reinforce Your Intentions Daily

Another suggestion when it comes to intention setting is verbal reinforcement. Our brains thrive on repetition.
Don’t just write your intentions down then leave that piece of paper in a drawer for months. There are many ways to go about reinforcing your intentions daily.

You could thumbtack your list to the wall so you see it every day, or put each intention on a separate sticky note and stick them to your mirror. You could also try saying your intentions out loud to yourself each morning.

sticky note affirmations on a mirror

Are Intentions Different From Goals?

Are Intentions Different From Goals

I had a pretty deep chat with my friend Morgan Southard last week about intention setting. Morgan is a huge proponent of living a meaningful life. She does intention and goal setting work with her students at her acting studio, and has also worked to use intentional living practices in her personal life for the last decade.

We talked a lot about the ways setting an intention is different from setting a goal. I think setting intentions is a lot more about themes we want to see show up in our lives, while setting a goal is about what we want to tangibly achieve.

Morgan Southard
“It’s like a road trip. An intention would be, ‘We intend for this road trip to be a meaningful experience,’ but the individual spots on the map that we are driving toward, those are our goals.” – Morgan Southard,

There are many ways this can show up in your own life. For example, an intention might be, “I intend to be a leader,” but the correlating goal might look like, “I want to become the CFO of my company.” I think it’s important to recognize these two concepts as different, yet connected, and work both into your life.

Why Should We Set Intentions And Goals Separately?

Why Should We Set Intentions And Goals Separately

One huge reason it’s important to make the distinction between intentions and goals is to take the pressure off of ourselves. We won’t always see the tangible fruits of our intentions in the ways that we’ve planned. Sometimes, setting intentions will lead to entirely different results than our initial goals predicted.

discover your purposeIf we view these two concepts as synonymous, we run the risk of believing that because the goal we set was not achieved, the intention is not present in our life. For example, we may believe that if we were not chosen to be the CFO of the company, we are, therefore, not a leader. See the problem here? I think this can really mess us up.

I’m not saying goal setting is not valuable — in fact, I think it’s vital. Setting our sights on a concrete result is the best way to keep us driving forward. But I also think that it’s important to identify those abstract themes that find their way into your life over and over again, that you feel connected to, and that define you, and know that those can exist even if the concrete result never happens.

Consider these scenarios: You love creativity, and you’re working toward producing an EP. You are empathetic, and you’re working toward helping your friend feel better after her parents’ divorce. You aspire toward optimism, and you’re working on seeing the good in life when your grandma has just been diagnosed with cancer.

You have not lost your creativity when the EP doesn’t get done, abandoned empathy when you’re unable to help your friend, or lost your ability to see the good because you aren’t optimistic about your grandma’s specific diagnosis. Making these distinctions helps us to have grace for ourselves when we aren’t where we want to be.

Habits To Set Your Intentions Each Day

Habits To Set Your Intentions Each Day

Starting the process of setting intentions is going to look different for everyone, but there are several common practices that can help you kick-start your journey.

Meditate On Your Intentions

Meditate On Your Intentions

Meditation is one big way that experienced mindfulness gurus go about making sure their life aligns with the intentions they’ve set.

meditate on your intentionsWhy is meditation so helpful for intention setting? The art of meditation is highly beneficial for one’s mental state. When you’re able to be mentally grounded, it’s easier to exude the traits you intend to instead of allowing mental clutter to get in the way of who you want to be.

A study from Insider talks about the extensive benefits of meditation, including better focus and concentration, improved self-awareness, higher self-esteem, lower levels of stress and anxiety, and even fostering kindness. If any of these align with the intentions you’ve set, integrating mediation into your daily life is one way to actualize those traits.

The meditation process is pretty straightforward and simple, even for beginners. All you have to do is, well, nothing. Many beginning meditators find it odd to sit in complete silence and be alone with themselves, but as the practice becomes more seasoned for you, it will begin to feel natural.

