Setting Intentions: Does it Work?

We’ve all heard how powerful our minds are. Mind over matter. The gut-brain connection. Manifestation. Plus, there has to be a reason pop culture’s newest buzzword appears to me “mindfulness.” However, how true is it all? Is it truly possible for humans to think things into reality? What’s the science behind these unusual powers? Here, I put intention-setting to the test and see for myself.

According to medium.com, setting intentions means putting what you plan to accomplish through your actions down on paper. Ultimately, it’s your commitment to yourself to not only accomplish a goal, but also to hold yourself accountable. No, it’s not a “To-Do” list to simply check things off and move on without a second thought. An intention runs much deeper than that, possibly forcing you to make a lifestyle change or form a new habit all in the efforts to better yourself from within. In the ideal world, your previous (and hopefully accomplished) intentions will stay with you as you progress through the months of the year, and within a year’s time, you will be one step closer to the best version of yourself. It all sounds so great, doesn’t it? I sought out to see if this was just too good to be true.

Starting in December, I committed myself to, within the first week of each month, sitting down and “setting intentions” in a creative way, making my plans aesthetically pleasing enough to hang on the fridge and serve as a daily reminder. Plus, what adult doesn’t love sitting down with crayons every once in a while and tapping back into their inner child?

I started simple, applying things that were relevant to the time of year. “Be kind,” my very first intention read. “Giving during the holiday season doesn’t always mean financially…give time and volunteer.” I went on to remind myself to “celebrate.” Considering things I’ve struggled with throughout my life and career as a model, I could always use a loving nudge that it’s okay to indulge and toast the little things. To be honest, while dedicating about an hour to making this list made me want to put these things into action straight away, I can’t say that I ended up meditating daily or volunteering as much time as I would have liked. (Although I joined Deed and it is an amazing platform for finding volunteer opportunities in your location!) However, I realize now that the beautiful thing about intentions versus simply goals or New Year’s Resolutions, for example, is that it’s a process you go through until you achieve something in a definitive way.

January is notably the time when everyone hits the ground running with said goals, and they’re usually fitness-related. The gyms are packed the first two weeks of the month and by week three and four, more treadmills are available and, yet again, the regulars are left to their usual schedules. One month in and I can’t say I was a changed woman, but I understood how intentions differ from short-term goals in many ways. I wasn’t showing up to a gym or striving for some external source of satisfaction that came from lost pounds on a scale or an image of myself in the mirror. I was working on showing up for myself, mentally and emotionally. I wanted to have mental clarity and, whether it was a good day or not, be strong to push through it and proud of the person I am. Knowing that I was now an “intention-setter” alone already helped me be more confident because I knew I wasn’t just complaining that 2020 made me lazy and more emotional and self-critical…I was doing something about it.

In January, I focused on more foundational aspects of my life. I wanted to figure out what I really wanted. Coming out of a very eye-opening year, I knew that life as I knew it was—is—different. The world is different. For one, I moved out of my beloved studio apartment in Manhattan and back home with my mother. My job did not consume as much of my life and therefore my classes at school started taking up the majority of my time. Overall, my priorities were different. I looked at my health in a light I never had before. In that way, you could say I did become more grateful, like I sought out to in December. Thus, my long-term goals shifted as my life did and I became more unaware of the path I see myself on. Obviously, there is no simple way to just figure everything out, but starting in January, I wanted to think about it more seriously. Graduation is on the horizon and, as I noted, I want to “clear the clutter” from my mind and begin to excel in whatever field I so choose. I wanted (and still want) to “visualize. Believe. Be Brave.” Yet, at the same time, “be lighthearted” and “allow [myself] to laugh, play, mess up, and breathe.” I’m still working on this, but boy did writing it down hold me accountable. In moments of stress, having this as a reminder truly helped me calm my mind. Such moments also served as reminders that this is why I am setting intentions in the first place…because nobody is perfect and I want to improve how I handle life’s stresses.

