Intentions are a way to align our energy towards a specific goal or purpose. While intentions are simple in concept, they can have a powerful effect on our day to day lives.
Despite this, many people find that they consistently set intentions and yet see little to no result. All of that affirming and visualizing doesn’t seem to have a real impact on their lives.
This can be extremely frustrating but don’t give up just yet – there are usually a few simple tweaks you can make to notice a difference. In this article I want to explore how to set intentions that actually work, in a way that doesn’t feel as overwhelming or forced.
I have mentioned intention setting a lot in my posts and newsletters, however I haven’t put together a comprehensive and easy to understand guide. That is my goal today.
Step 1: Identify where you are
The first thing I want to clarify here is that my view of manifestation might differ from yours or the ones you’ve read before. Sometimes manifestation is explained as a way to get whatever you want with enough mental focus.
However I see manifestation as moving towards the things that are aligned with us, and that might not always line up with what we want. Sometimes what we ‘want’ is only something that would improve our lives temporarily or that we want now but won’t want to deal with later.
Sometimes what we want obscures something deeper that we need. For example wishing for a prestigious job (that might be great in its own right) but that isn’t actually suited to our personality, where we are actually craving a deeper security and safety within ourselves.
Sometimes what we want isn’t coming from our soul or higher self but our ego. We want something to make ourselves look and feel good, but that might cause us to become detached from our authentic selves.
This doesn’t mean we can’t aim high or that we disregard everything we want, but that we identify the wants that go a little bit deeper and that spark something a little more powerfully inside us. This is so that we can actually put our energy towards them over the long-term.
I think one of the best ways we can start this process is by assessing where we currently are. This assessment process is something I build upon in my shadow work guide.
Look at where you are physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. It will be helpful to write this down on a piece of paper with a heading for each area. Try to be as honest with yourself as possible – what does your ‘starting point’ look like?
Step 2: Tune into your intuition
Tuning into our intuition is perhaps the most important step in this process, because what else can guide us in a way that is congruent with our soul?
With each step you want to be consistently referring back to your intuition and making the necessary changes to the practices you are adopting and your day to day routine.
It’s one thing to know we have an intuition that can guide us and another to actually hear it clearly and follow it faithfully. So how do you hear the voice of the intuition?
Intuition tends to come to us most obviously when we are in quietude. When we are not focused on the fast-paced world around us and the expectations other people have for us.
- Find a quiet spot
- Get into a comfortable seated position
- Take deep breaths and calm the mind
- Practice sitting with whatever comes up
Sit in a quiet spot and focus on the breath. When a thought arises, simply bring your attention back to the breath.
Once you are comfortable sitting with yourself in quiet, you can start to ask your intuition specific questions – this is what I call self-inquiry.
When you are in a quiet space, state a question in your mind or out loud.
I recommend starting with these ones:
- What do I need today?
- What am I uncomfortable with?
- What do I need to express today?
Notice what thoughts and emotions, words and phrases, or images that come to mind. Repeating these questions day to day, you will gain deeper insight into what your energy is being consistently drawn to and what sort of intentions you can set.
Then you can start getting more specific and asking questions pertaining to what next step you should take.
- What is my deeper purpose?
- What action would I like to take daily?
- What people would I like to be surrounded by?
- What environments would you like to be in?
Notice the sensations that arise in your body as you are inquiring. What are your first thoughts and feelings? What images come up in your mind’s eye? All of this information is going to be helpful, however irrelevant it might seem in the moment.
To begin you just want to write everything down once you are finished. Avoid too much analysis at first or trying to pinpoint a complete answer right away.
As you come back to this exercise over time (I recommend asking the same questions multiple times) you are going to notice that the answers you receive have a consistency about them. Pull all of this information together and try to identify the common threads, what can you gleam from this?
Step 3: Identify your next step
Next is to identify what your next step is.
Rather than trying to set an intention for a year ahead right away, focus on what you want to move towards in the next few days, weeks or months.
If you want to increase your income, what is the next level up? If you want to relocate, what do you need to make that possible in your current environment?