Morgan Southard
“Just sit down on a meditation pillow and let yourself feel whatever comes up. If you’re open, it’s powerful. Start with two minutes a day, then go up to five, and so on. Lean into the process.” – Morgan Southard,

Make Intentions Real With Positive Self-Talk

Make Intentions Real With Positive Self-Talk

There’s a reason why morning affirmations are so popular. The narrative that we tell ourselves on repeat is the one we begin to believe, and the things we believe about ourselves inform the heights we allow ourselves to reach.

Building A Bias Towards ActionIf you intend to become more confident, tell yourself that you already are. If you intend to become more creative, take a mental note of all the ways you naturally exude creativity and tell your mind that your creative visions are good ones.

Oftentimes, that mean and critical voice in our head is the main culprit that gets in the way of our ability to live out our intentions. It can take years to get good at talking to ourselves with as much love and encouragement as we do to our friends and family.

Start small — simply pay attention to the narrative going on in your mind. Observe yourself. Each time you feel a negative thought or criticism about yourself come to mind, match it with a compliment or an affirmation. Over time, these little changes will become habits.

Morgan Southard
“Give the voice in your head its own name. Identify it as an ‘other’ and separate it from your identity. This gives the negative voice space to be in the room, but allows you peace in knowing it is not who you are.” – Morgan Southard,

Vision Boarding To Setting Intentions

Vision Boarding To Setting Intentions

The idea of creating a vision or a dream board is my favorite tool for intention setting. It takes the ideas or feelings in your brain and puts them to paper in a way that is uniquely visual.

A vision board is basically a collage that helps you identify your intentions and manifestations. It can be made out of any medium, physical or digital.

You could use old magazines, book pages, newspaper clippings, calendars with images, scrapbook paper — any kind of paper with pictures. You can also go the digital route and copy and paste images from the web into a word doc to print out. There is no wrong way to make a vision board.

Morgan Southard
“Try creating a vision board once or twice a year to check in with your intentions. Put on a record, get your favorite hot beverage, and leaf through used magazines. Open yourself up to anything you’re drawn to. Nothing is wrong.” – Morgan Southard,

The purpose of a vision board is to let your inner world speak for itself, then analyze what it has to say when the project is complete. You may not even know you have the intentions you do until you’re looking at the finished product.

setting intentions with a vision boardGo through whatever materials you’re using and find what speaks to you. Cut out those things — they can be pictures, patterns, letters, words, or anything else. Then, arrange them on a corkboard, posterboard, or newspaper backing and Mod Podge or tape them down.

Now that you’ve made your board, observe its contents. Do you notice any themes arise from your images? Let the things you notice about your dream board help you identify the intentions you want to set.

Maybe you notice your collage is full of calming words alongside images of a peaceful river or someone doing yoga. This might help you deduce you want to pursue peace. Maybe your board seems very zany and full of color, with abstract images and pictures of art. This might help you deduce that you intend to be more creative in the coming year.

Books To Help With Intention Setting

Books To Help With Intention Setting

With Morgan’s insights, I’ve compiled a short book list to help you begin your journey with intention setting. You can also check out my minimalist book list for other similar reads.

The Artists Way

The Artists’ Way

by Julia Cameron

A New Earth

A New Earth

by Eckhart Tolle

The Power Of Now

The Power of Now

by Eckhart Tolle

Big Magic

Big Magic

by Elizabeth Gilbert

unravel your year

Unravel Your Year

by Susannah Conway

Wherever You Go There You Are

Wherever You Go, There You Are

by Jon Kabat-Zinn

Your Turn!

  • What intentions do you want to set for yourself this year?
  • What habits can you start this week to help you set intentions?
  1. I have purchased property @ zip 79226…
    I would like Tiny Home delivered and may hired a team to assemble on lot …

  2. The article is a good one. I intend to use The Artist Way. Please remove the human trafficking ads that are here. Disturbing.

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