I’m the first to admit that I’m skeptical about anything that sounds (to my ears) too ‘hippie’. I’m not sure why this is – perhaps it’s because of my Dutch upbringing, my inherently practical nature, or that bad experience with ear candling circa 2007. Whatever the case, I hear words like ‘manifesting’ and ‘vibration’ and ‘green smoothie’ and I run for the hills.
The latest phrase of this ilk that’s been doing the rounds is ‘intention setting’. Unless you’ve been sitting under a pleasant, sunny rock where there is no wifi reception you’ll have no doubt seen this term plastered all over social media. ‘Setting an intention’ suddenly seems to be all the rage, not only for Insta-princesses, but for legit business people too. Throw in the golden optimism that comes with a New Year and it’s an intention-setting free-for-all.
My initial reaction to all this was UGH SRSLY. But, having seen some people I admire and respect embrace the intention-setting thing, I was led to ask: is there actually something in it?
The last thing I want is to be limited by my own annoyingly logical prejudices. So, in the interest of getting to the guts of the matter, I hit up Pru Chapman for her thoughts on the matter. Not only has Pru established two successful businesses (including current venture The Owners Collective), she also happens to be trained psychologist and Neuro Linguistic Programming consultant. So, it's pretty safe to say she knows her shit.
I kicked off by asking the big question: WTF is intention setting anyway?
I’d suspected it was just a slightly pretentious new way of talking about setting a goal, but Chapman set me straight.
“In super simple terms, it’s about the journey you take, rather than just the destination. A goal is very specific – if you want to climb a mountain, then getting to the top of the peak is your goal. Your intention, though, is about your experience getting there. Like, perhaps you want to feel really mindful on your walk, or connect to nature,” she explains.
“Goals are usually mental; intentions tap into feelings. Danielle LaPorte, who leads the way in this space, explains this nicely – she says that behind every goal is a feeling. We want to achieve certain things because of the way we think that will make us feel.”
One important thing to know: intentions are not meant to replace goals.
“Absolutely not,” reiterates Chapman. “Particularly in business, you still need your goals – whether it’s about revenue or KPIs or expansion. But the danger of ONLY having goals is that you become burnt out. You’re never present in what you’re doing. As soon as you achieve something, you just pick something new – so in that sense, you are always focusing on an absence of something.”
While there’s been a recent resurgence of interest in intention setting, it turns out it’s not actually a new concept.
The idea of mindfulness has been around for hundreds of years, and is particularly present in Buddhist teachings. Intention-setting is simply an extension of the same concept; the notion of being present in the here and now.
So if intention-setting is nothing new, why are we all frothing over it in 2017? According to Chapman, it’s largely because of burn out. “These days our stress levels are off the Richter scale,” says Chapman. “Being that busy isn’t actually that good for us, or our businesses. We need space to contemplate. The gaps between our day-to-day work; this is actually when we have our best ideas.”
Might sound dubious, but it seems a little mindfulness does go a long way.
For many of today’s leading entrepreneurs, practices like intention-setting seems to instill a level of self-awareness that takes their businesses to the next level. Google has developed the Search Inside Yourself training program to promote mindfulness within their workplace (and other people’s). Steve Jobs was well known for embracing Zen meditation, and Arianna Huffington and even Oprah are on the mindfulness bandwagon.
And let’s face it, these are not what you’d call a bunch of under-achievers.
But back to the intentions – how does one actually go about setting one? And how do you measure your progress?
There are plenty of articles on this floating around in cyber space, but the gist is this: think about how you want your life to feel. And set an intention that reflects that feeling. If you have already got business or career goals in mind, think about why you set them. What will achieving those things bring to your life? Do you want to feel calmer, more balanced, less rushed?
Once you have articulated your intention, Chapman recommends making it public. “Even if you write it down, that makes it real,” she explains. “And if you tell people, it helps keep you accountable.”
From there, it's a matter of checking in with yourself on a regular basis, whether it’s every day or every week. Ask yourself whether your day felt the way you want to feel – and if not, why not? Pru tells me that her intention for 2017 is that she wants the year to feel spacious. “So, each day, I ask myself what factors made the day feel spacious or not. Sometimes the place I’m in plays a part; other times it’s down to a task I’m doing or the people I’m with.”
So, taking all that on board, is intention-setting worth a try?
I’m going to stick my hand up and say yes – for me, anyway. While all this ‘feeling’ stuff makes me a little uncomfortable, I can see how fixating on goals isn’t healthy – and I have certainly experienced my fair share of burnout. So, in the interest of making it public here goes:
This year my intention is to be selective.
Emma Heath is a Sydney-based communications professional and founder of copywriting & tone of voice consultancy Words By Nuance.