Set Your Intentions & Live Deliberately

“Think like a man of action; act like a man of thought.” – Henri L. Bergson

Intention is all about purpose.  It is your directed attention and the hopes that you wish to achieve through an action.  If you’re cooking dinner, your intention is likely to eat that dinner.  If you’re driving to work and your true intention is to get there in time, no matter what, then you are likely to drive quickly and recklessly.  If you’re driving to work and your true intention is to get there safely, you will drive with focused attention at a safe speed.

Our underlying intentions behind our behaviors are vital in creating outcomes and consequences.  When your intentions are self-centered and self-serving, your actions are likely to reflect these intentions and be visible to others.  It is crucial to recognize that “pure” or “good” intentions do not necessarily result in positive outcomes.  Even if you “meant well,” your actions can have disastrous and irresponsible results.

There is a big difference here between the common saying of “having good intentions” and “setting your intentions.”  Most people turn to the fact that they had good intentions as a way of apologizing or making up for some misstep, oversight, or failure. This saying is often used as an excuse and is often indicative of that person not having actually set intentions in the first place.  It is more likely when one says they “had good intentions” that they were not carefully thinking through their actions in the moment… not being mindful and deliberate in thought and deed.

Alidina (2011) explains that “intention shapes the nature of the whole action itself.  Although the action may be the same … the intention itself strongly influences your moment-by-moment experience and state of mind.”  When acting out of a place of mindful awareness and conscious presence, you have the opportunity to deliberately set your intentions as you choose and enact your behaviors.  Acting with intention in this way allows you to be purposeful, directed, and true to your values.  Acting without intention in the present moment is acting without mindfulnessreactive to internal and external cues.  It is acting while blindfolded.

Our intentions often change and develop over time as they relate to familiar actions.  For example, you may have started to explore mindfulness to deal with stress and to manage your thoughts and emotions… over time, your intention with practicing mindfulness may evolve into experiencing greater compassion for yourself and others, becoming transcendent.

As you read this article, try to get in touch with your true intention in this present moment.  Perhaps your intention is to obtain information to live a more deliberate and intentional life.  Perhaps your intention is to pass the time until your next meeting/event. Whatever it is, what matters is that you begin to learn to become aware of your underlying intentions behind all that you do.  The first step towards being able to mindfully set your intentions is to be sensitively attuned to them with full conscious awareness.

Alidina (2011) suggests engaging in a sentence-completion exercise to begin to get in touch with your true intentions.  The following example is meant to explore the intentions behind practicing mindfulness.  Simply replace the word “mindfulness” with anything else that you wish to explore:

  • I want to learn about (mindfulness) because…
  • I am hoping that (mindfulness) will give me…
  • If I am more (mindful), then I will…
  • The real reasons that I want to (practice mindfulness) are…
  • (Mindfulness) is…
  • Ultimately, (mindfulness) will allow me to…
  • When I (practice mindfulness), it makes me feel…

As you explored your underlying intentions behind mindfulness (or anything else), what thoughts or emotions arose?  Were you surprised by any of your true answers?  In order for this exercise to be effective, you must be completely honest with yourself. Refrain from writing down what you believe you “should” want, need, think or feel.  The purpose (or intention) of this exercise is to get you in touch with your real intentions, not the intentions that you want other people to think you have.

Another helpful way to begin to consciously set your intentions is to develop a vision.  A clear vision of where you would like to go gives you a clear mental image of your long-term aspirations.  In order to embark upon a successful journey (i.e., life) you must have conscious awareness of two things: (1) where you are now and (2) where you would like to go.  Begin to apply mindfulness to your present moment experience and allow your vision to motivate, energize, and inspire you to maintain forward momentum.

You can also learn to set your intentions through writing a letter to your future self.  This is a helpful exercise intended to get you in touch with who you aspire to be in the future.  Reflect on where you see yourself in five years – ten years.  What kind of person are you?  What kind of a life have you built?  How do you cope with the inevitable challenges of life?  How are you better than you are right now?  Putting your intentions for the future onto paper helps to give your mind something to work towards and increases your commitment to your goals.

What are your intentions for today?  How would you like to behave today to act in accordance with your true values, your goals for the future, and your vision of your future self?  As you go through the day, take a moment to pause and reflect upon how each behavioral choice that you are making throughout the day is being guided by your intentions.  If you notice that you have acted carelessly (i.e., without mindfulness), take notice of this and use it as an opportunity to consciously set your desired intention.

In this day, you have the power to choose to act with conscious awareness, driven by pure intention, or to act in a fog, driven by impulses and reactive to environmental stimuli.  Use today as an opportunity to mindfully get in the driver’s seat and deliberately set your course towards your true goals and aspirations.

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Alidina, S. (2011). Mindfulness for dummies. West Sussex, England: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Featured image: Compass Study by Calsidyrose / CC BY 2.0

About Laura K. Schenck, Ph.D., LPC

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado. Some of my academic interests include: Dialectical Behavior Therapy, mindfulness, stress reduction, work/life balance, mood disorders, identity development, supervision & training, and self-care.


  1. James on August 24, 2011 at 8:24 am

    Inspirational post! I have never tried writing a letter to my future self, though I like the idea a lot.

    One thing I am currently working on is a “vision board,” a collage of images that represents my goals and dreams (i.e. my vision) for the future. A vision board can serve two purposes: 1) During creation, to encourage you to mindfully develop a vision for yourself (which is something that tends to not “just happen”); 2) Upon completion, to remind you of your vision, and, in so doing, help you to consistently move towards it. I’ve been working on mine for a while, and had put it down for a bit, but your post has given me new inspiration to take it up again!

    • Laura on August 28, 2011 at 8:29 pm

      James – I’m glad you enjoyed this article and the idea of writing a letter to your future self. I like your “vision board” concept a great deal. It seems so helpful to have a clear picture of your goals/vision in that way. I agree that quite often visions do not magically “happen.” It takes conscious and purposeful behaviors to move us closer to our goals. When we sit around waiting for things to fall into our laps, we often end up waiting for quite a long time. I’m glad you have been inspired to take up your “vision board” again! Thanks for your comment.

  2. Bob Pritchard on July 29, 2012 at 1:40 am

    One who acts without intention is with the Tao. Read about the uncarved block or the Tao of Pooh.

  3. Allie King on September 12, 2012 at 7:32 am

    Mindfulness muse has been the gift of clarity in my lifewhich helps me in learning what role meditation
    plays and also helps me to observe my emotions ,make proper decisions and except change. I love Mindfulness Muse.(thank you)

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