Most people fail with setting intentions because they focus on something that will require an excessive amount of energy to maintain from their current vantage point. They becomes overwhelmed and don’t see any real change in their immediate environment, which causes them to give up.
The manifestation process is best approached as a practice in building momentum, rather than jumping miles ahead. We can use the ‘proof’ we gain with each smaller success as a way to push forward to the next ‘step up’.
Step 4: Write it down
Create an intention and give yourself adequate time to reflect on it before you commit.
Write it down on a piece of paper and do some introspection. Is this intention something that feels right in your heart, or is this intention based upon the societal or familial expectations that have been placed on you?
Is this intention something you ‘want’ but only at the moment? If this intention came true instantly, would you be happy with it over the long-term?
You can come back to these reflections as many times as you need, to feel secure in focusing and taking action on. Make sure this is something you want to put your energy behind.
How to write powerful intentions (with examples)
Writing is such a powerful way to set intentions because it’s an easy way to get the idea into physical form. Now you know how important it is to actually write your intentions, what is the best way to go about it?
Create a warm and uplifting atmosphere before you get started. Light a candle, put on some calming music, take a warm bath. Do whatever it is that gets your energy aligned.
Be specific and write your intention with as much detail as you like.
- I am finanically stable
- I attract a healthy relationship
- I am open to new ways of doing things
You can be more specific:
- I earn $4000 a month through my writing
- I attract a loving, creative partner
- I am confident in each action I take
Underneath your intention you can write a few paragraphs (or pages), about how you feel about this intention, what emotions you wish to experience with success, and what aligned action you can take. You can also leave some space underneath to take notes on your progress.
It’s best to get any fears or doubts out onto the page now, than let them simmer in the subconscious mind and influence the outcome unexpectedly.
Step 5: Take aligned action
Taking aligned action is one of the most underestimated steps of the manifestation process. This is because people tend to believe that manifesting is all mental. You set an intention and allow things to come to you through the vibration you are setting.
However vision requires action. What I mean by this is that as physical beings we have to make physical moves in our lives in order to effect real change.
We can think about building a house all day but if we don’t get our tools out and get to work, that house will never be built. Manifesting is similar to building a house in that we need a clear vision in mind and enough energy to commit before we can see the results. Both sides, the physical and energetic, are important.
Taking action towards our goals is a way of meeting the Universe halfway, of affirming that the intentions we’ve set are important to us.
The difference with this sort of action is that it is led by our intuition, we aren’t rushing, grasping for or chasing anything. Instead, when we set an intention we pay attention to ways we are called to take action.
Action in our culture often means rushing towards the next thing, chasing the person we want to connect with or grasping for results that will satisfy our mind or ego.
When we set an intention the Universe will place different obstacles, detours and situations in our way that highlight blockages we have around it.
If we want to find a loving partner, we might be pointed inward, to self love first. If we want to level up in our careers, we might go through situations that highlight where we have to set stronger boundaries or be more assertive.
It will be important not to run away or give up at the first point of resistance, because these obstacles represent opportunities for the exact type of growth we need to move forward.
Although this can feel like being tested to the mind or ego, it is simply the Universe offering us a chance to act in accordance – to become the type of person we need to be in order to inhabit a new space.
This action we will be called to take won’t always be easy or comfortable, but it will better align us with our soul purpose.
Take a moment to really sit with yourself, to meditate or find some quiet time. In these moments you’ll be the most receptive to the intuitive guidance coming through.
The idea of manifestation requiring action can seem somewhat contradictory, depending on the ideas you already have. This is because action is often associated with this fast-paced culture I mentioned. When we speak of taking action we are often anticipating inevitable overexertion and burnout.
However we are also aware of how energizing action can be, when we are so engaged doing something we love that even when our body becomes tired, we still feel fulfilled. This is the type of action that I am referring to and that you want to gravitate towards.
Ask yourself: If the initial action I am called to take is uncomfortable, what are the long-term benefits?
Does the action necessary to maintain this intention consistently drain or nourish me?
Another way to bring energy to your intentions is to use affirmations.
An affirmation is slightly different to an intention. With an intention we are making a commitment to a certain way of being or acting. On the other hand affirmations are present tense declarations. These two work well together. Setting intention to get a long-term view of things, and reciting affirmations to bring that energy firmly into the present.
