The Power of Intention

Prevention Magazine . January, 2005
Wise ways to make your New Year’s goals a reality.

When I was on a medical school admissions committee years ago, one application stood out from hundreds of others. It began, “Why would a single mother of five, who makes her living as a bartender, want to go to medical school?” The words hummed with positive energy and a strong resolve to become a physician. The applicant, Sophie, had a clear plan for who would watch her kids and how she could manage the rigors of medical training and raise her family without getting overwhelmed. She was a star student who became a great doctor because she knew how to harness the power of intention to make her dreams a reality.

As a new year dawns, I’m taking advantage of this annual time for self-reflection to prioritize my goals for 2005 and make specific plans that support them. As I learned from watching Sophie succeed in medical school, getting specific about your goals is the best way to put power behind your intentions and bring your dreams closer to reality.

One of my most important goals this year is to get in great shape. I turned 59 in October, and health isn’t something I can take for granted. So as I live the 60th year of my life, here are some of the tools I’ll be using to help me fulfill my resolutions. I hope you find them helpful, too.

Focus Your Intention

Did you ever have a clear plan—going back to school, giving up a bad habit, or even organizing your house—but you just couldn’t manage to do it? It may be that you haven’t tapped into what your intention is really about. For example, when I think about why I want to get in shape, the first reason that comes up is the most superficial: I want to look better. But looks alone aren’t enough to motivate me to disappear several times a week to the garage, where the treadmill, Bowflex, and yoga props are waiting. The intention that really motivates me to get back in shape is love.

In June I’m marrying a man who has made skeptical old me believe in soul mates. After waiting most of a lifetime for this kind of deep, wild, intimate connection, I want plenty of energy to enjoy it. If getting in shape gives me more time and stamina to enjoy this precious love and life, that’s what will get my butt out to the garage.

Why do you want to commit to a particular resolution? The key to clarifying intention is to ask yourself that question with candor and open-minded curiosity. Making a list of the reasons can help you discern the deeper levels of motivation that will empower your intention. Alternatively, it may reveal that you don’t really resonate with a particular resolution, and you can drop it. Be honest with yourself.

Find a Role Model

In my early 30s I was seriously out of shape from commuting, working long hours, and caring for my two boys. I began to think that I was the biggest sloth on the planet. Then one night I saw an inspiring TV special about a much older woman who was running marathons. She’d started training in her 50s, out of shape and overweight, and at first could run only to her mailbox and back. As I started getting in shape, I’d alternate walking and jogging, repeating to myself on each exhale, If she can do it, so can I. Similarly, you should look around for someone who inspires you to meet your goal.

Engage Your Imagination

It’s a catalyst for manifesting intention. Let’s say that you’ve had a tiff with a friend or family member and you want to repair it. Mental practice can make the process a lot easier by giving your mind the message that reconciliation has already taken place. Then, when the real moment for forgiveness comes, you can enter into it from your best, most relaxed, and authentic self. For example, you can build confidence in public speaking or performing by relaxing your body and then rehearsing a successful performance in your mind.

Find Allies

Whatever your intention is, consider magnifying and focusing it through the power of a group. If you’re working with addiction or codependency, try a 12-step program. If you’re an aspiring writer, try joining a writers’ group. If you want to plant a beautiful garden, what about the local garden club? The Internet is a great place to find like-minded people.

Break Your Goal into Clear Steps

The path to success—whether you’re organizing your home, looking for a job, or reaching any goal—is to break the task down into manageable chunks. Perhaps you want to organize your home. Right now your closets are overflowing, your file cabinets are bursting with yellowed papers, and the refrigerator harbors bottles of ancient mustard that you wouldn’t even think of opening. It’s easy to get so overwhelmed that you don’t know where to start, so you never do.

Step one is to identify a simple task that you can accomplish and a specific day on which you’ll do it. Choose a starting step that will take only an hour or two to give yourself a sense of accomplishment. I began the process of organizing my house with the bedroom closets. I was helped by a girlfriend who showed no mercy for weakness or indecision. “When was the last time you wore this?” was her war cry. If I hadn’t worn a garment for a year, our agreement was that it would go into the give-away pile. At the end of 2 hours, most of my wardrobe had seen me for the last time.

Once you’ve completed your first step, put step two on your calendar. Whether it’s cleaning the fridge or sorting the boxes in the garage, completing the task builds momentum and brings you closer to a goal that is measurable and specific, rather than abstract like, “Some day I’m going to get organized.” Keep going, step by step. And remember—often baby steps get you to your goals faster than giant leaps.

4 Secrets of Smart Goal Setters

  1. Make an altar to your success. Put up drawings, pictures, or symbols of what you intend to accomplish (like a picture of someone with your body type in great shape).
  2. Keep a log. Did you make the nagging phone calls that you usually put off? Did you accomplish the steps to your goal that had specific timelines and deadlines? Logging your progress keeps you honest and focused.
  3. Go for a group ritual. Get your friends together to burn or bury your last pack of smokes or box of cookies, or a picture of the low-down, dirty-dog type of guy you’ve resolved never to date again. Have everyone who attends give you his or her own version of a blessing for success.
  4. Consider professional help. From personal trainers and closet organizers to addiction specialists and therapists, you can find the help you need to make your goals a reality.

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