I used to be a self-help junkie: I was constantly reading articles about how to set powerful intentions and gobble up books like The Secret or videos on the so-called “Law of Attraction.”
I was like an aspiring Ph. D. student in New Age-ism. Positive mindset? I was all over that shit.
You can imagine my disappointment to find the information I’d been getting was mostly useless and – in many cases – actually deeply counterproductive.
The dark side of positive thinking started to take its toll on me, and my focus on intentions.
I began feeling down that I wasn’t “good enough;” not positive enough, not spiritual enough. My intentions were so pure and wonderful. Why wasn’t I getting what I wanted?
The truth is I was shooting myself in the foot repeatedly and engaging in a process of useless mental masturbation for years. And I want to help you avoid that same waste of time.
Here’s what I mean.
Intentions without action are empty. If you want to know how to set powerful intentions you need to directly align them with action.
Here’s how to set powerful intentions by doing the opposite of what the New Age miracle spring water high vibration televangelists tell you to do:
1) How to set powerful intentions: put action first
Before you achieve you must believe, right? Yes, absolutely. But you must also stop living in the land of make-believe and enter the land of the present moment. You must believe in your body and whole being, not in your head or imagination.
Forget the mantras, the visualizations, the tarot card readings, the dream board where you put up a picture of your ideal house and family.
Stop perusing the self-help section of your local bookstore or online retailer for that one answer that will tell you how to get everything you ever wanted by focusing on your mental and emotional state without having to do much.
Spoiler: the difference between where you are and where you want to be is what you do.
Find your intuitive expertise and what you can give to yourself, others, and society and begin putting it into practice.
Decide what you want and focus on actually doing it.
2) Stop pushing down the pain
Life involves negatives and positives, we are here alive in this moment, not in another moment, and pushing down anger, sadness and fear actually increases them and makes them toxic.
When life hits you it doesn’t help to tell yourself how happy you are as you hold back the tears and say “well … I didn’t actually get hit and everything is just peaches. Thanks, Universe.”
Come on …
As author Tara Brach writes:
“Pain is not wrong. Reacting to pain as wrong initiates the trance of unworthiness. The moment we believe something is wrong, our world shrinks and we lose ourselves in the effort to combat the pain.”
If you try to consciously inhabit some kind of positive mindset and “intentionality” space and push down doubts and fears you will create a repression feedback loop that will come back to bite you in the ass one day in the future.
Feel the pain and disappointment of life deeply and accept it as part of life. Let it be the rocket fuel to your action and an epic comeback and reclaiming your personal power.
3) Nobody else can do it for you
Self-help communities and teachers will often also advise you to distance yourself from negative or problematic people and surround yourself only with positive, mutually inspiring superstars.
They will advise that the best way on how to set powerful intentions is to share them with a friend and have a buddy system where somebody boosts you up and vice versa.
Having friends is great, and supporting others is one of the best things in life, as long as it doesn’t become codependent.
But the truth about your goals and intentions is nobody else can do it for you.
The sooner this truth deeply saturates into every cell of your being and through your whole respiratory system and your moment-by-moment experience the sooner you will begin to stop looking outside for answers and solutions and retake the power you were born with.
4) Stop trying to replace actions with words
No matter how much positive feedback you get from yourself and others on your goals and intentions it won’t make them come true or set you on the journey to learning and growth of actually taking action.
In fact, you risk getting stuck in a positive-feedback loop of social media likes and self-back-patting without actually doing anything much at all.
And that’s not a good place to be. No amount of dopamine hits will ever actually fulfill you as a person, ask your nearest coked-up celebrity who’s splayed on a couch in deep depression and loneliness and wondering why getting everything and all the recognition they ever wanted means absolutely nothing and is actually a burden.
Your words should align with your actions. As Captain Jean-Luc Picard would say: “make it so.”
5) Stop depending on rituals and symbolism
You may decide to become a master at brewing tea or build a perfect Koi pond and meditate next to it like a beatific Zen master.
That’s your business.
