The Power of Setting Intentions — and Exactly How to Do So , Silhouette of a woman wearing fireworks

The Power of Setting Intentions — and How to Do It Correctly

Setting intentions is powerful when done properly, but it's more than just setting goals — it's about being purposeful in pursuing your desires.

"Everyone has busy, stress-filled, hectic lives; you barely have time to grab a cup of coffee in the morning, so you think there's no way you have time to set a daily intention each morning, and that's precisely why you need to," says Melissa Maxx, a certified mindfulness coach. "If you don't set an intention, you let the day determine your mood, rather than taking control and determining how you want the day to be."

Put simply, an intention is an aim or purpose, something you plan to do or achieve — and paying more attention to your intentions can do truly incredible things for your life.

"Intention setting is empowering," says Maxx. "Instead of feeling like a victim of circumstance, you become the conscious creators of your days and your life."

The benefits of setting intentions are manifold, but it's not as simple as wishing on a star or meditating on something you want. Here's how to set intentions the right way.

The Benefits of Setting Intentions

The concept of "intention setting" might sound woo-woo or like something you'd only do at the beginning of a yoga class, but it's foundational to anyone with goals — aka most any human being, says Jason Frishman, Psy.D. "As you learn and commit to your goals, intention becomes the very first step in achieving them."

"Setting an intention is the initiation, the first step into your preferred story," he says. "Particularly if your intention is solidly aligned with your values, then you have a powerful tool for moving forward and achieving your desires." Regular statements of intention also allow you to change courses or adjust the path if needed, he says.

Intentions can be both large (think: lifelong) and small (think: for the next day or even the next hour). Either way, they need to be specific and actionable, says Frishman. (It's just like when you use the "SMART" method to set goals.)

They may also be emotional, adds Sara Weand, L.P.C., licensed dialectical behavior therapy therapist and counselor. "Intentions involve the emotions you hope and intend to feel about a particular thing or situation in the future," she says. "When you set an intention, it provides accountability and allows you to take control of your personal choices and life. It's about being proactive in your own life, by purposely choosing how you want to live it."

By setting intentions, you actively live your life with purpose, she says. You do so by becoming more present both within yourself and in your relationships.

"When setting an intention, it's like laying the foundation for what you'd like to have, feel, and experience versus just being a passive participant going through the motions," she explains. "Intentions provide you with the opportunity to actively participate in your life the way you want to live it."

So how, exactly, do you set intentions for the greatest chance at success? Read on.

How to Set Intentions

1. State your intentions.

When you decide what you want, vocalize it or write it down. Doing so may not only feel cathartic, but it can also help to hold you accountable.

"After gaining clarity on your goals and understanding your values, I would encourage taking the initiative by finding a small and repeatable action that moves you toward the goal and expresses a value," says Frishman. "Then, state your intention to accomplish that task. Making a statement is essential. It can be declared to yourself and others, or it can be written and posted… Intentions are most powerful when they are shared or declared outside of your own head." (Related: Goal-Trackers That'll Help You Make Sh*t Happen)

2. Be clear.

Whatever your intentions are, "it's necessary to be clear about what you want to achieve and think about the results that you'll obtain from it," says Aura Priscel De Los Santos, a clinical psychologist.

The key is being conscious about where you place your attention — that's the only way to think what you want into reality.

"If you know what you want, it's easier to focus and put all your energy into it," says De Los Santos. Life has its ups and downs, and so does pursuing a goal of any kind. Intentions can help you maintain course even when there are fluctuations, says De Los Santos. "The intentions are there to remind you why you want to do it and the results you desire." (See: Knowing Your 'Why' Is the Most Important Thing for Your Health Goals)

3. Make sure your intentions are positive.

Anything can be an intention, says Maxx. An intention simply gives you a focal point to redirect your energy when it's inevitably pushed and pulled in different directions throughout each day. Just make sure that whatever your intention is, it comes from a place of positivity.

Some examples of intentions include: "Today, I will be present." "Today, I will eat healthy things." "Today, I will be patient." "Today, I will make conscious choices."

"It's important that the intention be phrased as a positive 'I will' rather than a negative 'I won't,'" she explains. That's because research shows negative emotions can overpower their positive counterparts. "Take brief mindful pauses throughout the day to make sure the choices you are making align with your intention."

4. Keep your intentions simple.

Your intentions don't have to be rooted in lofty goals. Rather, they should be feasible and realistically actionable.

"Set an intention for something that's a typical part of your day," says Weand. "For example, let's say it's a Monday morning and, typically, you're scheduled to attend your weekly, Monday afternoon staff meeting, which usually gives you a sense of dread. You can set the intention of 'I intend to go into the Monday staff meeting more relaxed and connected to others.'"

As you get more accustomed to setting daily intentions, they become easier and simply part of your daily routine, she says. From there, you can grow into setting intentions for your future, weeks, months, and years down the line. The same rule remains: Be specific about what you want, envision it for your future, and feel it deeply. With time, you'll achieve your goals.

5. Shift any limiting beliefs.

Limiting beliefs are convictions you believe to be absolutely true and that have a negative impact on your life by holding you back in some way. (Think: If you truly believe you're scared of heights, you absolutely won't jump off that waterfall.) Meaning, any doubt that you may have is going to be a blocker for achieving what you intend to achieve. (See: How to Manifest Something You Really Want)

"Not believing you can achieve your intention is a great barrier to achieving your set intentions," says Barbara Santini, psychologist and sex and relationship adviser. Instead, "reframe your mindset to match your desire with your beliefs," and watch as your intentions pave the way forward.