I’m hoping that, over the past few weeks you’ve got closer to knowing the answers to the questions; ‘what does my heart want/what’s my heart’s deepest desire?’
Perhaps by now you have a list of things you’d like to have in your life, others you’d like to do & ideas as to how you’d like to live more closely aligned to your values.
If that’s how far you’ve got, well done, &if you haven’t quite arrived here yet, well done too. There’s no rush & what’s important is that you’ve started, & also that you keep going.
What I’m writing about today is how to take the next step.
I’ve been using the garden metaphor throughout this process & I love these words from the song Crowded Table by the Highwomen because it expresses beautifully the importance of planting seeds.
First; remember an Oak tree won’t flourish in the desert
Before you start planting, I encourage you to reality check your dreams, do they fit with who you are & your values? I’m guessing you could grow an Oak tree in the desert, but it would take an awful lot of nurturing, & so it is with dreams, you’re much more likely to achieve them if they match your nature & values.
For example I enjoy singing & was in a choir for 9 years. I have a dream of singing a solo & can imagine how wonderful it would feel. However, once I stop to think, I realise that getting to this level would take more time, energy, patience & money (for private lessons) than I’m willing to spend.
Remembering what I wrote in one of my earlier posts, I ask myself what do I really want – what’s beneath this? I realise I want to develop my creativity so ask myself how can I make this happen in a different way. Instead I could develop my photography or embroidery skills, take a writing class or join a new choir. Any of which would achieve my dream of being more creative.
Can you see how asking this deeper question opens up many more possibilities?
Let’s set intentions, not goals
I’m not going to write about ‘goal’ setting, these days ‘intention’ setting works better for me. So what follows is my interpretation & a process which works for me. If you prefer to set goals or you have a different way of setting intentions, please use it. What matters is that by the end you have an idea of the garden you want & a way of creating it which works for you.
What’s an intention & how is it different from a goal?
Here’s my understanding of goals & intentions.
Goals are destination or specific achievements, something you want to do, be or have & they usually have a time frame attached. For example ‘on 1st May 2020 I will weigh **’, or ‘before my course starts on 22nd April I will have read 4 Traditional Chinese Medicine/Qigong/yoga books & finished the online training’.
I feel great when I achieve goals, but each day I don’t believe I’ve made progress is an opportunity to beat myself up. So if a specific weight is my goal, every time I eat chocolate I feel both guilt & shame.
Intentions are more like guiding principles for how you want to be, live, & show up in the world. They’re statements of authentic desires which come from your heart & evoke feeling & purpose, & because of this they make you feel good.
They’re less about the destination & more about helping you make choices or navigate obstacles as they appear.
So using the example above, my goals could be transformed into intentions to ‘nourish my body in a way which is loving towards it’ & be ‘committed to continuing exploring how my body works internally & externally & to make the most of the opportunities I have.’
Can you see the difference? Goals are a specific destination & feel constraining & rigid whereas intentions feel softer, gentler & more loving & supportive.
Having intentions supports you to achieve more
When I started practicing Yin Yoga I was very goal oriented, I spent a lot of time looking around enviously at others & pushing my body to see if it could make the shapes which theirs did. In many cases it refused to co-operate leaving me disheartened & frustrated.
After a while, I realised that my teacher teaches from a perspective of intention, so each time we move into a new pose her instruction is to stretch a particular muscle & she gives us several suggestions. The choice of how is ours & as long as we achieve the intention, what we look like doesn’t matter.
For example if my goal is to touch my toes, some days I can & others I can’t. However if my intention is to stretch the back of my body, I can always do that. And more importantly by adjusting my legs I can focus the stretch either on the back of my legs or my lower back.
I’ve been practising in this way for a while now & the benefits have been huge. I can always achieve the intention so am never disappointed & in addition I go deeper into my practice & letting go of the goal of looking a specific way has enabled my body to relax & move itself into new places.
Finding your joy works in the same way. My group of childless friends & the women who feature in Finding Joy had an intention to finding joy (or happiness) & we’ve all discovered it. In completely different ways.
If we were to ask, we’d find that we’re all following our curiosity or passions & living in accordance with our values & inner nature. And, just like stretching in yoga, because we’re all different on the inside, what our life looks like on the outside is also different.
By having an intention of finding joy enabled life to evolve & speaking personally (& I suspect for many others), it’s unfolded in ways more beautiful than I could ever have imagined.
Of course you know that this can also be the case for you.
How to set intentions
1. Write them down, or choose words which express them
Having done some online research, many say that you should write your intentions down in the format ‘I am..’. You can do that, or write them as I have above but be careful that it doesn’t turn into goal setting.
I prefer to choose 3 words which embody my intentions for the year. I’ve done this for a few years & it works well for me. There are no rules about the number of words you can have; some choose one, but I like to have 3.
To find your words, think about your dreams & dig underneath them to discover what they have in common, perhaps there’s a value which, if you embodied it, would assist you in moving towards your dreams.
This year I’ve chosen COMMITMENT, EXPLORATION & LOVE.
I chose these because I want to continue to explore my yoga practice, myself & Traditional Chinese Medicine & also to follow my curiosity, creativity & learning. I have a tendency to start things & not continue them & being committed will encourage me to keep going. And love, why not? Seriously though having done some digging as to why I haven’t achieved my health ‘goals’ I realise that at the root was a lack of self-love. So this is what I’ll be cultivating during the year.
2. Let things unfold
Like real seeds, intentions can’t grow if you hold on to them tightly; they’re more likely to flourish with gentle nurturing & love.
With intentions, there’s a huge freedom in not specifying the how. Going back to yoga, the other day when we were asked to stretch our glute muscles, I looked round the class & because we’re all different on the inside. there were as many variations as there were students.
So after you’ve set your intentions or chosen your words; keep them close but don’t obsess over them.
If you do this you’ll find that opportunities will come to you & maybe your dream will come true in a different & more magical way than you previously imagined.
So now you have dreams which support your life, who you are & what’s important to you. And they’re expressed through words or sentences
Doesn’t that feel great?
To use the obvious phrase, ‘you’ve come a long way baby.’
There are just 2 more small habits which will help them to manifest, then we’re done.
3. Remind yourself & make choices based on them
Having told you not to obsess over them, experience tells me that keeping them close by is a great reminder. So I suggest you do something to regularly remind yourself. My words are on the board behind my computer screen & inside the cover of my journal so they’re often at the edge of my consciousness.
This year I’ve started asking myself questions based on my words, so for example when faced with a choice, I ask myself ‘if I loved myself what would I choose?’ Or ‘what’s the loving action to take here?’ Doing this has encouraged me to make a number of small changes & different decisions.
You could also use a vision board, or make an image for your phone’s wallpaper, whatever works best for you.
4. Reflect back
Going forward, remember to look at your life & review how your dreams manifested. If you follow this process I think you’ll be surprised how well it works.
I find that even when I’m not conscious of my words they’ve affected my actions. For example at my recent Business Club meeting I realised that my 3 achievements for the previous month aligned perfectly with my 3 words.
And finally, thank you
Thank you for being with me through this process. I hope you’ve found it helpful & you’ve learned something & also that you have a process you can go back to. If you have any questions or feedback, please leave a comment or drop me a line.
And if you’d like to have the whole process together as a pdf document I’ll be sending it to my list in early March 2020 so if you’re not on my list, you can sign up below.