Cultivating Your Intentions
We are halfway through this crazy year, so it is a good time to look back at the intentions you made in January and consider how you are doing. And yes, I know that my blog post just a few weeks ago was also about how to realize your intentions, but this is so important and I’ve got yet a few more good tips to share with you. And besides, cultivating intentions is not an overnight process, so checking in with yourself every now and then is really helpful in an effort to stay on track. Did you write them down? Hopefully so, as this is a great first step to actually incorporating them into your life. As you look at your list, perhaps the first question to ask yourself is whether this intention is still important to you. Life may have shifted and the answer may be no, and that’s okay. If this is case, perhaps you need to set a new intention that is more in alignment with your current reality and what you want to include in your life. Yet if the answer is “yes, this intention is still worthy of my time and attention” and your not living up to it as well as you would like, read on.
As I looked back over my own set of intentions made earlier this year, it occurred to me that taking the action needed to fully realize your intentions is a lot like cultivating a beautiful flower garden. If you’ve been following me for awhile you probably already know my view that you can’t surround yourself by too many flowers. I love having cut flowers in the home year around and my husband sometime has to reign in my expansion of our outdoor gardens. I’m perfectly okay with little space for lawn, as long as it is replaced by lots of blooming flowers, yet for some reason he doesn’t quite see it that way.🤣 Anyway, just as you know that beautiful flower gardens don’t appear overnight, neither are intentions immediately set never to be broken. Let’s take a look at some of the steps that bring a gorgeous flower garden into being and how we can use this as a metaphor for creating our own beautiful intentions in our minds and for our lives.
Step One - Make Your Intention a Long Term Commitment
When you make the decision to beautify the space around your home with flowers, you realize this isn’t something you are going to do in a weekend and then you are done. Flowers need nurturing and care over time. You can plant shrubs and quite quickly forget about them once you get them established. Not so with flowers. Many of these require care over the long haul. When cultivating your intentions, it is important that you take this long-term attitude. Recognize up front that you aren’t expecting to achieve overnight perfection, and quite possibly shouldn’t expect to achieve this ever. If you begin with this mindset, you’ll be far less likely to quit when you stumble and stray from your path.
Step Two - Plan Ahead and Construct Boundaries for your Intentions
Just as you don’t willy nilly go around planting a flower here and a flower there in the middle of your front yard, so too should you give some careful thought as to how best to construct boundaries for what you expect out of this intention. Be clear in your mind about what success looks like to you and make sure that your vision of this is achievable. Let’s use an example. Let’s say that you want to reduce your intake of sugar, which is a common intention for many people. If you begin the year saying “I’m never going to eat sugar again”, this boundary feels too rigid and sets you up for discouragement each time you bend the rule even the tiniest bit. A better intention may be “I intend to nurture my body with healthy food and limit my consumption of sugar.”
Step Three - Cultivate Good Soil
If you plant your flowers in pure clay or solely sand, except for a few varieties that actually thrive on poor soil, there is a pretty good chance you won’t get many blossoms and more likely will simply end up with a lot of dead plants. How do we invest in the soil of our intentions? To begin with, it is a wise idea to take some time to identify the beliefs you have about each intention. A useful exercise would be to take a few moments to quickly, and without giving it intense thought, write down all the beliefs that come to your mind about your chosen intention. Then step back and take a look at each belief individually. Ask yourself the question, “Is this belief supportive of my keeping this intention?”. If the answer is yes, fantastic! Move on to the next belief. But if the answer is no, it is time to get creative in your mind. Try to think of as many alternative views as you can to help make the negative belief less plausible. For instance, if you begin with a belief, “I was born with a sweet tooth, so limiting sugar in my diet is going to be incredibly difficult, if not impossible.”, there is a good chance you may continue to remind yourself of this belief frequently on your journey and sabotage your ability to follow through. Perhaps another more supportive belief could be, “Despite the fact that I enjoy sweet things, I am setting myself up for success to nurture and nourish my body and the results of this will be sweet indeed.” The latter part of this belief would actually make for a good affirmation to support the intention. For tips on setting affirmations that work, click the button below to go to our affirmations resource page.
Step Four - How Will You Remember to Water & Feed Your Intentions?
