How to write an intention – a first attempt

Ready to write your first intention?

Here’s a simple exercise that I’ve found helpful. You can use this to write an intention for yourself. Go through it your self first before expanding it to a team. The key is to not overthink it or try to write an amazing intention in the first attempt. Let’s talk in the comments if you’re looking to do this exercise with a team but the general approach can be the same.

There are 3 parts to it: Preparation, Warm up, Run (3 runs with rests in between)


Have something to write on. Carve out 60–90 minutes of a time in the day when you are most alert or focused (this can be different for different folks). You need the time to context switch from whatever else you have going on so it doesn’t bias the process and get your mind flowing. Ready? Let’s go

Warm up (~25 minutes):

Do the following in sequence.

  1. Start with a 2–5 minute deep breathing exercise. Just sit comfortable, close your eyes and take deep breaths. This is supposed to have a calming effect. You may straggling thoughts about a myriad things. Let them come and go. Finally, take more time if you still feel very distracted or stressed.
  2. Write down as many experiences from the last couple of days to now that have made you feel fulfilled and connected to a purpose. Take about 2 minutes to do this – let the thoughts come, don’t force or try to be eloquent. Repeat this for last week, then last month, then last year, then last 3–5 years and then for as long as you can remember. At the end read your list and circle your favorite ones. Take a minute to reflect on why you felt that way – was it an activity, person, your health, your relationships etc.
  3. Write down what has been on your mind – can be problems or opportunities – about yourself… that have an impact on you. Take 2 minutes to write that down. Take a 30 second break and then see if there’s anything else to add in about 1 minute. The goal here is to identify the biggest things you believe you want to work on. Can be about your life, health, relationships, work etc. Take another 30 seconds to scan the list and see if anything else jumps up in importance.
  4. Now let’s have some fun. Take about 1–2 minutes to think of the craziest or most exciting experience that you can recall. No need to write it down. Now, imagine a way it could be even more exciting. Done? Go for round 3 – even more exciting.

Great! Now we’re ready to work out.

Run 1 (~5 minutes, Start Easy)

Now, let’s write down our intention. Remember, an intention is about “what” i.e. what do I need or want to do along with “why” i.e. why do I want to do it.

Here’s a format if you need it. Don’t overthink; no need for it to fancy or cool; just write it down. Take 2–3 minutes.

I want to <start/improve/get better at/ be more/ achieve a skill/personal quality/relationship/a metric etc.> because <your personal reasons> (Bonus) By doing this, I want to feel like the time <a prior experience of feeling fulfilled and connected>

Quick side note:

Try not to make your personal reason something generic like “because I want to be happy”. Also, don’t worry about someone else not understanding your reason or how you want to feel eventually – this is about you. You’re in the driver’s seat. Finally, try not to get into the “how” so you don’t limit yourself.

Done? Now, go take a walk for a minute. No, I mean it. Just get up of your spot, move to another spot, stretch and come back.

Run 2 (~ 8 -10 minutes, Check your form)

Take a look at your first draft and do 2 tests:

  1. Is the “What” really important for me without judgment from anyone else? Will I continue to want it tomorrow, next week and next month?
  2. Is the “Why” clear to me without judgment from anyone else? Will it continue to motivate me tomorrow, next week and next month?

Go ahead and write a 2nd draft but don’t scratch the first one. It was a worthy attempt. This time take a little longer – about 5 minutes. Go a little easier than the last run.

Done? Now, go take another walk for a minute)

Run 3 (~ 12–15 minutes, Focus)

Now, we do a simple self assessment. On a scale of 1 to 5 (where 5 is the highest), rank your intention on

  1. This intention is important for me
  2. This intention is exciting/motivating for me

You cannot give yourself 5 on both factors but you can give yourself 5 on one of them and 4 on the other so your score will range from a minimum of 2 to a maximum of 9. Use a simple rule of thumb, is it 80% good? So if you score a 7, you’re okay. If not, tweak the “What” and “Why” till you feel good about it. Take 10 minutes. Go easy, don’t rush.

If you have more time, take a break before going for a 4th set and then stop.

Now, celebrate with a favorite treat and hydrate. This is to reward yourself on a job well done.

Come back the next day to read your intention – may be even make it the first thing you read before you begin the day (not compulsory). It’s yours, you own it, you are going to work on it! Great work!

One word of advice – try not to have more than 3–5 intentions at a time. Remember, you can always reprioritize what’s truly important because you own them and you can have many goals supporting your intentions but generally most folks don’t have enough time in the day to focus on multiple important things, which leads to fatigue, disappointment and demotivation. Finally, don’t beat yourself up if you miss some time while making progress on your intention. Things happen in life and not everything can be planned. The key is to come back to it the next day or whenever you’re ready.

As always, let me know your thoughts and questions in the comments!

What’s the difference between a goal and an intention?

If you’ve read my post on the importance of goals, you’re probably wondering, so what’s the difference between goals and intentions. You are right to ponder this and they will share some similarities but one important distinction is that intentions can be boundless and goals help us build waypoints to measure our progress through them. Intentions are more focused on “What” and “Why”. While goals are seldom focused on “What”, “When” and “How” and maybe even “Where”. They get their “Why” from the intention.