But don’t think that this will make life come to you or “manifest” you into some advanced spiritual state that puts the problems of life behind you.
In fact, if you look at the teachings of many Zen masters you will see that meditation and spiritual practices are about simplifying and overcoming that “dreamy” part of ourselves that lives in fantasy and becomes endlessly enmeshed in suffering and desire.
Part of this is also stopping seeing “symbols” and secret esoteric meaning in everything. In fact, starting to think everything is some grand destiny and sign can be the path to serious mental illness and delusion of over-interpreting everything you come across.
I know because I used to be that person.
In other words: start living in the present and actions instead of in your head.
As Alan Watts said:
6) Do breathwork, not mind-work
Meditation, meditation: you’ll hear it everywhere. No matter what you’re faced with just meditate.
The problem is that meditation which is purely mental or focused on getting results and what we want can become just another positive feedback loop trying to force ourselves to be positive.
What is much more effective and holistic is breathwork.
Many of the problems we think are in our minds and thoughts are actually in our bodies and our patterns of breathing and being.
Approaching from the pure attention or mental level doesn’t do much.
Approaching these blocks from the breath level and entering a fresher, fuller state of being makes all the difference in the world.
7) How to set powerful intentions: have gratitude for your progress
Many of us – especially in this hyper-critical day and age – can tend to be very judgmental. Especially of ourselves.
We want to label and draw conclusions, thinking that will give us some power or leverage. I know that in my case I’ve said things like “I’m such a fucking loser!” and dismissed my past accomplishments and forgotten those who helped me.
Instead, I have often focused on the negative as if that would somehow make Zeus reach down from the sky and say “OK my son I see that you have had enough now, here I will fix it all for you.”
It’s a childish attitude and it doesn’t work. The truth is that buying into a sob story or a success story and losing track of the present moment and our own power is an inherently losing game.
Your secret is to have gratitude for the progress you make and those who have helped you. Lower your expectations a little bit and stop living in your mind and desires.
Remember that even those who get everything they want are often ultra miserable.
At the same time, it’s OK to be angry about setbacks, disappointments, and unmet needs and not repress them as I wrote previously. The key is just not to let that anger become your story.
It’s an experience. Feel it and have gratitude for being alive even when it feels like you don’t want to be anymore.
This journey can be awful but it’s also beautiful.
8) Find that balance between control and letting go
If you are attached to outcomes you will end up disappointed. Attachment to outcomes is the epitome of living in the mind and thinking that desire fulfillment will satisfy us.
But at the same time, if you are working actively toward a goal there is nothing wrong with doing the small things you can do to aid the process.
In other words: don’t be attached to the outcome but it’s fine to be committed to the process.
Put your all into something and then let it go.
Stay dedicated and accept failure and defeat without taking it personally. Let your intentions meld with your actions and do your best. Either way, you will become a stronger, better person.
9) Intention hack: repeated actions become habits
Many gurus advise repeating your intentions and goals to yourself many times a day.
Stick it in your mind and make it your framework of reality.
What’s actually effective is to repeat actions daily so that they become habits and become your new reality.
You can tell yourself that vitality is coursing through your veins and that you are a being filled with light and envision that for 12 hours per day.
But preparing healthy meals and going to the gym is probably going to do more for you on that count.
The same goes with financial success, relationships and other parts of your life. What you do often becomes who you are.
Your money mindset matters, absolutely: but what you do with that mindset is where the rubber meets the road.
10) Feelings come and go
Being self-aware and paying attention to how you feel is a good thing. But modern, especially First World countries have become just a little bit too obsessed with how people feel in my opinion.
Today I feel (insert emotional state).
If we set our intentions and actions based on feelings we are setting ourselves up for a chaotic world full of dependence on emotion.
We are creating a trap for ourselves where our story and our lives are subject to how we feel in a given moment.
What I’m saying is that acknowledging and respecting emotions does not mean we always need to follow or prioritize them.
I know I have had absolutely awful days where I was certain nothing would get better ever. Then I worked for a few hours in the garden and … magically … I came inside, had a beer, and felt … basically fine.
