One of my favorite tools in my personal self-coaching toolbox is the practice of setting intentions.

Setting an intention is a simple, yet transformative practice. By pausing to get clear on what you want, and taking a few moments to put it into words, you send a powerful message to your mind about what you want to create for yourself.

As we head into the hustle & bustle of the holiday season, intentions provide me with an anchor point — a place to come back to when I feel myself drifting off course.

You can set an overarching intention for the season, set specific ones for particular situations, or both. There are no rules, and no right way to do intentions… although there are some tips that can help you get the most out of them!

Here are six tips for setting a powerful intention:

  1. Visualize what you want and how you want to feel.
    Start by creating a clear picture in your mind of what you want and, most importantly, how you imagine it will FEEL. What we want is driven by how we want to feel, so being clear on your desired feeling state is key.

  2. Focus on yourself.
    Recognize this simple truth: you cannot control other people, so you have no control as to how they feel, think, act, or react. You CAN, however, control how YOU feel, think, act and react. Focusing on yourself puts you in a powerful position to shape your own experience, and sets others free to do the same.

  3. Speak your intention out loud.
    Keep it simple and easy for you to remember, stated in your everyday vernacular. Now is not the time to wax poetic, just use plain language and speak from your heart.

  4. State it in the positive.
    Focus on what you DO want rather than what you don’t want. For example, instead of “I won’t get triggered by my family’s criticism”, try “I choose to cultivate peace within myself, regardless of what’s happening around me.”

  5. Be authentic.
    Your intention ought to feel like it’s coming from You, not what you think you’re supposed to want or some ideal of what an intention should be. Ditch the “should’s”, and ask yourself “Is this what I TRULY want?” Take a moment to sit quietly with it, and notice if your intention makes you feel more tense and constricted, or more relaxed and open.

  6. Start small.
    An intention should feel aspirational, but still within the realm of possibility. If you look at your intention and your immediate response is “Yeah, right”, shift to something that feels a little more attainable. There’s nothing wrong with starting small — small shifts over time add up to monumental changes, so just start where you are.

Once you’ve set your intention, you can begin using it to guide you in the direction you want to go. (For me, it’s helpful to think of an intention as a landmark — an inner lighthouse of sorts, one I’m steering towards.)

Just like a sailor would navigate by checking the boat’s position against the desired destination, I check in with where I am in relation to my intention and then realign myself accordingly. This check-in isn’t “once and done”, but a continual process of checking, adjusting, checking, adjusting.

When I’m working with a client on this, I usually recommend they create a tangible cue to help them remember to check in. This doesn’t have to be complicated — some ideas are a simple post-it note tacked to your mirror, a piece of thread tied around your wrist, or a reminder on your phone. You can also tie it to things you do on a regular basis, for example — refilling your water bottle, visiting to the restroom, or unlocking your laptop.

The check-in itself can be as simple as repeating your intention, and then asking yourself “Where am I in relation to my intention, in this moment?” And if you feel off course, “What action can I take to realign myself?” Taking a moment or two to breathe, recenter, and remind yourself of your intention is often all that’s needed.

As with anything, when we’re first starting out it feels a bit forced or unnatural. We often forget to check in, suddenly finding ourselves completely off course.

In these moments, I remind myself that this is how I learn. Not by getting it perfectly, but by trying, missing the mark, and course-correcting. There’s no judgement or shame, all that’s needed is a willingness to begin again.

Over time, it becomes easier and easier to notice when I’m drifting off course, and to bring myself back into alignment.

This is how we live with intention — not by expecting our circumstances to line up perfectly around us, but by being clear on what it is we want to experience and how we want to feel — and consistently moving ourselves in that direction.