Research has shown that the easier you make it on yourself to actually do a habit you are trying to create, the more likely you are to stick to it. And the converse is true as well. If you are trying to stop doing something, come up with ways to make it difficult to do. Make it so you to have to go out of your way to do that thing you are wanting to avoid. Back to our sugar example, if you are trying to reduce your consumption of sugar, clear as much of it out of your house as you possibly can. Overeat dinner at restaurants, so you won’t even want to think about dessert - just kidding! But you see what I mean. To make it easier to stick to this intention, you could come up with a list of healthy snacks you like to eat equally as well and make sure your kitchen and possibly your workspace is stocked with these. If your cube mate at the office has a candy jar on the edge of her desk, make sure you have a drawer filled with things that you can go to whenever the candy jar is calling your name. Maybe you also put a picture of something that reminds you how good you are going to look and feel if you keep your intention in that drawer as well. It may take a little extra effort and forethought to put these things in place, but focus back on “the why” you are doing this. Focusing on the end result will help to encourage you to apply the extra effort needed to stay the course.
Coming up with triggers to remind you of your intention also works well for remembering to do things. If your intention is to drink more water daily, perhaps you set a timer for the refilling of your water bottle. If your intention is to stay more connected with family and friends while social distancing, consider when would be a good time to call or write them and pencil this in on your calendar. Want to work out first thing in the morning? Wear your work-out clothes to bed. Again, just kidding, but perhaps you lay them out where they are one of the first things you see in the morning, hopefully beckoning you to put them on. Perhaps you don’t feel like working out when you wake up. Try wearing the work-out clothes you set out first thing in the morning anyway. Maybe this simple little act will put you one step closer to being in the mood and will help give you the initiative to actually follow through a little later.
Step Five - Have a Back Up Plan
Just as there will be downpours and droughts disrupting perfect gardening weather, so too will there be distractions, obligations and last minute changes to schedules that will get in the way of all of your good intentions. To the extent that you have taken some time to think about these in advance and come up with a back-up game plan, you’ll be well equipped to weather the storms. For instance on our sugar example, say you are attending a family party and you know there will be cake. Decide before you leave for the party if you intend to eat a piece while you are there. Perhaps your mother is baking a German chocolate cake with that yummy icing and this is your absolute favorite. Maybe in this case you decide to eat a small piece. On the flip side if someone is bringing a white cake from the delicatessen at the grocery with that white icing that tastes like sweet shortening and that’s not your thing, perhaps you decide ahead of time that you’d rather pass. And to help you avoid the temptation when dessert is served, perhaps you decide to bring along some frozen blueberries or other treat you deem acceptable to munch on. Or perhaps you decide ahead of time that this is when you are going to slip out and make that call that you need to make or plan to take a brief walk to remove you from the temptation. In a situation such as this it is also wise to let your friends and loved ones in on what you are doing and why and ask them to be supportive of you.
Doing something different such as taking a walk helps to change the focus of your mind and can help get you through the times you are being pulled internally to do something out of alignment with your intention. The important thing is that whatever you choose to do, be it go with the urge or walk away, practice making this a conscious decision in the moments prior or when you can, well in advance. Ask yourself and perhaps your body, “Do I really want to do this at this time or am I just acting out of some emotional need?” If the answer is an emotional need, have a back up plan for this as well.
Step Six - Focus on the Why when You Slip
When you trip up, because if you are truly in this for the long haul, it is almost certain at some time you will, take it easy on yourself. Be compassionate and remind yourself that this is a journey and that this intention is a long term one. Remember that just as a flower garden didn’t become beautiful overnight, you decided this was going to be a long term commitment when you originally established the intention. You knew that there would be set backs along the way and you expected this and decided early on that you would keep going. There will always be weeds to pull. That’s just the nature of a flower garden and the nature of life. When you find yourself discouraged by your slips in commitment, bring your thoughts back to the reason why you decided to make this intention in the first place. Focus your attention on the end result, as opposed to the challenges of getting there.
Step Seven - Sometime You Need to Change the Plan
And if you find that you keep repeatedly stumbling for the same reason, it’s time to change the plan. Maybe that flower doesn’t like that sunny spot and needs a little more shade. Maybe it needs a little more watering. Take another look at your current beliefs. Are any of these contributing to the repetitive slip ups? How can you change the reminders to better set yourself up for future success? How can you make it easier for yourself to follow through?
And while we started this discussion about looking back on intentions set months ago, remember that there is no need to wait until an event - Monday, the first of the month, the first of the year, to make intentions for positive changes in your life. Every day is a brand new day and a brand new chance to set changes in motion to help you lead a more joyful, mindful and balanced life. Make a plan to carve out time for working on creating your beautiful life today.