I must say, being so creative with my list of intentions was equally therapeutic (and highly recommended). It made me dedicate time to myself and that is a wonderful thing. I must add, though, that I didn’t always think this way! At one point—before the intention-setting process—I thought “me time” meant working as hard as possible to achieve professional goals, seeming impressive to others, and being as busy as possible. One thing’s for sure, whether I was actually writing things into reality or not, I was at least gaining a new appreciation for life. As silly or over-dramatic as that sounds, it was true. My internal dialogue changed immensely and by February—the month of love—I felt a lot more love for myself than I had in the months prior. It’s important to note that applying these intentions to my daily life became easier, too. I was proving to myself that it was possible to make fundamental changes simply by manifesting the person I wanted to be through these monthly lists. 

Because I’ve seen the results for myself, backing it up by science doesn’t feel completely necessary. But for the skeptics (I don’t blame you, I was one too once) Forbes offers results from a study conducted in 2018. They found that “vividly describing your goals in written form is strongly associated with goal success, and people who very vividly describe or picture their goals are anywhere from 1.2 to 1.4 times more likely to successfully accomplish their goals than people who don’t. […] Writing things down happens on two levels: external storage and encoding. External storage is easy to explain: you’re storing the information contained in your goal in a location (e.g. a piece of paper) that is very easy to access and review at any time.” It all boils down to something “neuropsychologists have identified the ‘generation effect’ which basically says individuals demonstrate better memory for material they’ve generated themselves than for material they’ve merely read.”

By March, my intentions included actions that I felt could help me maintain the progress I had made up until this point. For example, while some days I loved myself for putting work into being a better person, I still have my insecurities and would self-scrutinize based on physical appearances and comparing myself to others on social media. So, from March forward, I began deleting Instagram from my phone at least one day each week. Such breathing space not only allowed me to do just that—breathe—but it also made me less dependent on the app overall. Surprisingly, it didn’t take long to adjust to this and, when boredom strikes, I no longer find myself looking to scroll aimlessly through the app. 

This brings me to present-day, yesterday to be exact, when I sat down and wrote my intentions for April. At this point, I feel that I have an overall more positive outlook on life. I’ve made lifestyle changes that cause me to wake up thinking about what I look forward to during the day and go to sleep thinking about how grateful I am for things that happen each day. In turn, so many other aspects have changed: relationships in my personal and professional life have flourished. I no longer try hard to keep people in my life who don’t want to be there. I move because I can and not because some external forces make me feel that I have to. I want to make my bed each day and change out of pajamas because I want a clear space and mind that reflects what I feel on the inside. The best part is that each positive change I see serves as motivation to keep going.

Now, flipping through the monthly intentions on my fridge is almost like flipping through my growth thus far this year. Not that I can recall “turning points,” per say, but I can remember the time periods where I began making more conscious efforts regarding certain aspects of my life. What was published in Forbes proved to be right because seeing my intentions down on paper each day does not let me forget them or say “oh, I’ll start working on this tomorrow.” 

What I hope you take away from my experience setting intentions is some inspiration to start setting your own intentions. Although I chose not to highlight the challenges and negative moments, that’s simply because they got increasingly fewer and farther between. This journey has been just that—a journey full of hills and valleys that has ebbed and flowed—and the payoff is well worth it. I never thought I could be so proud of myself. Give yourself something to be proud of, too!

References:
Murphy, Mark. “Neuroscience Explains Why You Need To Write Down Your Goals If You Actually Want To Achieve Them.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 15 Apr. 2018, www.forbes.com/sites/markmurphy/2018/04/15/neuroscience-explains-why-you-need-to-write-down-your-goals-if-you-actually-want-to-achieve-them/?sh=792941727905.

Sawruk, Coralie. “Why Setting Intentions Is the Way to Achieve Your Goals.” Medium, Medium, 12 Dec. 2019, coraliesawruk.medium.com/why-setting-intentions-is-the-way-to-achieve-your-goals-76d5e026d5d5.

 

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