4-Step Guide for Setting Goals & IntentionsJan 15, 2023
Being mindful of our minds and paying attention to what matters most within our lives play an important role in influencing how our lives unfold.
Reflecting and setting resolutions around the beginning of a new year has become a common practice, but many miss the importance of regularly setting and revisiting goals and intentions.
Research shows that the most popular resolutions are health-related, focusing on physical health, weight loss and eating habits. Taking time to identify a deeper purpose or motivation for our goals and intentions play an important role in staying resilient in the face of competing habits and demands pulling at our attention.
Also, research shows those who revisit their intentions throughout the year and garner support from others are significantly more successful compared to those who don’t.
By regularly reflecting on what provides our life purpose and setting clear goals and intentions, we can create an inner compass that may help us stay grounded in our sense of direction in life.
We’ve brought together this 4 step guide to help you regularly set and revisit your goals and intentions:
Before you listen to the above audio recording or follow the below 4-step guide, it can be helpful to find an inspiring or relaxing environment for this practice and prepare a pen and paper to capture your reflections for future reference.
1. Practice mindful breathing for a few moments.
Begin your reflection practice by creating a receptive mental, emotional and physical state. Follow the sensations of breathing as you breathe in and out naturally for as long as you feel comfortable. For those just starting, it can be helpful to silently say “breathing in” on the inhale and “breathing out” on the exhale. And if you practice mindfulness meditation or some other form of meditation, then follow a practice of your choice.
2. Reflect on your direction and the motivation underlying it at this point in your life.
Depending on where you are in your life, your direction may be what provides you with a sense of purpose, a particular aspiration, or a specific goal. As you engage in this reflection, trust what emerges by letting go of expectations and allowing yourself to choose the first thing that arises, however mundane you may think it is. The intention is not to become preoccupied with the outcome but to practice resting in a nurturing state that allows you to connect more deeply with what is most important for you at this time. If you are having trouble with this reflection, it may be helpful to prompt yourself with, “Why am I taking this time to reflect?”, “What inner qualities would nourish me most?”, “What is most important to me right now?”
3. Choose a specific direction you would like to focus on and identify your implementation intentions.
If a goal or aspiration is a destination, intentions provide a sense of direction. To help guide yourself towards your chosen direction, reflect on yourself living your optimal future and identify what will support your path. If prompts are helpful, you can ask yourself, “What are the inner qualities needed?”, “What actions do I need to take, and when and where will I do them?”, “ How will I know I’m on the right path?”.
4. Identify who will help you stay accountable.
Make your path explicit by choosing someone you trust to share your reflections with. Even if you decide not to have people who regularly check in on your path, simply speaking about your goals and intentions with others will reinforce your ability to pay attention to your direction.
Regularly revisit this practice, place your written goals and intentions in a place you frequent, and create regular touchpoints, seasonal ceremonies, or retreats to reflect on your direction. Remember, intention and goal setting is a practice that becomes clearer and easier the more we do it.
Michael Apollo is the founder of the Mindful Society Global Institute. Prior to founding MSGI in 2014, he was the Program Director of Mindfulness at the University of Toronto. He is a researcher, clinician and certified mindfulness facilitator in MBSR and MBCT.
A large-scale experiment on New Year’s resolutions: Approach-oriented goals are more successful than avoidance-oriented goals | PLOS ONE
How to Form Good Habits? A Longitudinal Field Study on the Role of Self-Control in Habit Formation | Frontiers in Psychology
Motivational Interviewing Preparing People for Change | Journal of Developmental and Behavioural Pediatrics
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