Setting Intentions When There’s Trouble Achieving Your Goals (Part 1)

Often in therapy sessions, yoga classes, and meditation workshops, the therapist or teacher has everyone set a goal for themselves. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a goal as “The end toward which effort is directed.” You work hard to achieve that goal, whether it is to decrease reactivity or eat healthy. You take concrete steps to achieve it such as buying more vegetables and proteins to fill the fridge or setting yourself reminders. But you may also have trouble setting or even achieving your goals.

In my practice and personal life, I use the idea of setting an intention, rather than a goal. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines intention as “The thing that you plan to do or achieve: an aim or purpose” or “What one intends to do or bring about.” In some ways, an intention and a goal are similar in that they both are desired by and pertain to the specific individual. However, an intention was not created to use concrete steps or actions to achieve it. Rather, it brings about the manifestation of the desired outcome without consciously taking steps toward it.

A great example of how intentions work is with a twenty-year old client named Sara. She told me that her mind endlessly races from one thought to another. As a result, she would constantly change what she was doing or what she wanted to do because her mind kept coming up with better and better ideas. She was an extremely energetic woman to the point where it was overwhelming to be in her presence, despite how positive of a person she was. In one of our sessions, I suggested the intention of “Let’s have a calm day where I accomplish just one thing at a time.” She looked at me wide-eyed and said, “What does that mean? Why would I say that if I know I’m not going to do that?” So I explained how intentions work. She then replied that she wasn’t going to set any intentions because it didn’t scientifically make sense. We proceeded with the session, and a few minutes later, she noticed that I was setting an intention for her in my own brain and heart. In response, Sara rolled her eyes and gave a snort. She neither understood nor believed the significance of the intention. However, a few hours later I received a text from this client saying, “I hate to admit this, but your intention for me worked!”

When a piece of information from our environment is picked up, our brain acts as a filter to let us know what is safe and unsafe. It must process the receiving information so that we can act in an adaptive way, rather than in a reflexive, maladaptive way. This reflexive, maladaptive response may occur if the brain is not involved. How? In some individuals, strong emotions or certain feelings of touch or movement may register as being unsafe. Overwhelming or unsafe information travels so quickly in the body that it raises red flags and produces an immediate reflexive physical and/or emotional reaction before the information can be processed by the brain to determine if it is truly unsafe. As a result, the brain – more specifically, the cortex – is involved in how we act and react in our everyday experiences. By setting an intention, we are not only strengthening, developing, and maturing our bodies through providing sensory input, creating social connections, and integrating reflexes, but we are also making the brain active within the therapy session and during everyday life experiences. In other words, setting an intention is the way we incorporate the brain into the bodywork thus concretizing the therapeutic activities.

A second blog will be posted next week with clear guidelines to help you start creating intentions to see them come true for yourself!

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