Don’t let your temporary emotions rule your life or spur you into major life-changing decisions. Been there, done that.
11) Record your accomplishments and write down your intentions
There’s just something about getting your thoughts down on paper that crystallizes them.
Just make sure to take it the next step and actually put those words into action.
Leave space for checkmarks. Try to stay fairly no-nonsense and write down the big idea and core goal, putting smaller goals under that.
For example, if your goal is “buy land, build a house” you can list all the steps under that you need to do.
Then do it.
12) Let the process be its own reward
Setting intentions and taking actions with an expectation or hope of reward – even in the back of our minds – is self-sabotage.
We start behaving like monkeys pressing a button: doing what gets us something and becoming transactional.
Even from a purely self-interested point of view, the truth is that you never know which actions or connections will lead to what. The more you network and work at something the more you will either gain skills, connections, and new ideas to put into action in the future.
Let the process be its own reward.
13) Be true to your gifts
In our social media world, it can be easy to get sidetracked into following someone else’s dream.
Take stock of what motivates you and check whether it is someone else’s dream or a societal script that’s been fed into you.
I know I worked for years trying to “achieve” what I thought I wanted: and it wasn’t even close. In fact once I “achieved” it I was miserable and jumped ship.
Be true to your intuitive expertise: that activity and skillset that makes you lose track of time and become deeply enmeshed in the active process.
Maybe it’s building, maybe it’s graphic design, maybe it’s music.
Be true to your gifts and put them into action.
14) Don’t depend on collaboration
Having goals that involve others and teamwork is awesome: many great projects are founded from collaboration and great minds and souls getting together.
But you should never let your ambitions depend on the actions of someone else.
Not only can you not control the actions and intentions of others, you shouldn’t want to in the first place.
Consider yourself open to new recruits but also perfectly able to forge your own path into the jungle ahead.
Others will join you – and come and go – but you will let your actions lead the way and be drawn and draw to you those who also have learned to let their actions speak for themselves.
15) Pick a soundtrack to success
I can’t count how many times music has brought me back from listlessness and inaction.
Whether it’s in my work or personal life, the music of all kinds from classical to heavy metal has been the soundtrack to put my intentions into action.
This doesn’t mean you need all songs about sunshine and roses. The truth is that sometimes a really angry song or a really sad song can speak to you and help you process and accept difficult emotional states and experiences.
This is all part of your success because at the end of the day you succeed when you become yourself and accept and love your genuine experiences instead of the story you and others have told about your experiences.
Pick a soundtrack to success and blast it.
16) Find your unquenchable fire
Each of us has intuitive expertise and an unquenchable fire inside ourselves.
It can be centered on caring for others, design, and innovation, growing food, creating art: at the end of the day, we are all born with different gifts that form an incredible tapestry.
Find that unquenchable fire and let it burn.
How to set powerful intentions … and succeed
Many self-help and personal development gurus and teachers emphasize the importance of intentions. They often highlight intention and the so-called “law of attraction,” which is a bizarre and self-deluding way to end up disappointed and bitter.
Social media allows us to constantly broadcast our intentions and “goodness” to others and get lost in a fake bubble of endless positivity, laughter, and irony.
Put up the right hashtag and you’re a committed person, right? Hardly.
The truth is that your actions are more important than your intentions.
It’s far too easy to get lost in our fantasies and dreams and become a chronic mental masturbator. Of course, goals and dreams are great, but they should never replace our actual time in the present and our capacity for action.
It’s very tempting to get lost in dreams of the future or glowing feelings about all the things we want to do. It’s harder to actually do them and live in the present.
We become so caught up in why we’re doing something that we forget … what we’re actually doing and how. We jet out of the present moment into a world of grand ideals and patting ourselves on the back instead of focusing on the task at hand.
Relationships also become a lot deeper when they’re built on real action and what you’re doing instead of just what you’re saying and planning and imagining.
Now is the right time to set your intention and then put it into action.
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