I love affirmations, particularly when they are spoken out loud, because they highlight resistance that we weren’t aware of.
Create an affirmation in accordance with your goal. For example if you want to find a bigger living environment/home you might affirm ‘I take up space’, or if you wanted to progress to a higher-paying job you might affirm ‘I am full of abundance’.
My take on affirmations is that you want to focus on the emotions/feeling associated with the goal rather than the goal itself. Rather than expecting one specific result, being open to many different avenues.
You want your affirmation to be in present tense. The reason for this is that you want to put yourself in a space as you already have what you are asking for.
Because your physical environment and present emotions might not reflect this affirmation, there is likely to be resistance – this is natural.
However instead of pretending this resistance doesn’t exist or ignoring it and attempting to perform positivity, working directly with the resistance.
Find a quiet spot and state your affirmation in your mind or out loud. You can also do this in front of a mirror for an extra boost.
When you state this affirmation, what conflicting thoughts or emotions arise?
Rather than pushing these thoughts and emotions away, sit with them. Allow yourself to feel the tension or heaviness. Take some deep breaths and allow the visceral/physical sensations to gradually soften.
Try to re-frame the resistance you are feeling. This tension isn’t coming from the present moment but from past experience. The sense of tension or restriction you have felt in this area before. Without trying to push or explain it away, how can you acknowledge and come to peace with this?
If you felt tension or heaviness towards this before it was before you didn’t have the right tools or resources to manage it. Perhaps you weren’t in the right mental space. How can you resource these things now?
If you state this affirmation and feel a deep sense of joy, peace and comfort, then zone in on and visualize that sensation expanding.
When should you set intentions
Timing is also important when we set intentions. I like to set intentions with a 28 day or four week view ahead. There is a special spiritual significance to four week cycles, and this allows long enough to see if your intentions are truly aligned and adjust them if need be.
Each week you can make small adjustments in your energy in line with the different obstacles that come up.
Good times to set intentions:
- Full & New Moons
- The start of each week, month and year
- On special dates/occasions (birthdays, anniversaries)
You don’t have to be strict with the timing of your intention setting, but it’s nice to get some consistency going alongside important dates.
Does setting intentions actually work?
You might be looking at all of these pointers and wondering if intention setting is actually worth the effort. Does writing intentions down and doing visualization work any better than simply having an idea in the mind and acting on it or going with the flow?
In my experience the answer is a definitive yes!
Our brains can be very temperamental when it comes to creativity and action-taking. You’ll know this very well if you’ve ever had a random but brilliant idea, told yourself you’d remember it only to forget it completely the next day.
Putting things to paper means we have to confront our goals logically. Beyond that, setting intentions has a spiritual and energetic significance. It is that first step in aligning our energy and making our goals physical.
In the past I’ve had trouble seeing any real progress in my life. I would have ideas of what I wanted to do, I would focus my attention on them, but didn’t really see the results I was hoping for.
Getting specific about the type of work I want to do, spaces I want to be around and people I want to interact with has changed everything. Keeping everything mental made it easy to overestimate my progress and lose focus.
Knowing the ‘what’ even if you don’t yet know the ‘how’ is super important. Once I got very specific about what I wanted, I understood what I needed to do to feel worthy of it internally and how to take action towards it externally.
Manifestation that is grounded and effective is closely tied with shadow work – in a sense they are the same thing.
Shadow work is the process of making the unconscious conscious, through practices like mindfulness that increase self-awareness. The shadow is everything within our psyche that we are uncomfortable acknowledging; the negative and positive traits.
When we avoid the shadow (avoid acknowledging our unhealthy habits or failing to hone our strengths) then the unconscious rules our lives. We do things on autopilot, never quite understanding why we can’t make an impact in the way we want.
Working with the shadow is a process of acknowledging our negative traits and not allowing fear to keep us from our strengths, so that we can live in accordance with our higher selves.
In this – the enlightening of our darkness – we live a more conscious life, more aligned with our souls. Naturally we move in the direction of what is aligned with us.
Go deeper with my shadow work guide that comes with 52 printable journal prompts.