Still fuzzy? Let’s explore some facets of intentions and if it’s still unclear, leave me a message in the comments and I’ll try to elaborate in a future post or as a reply.

  1. Intentions are, well intentionally, meant to be broader than goals. They are centered around “What” and “Why” and they must be worthy of us putting in the effort to work on them
  2. Their boundless nature is meant to drive us to improve even a little bit every day and consequently, we must try to not constrain them with time limits or specific actions i.e. “how”. These constraints can put limits on your mindset and you need to have an open mind to set your intention.
  3. They must not make us feel diminished or unaccomplished – we are all accomplished and great in our own ways so please don’t be negative toward yourself
  4. Their purpose is to initiate a change and so they need to be relevant and grounded in reality – we must be able to explain the “why” to ourselves (individual or team)
  5. They must make us feel better and even excite us i.e. we should have a desire to work on them (it’s okay to not feel giddy with excitement)
  6. They may stretch us a bit – not too much so we don’t give up from fatigue but enough that our progress meter (remember that from goals?) gives us a feel good feeling from making progress

Goals, on the other hand are bounded and specific, supporting our progress through our intentions. We’ll learn more about them in future posts.

That’s it! Let me know what you think in the comments. I love meeting new people and if you’d like to connect, you can find me on LinkedIn

The purpose of a goal – the good and the bad

Before we get into goals, we need to be aware of our intentions. You can read my post on The power of intention

Our intentions can help us be mindful about what’s important to us and, done well, be aware as we flow through them to adjust, change, adapt. Intentions, by design, are meant to keep us in the driver’s seat.

However, we are human after all and we need to know we’re making progress. A progress bar can be a great motivator for actions borne out of our own intention. When I’m running, my running app tells me, “you have 1 mile to go” or “you beat your fastest pace” and the mind goes, “Yay!”.

Well, goals can help break down our intentions into measurable progress milestones. This is the great thing about goals. My making our intentions measurable, we can be concretely mindful and aware of our progress. They can motivate us by giving us not just something to celebrate upon achieving the goal, but also motivate us to continue, to power through e.g. ”Only 100 meters to go! Keep going!! You’re almost there!”

Thus goals can be powerful motivators and good goals go beyond individuals. Good goals also align teams across silos while guiding individual focus. They can push us to do more and the more consistent we get at achieving them, the better long term habits we build towards achieving our intentions, a virtuous spiral of growth. (More on this in a later post).

But… there is a potentially negative side-effect of goals that one should be mindful of. And, that is, that too often, our goals take over our intention and consequently, we get so consumed by the goal and measuring everything and then analyzing everything that was measured that we lose sight of the intention and that we started on this journey to enjoy it. Thus, while goals can be motivating, they have also have a really strong power to demotivate and derail.

Here’s an example. Perhaps you’ve experienced this too: Some times, when I don’t start a run right or start runs on stressful days, I might look at my watch after what feels like an eternity of running, only to have it say, “100 meters done”. My mind goes, “Ugh.. this is going to suck. I have 9900 meters to go and it feels like I’ve been running for much longer”. Many times, that simple doubt can derail the run early on. I would end those runs short or finish them, mentally and physically fatigued.

Did I start things right? Yes – I had good intentions. It was to run to gain patience and resilience for the day ahead and consequently, my goal was to do a 10K easy run. However, my goal took over and my intention was lost. I was no longer in the driver’s seat. I was so busy checking the numbers and letting them affect me that I wasn’t being mindful and aware of my intention.

Many of us are wired to be goal (or success) oriented and that attitude is generally reinforced from an early stage of our lives and professional careers.

Being too attached to the goal can make us feel that we’re in a state of failure (and resulting anxiety and self doubt) until we reach the goal. And what happens when we achieve it? After a short celebration on achieving the goal, we’re back setting even loftier goals or we are so fatigued by the whole thing, that we give up on our intentions. Sound familiar?

So, what did I learn from these running experiences:

  1. All goals don’t have to be big and amazing – their purpose is to help you with your intention
  2. Make it easy to start on your goals e.g. prepare your gear for your run the next day, the night before. A good habit is to remind yourself of your intention before you start executing.
  3. Find as many reasons to celebrate during your activity. This builds motivation vs waiting for success only at the end.
  4. Be aware of your positive and negative thoughts during the activity. They are but natural and we are humans after all. Don’t ignore or beat yourself up over them. Instead, experience them and try to step outside the thinking, measuring mind and remind yourself of your intention
  5. Check in with yourself regularly – is the stress coming from anxiety or from injury/physical discomfort. Stop, if you’re injured!
  6. Failing in your goals is okay as long as you learn from them and come back to the starting line. Recovery and reflection are as important as the activity itself. So try to identify and create a system of reinforcing habits (consider keeping a log)

As Coach Bennett says, “This is about running and this is not about running”.

Thus, you can see how important it to be mindful of the goal and your intention. Setting and working on your goals isn’t bad; becoming dependent on them can have a negative impact. Goals can help us build strong reinforcing systems and habits that help us move toward our intentions. And don’t forget to celebrate!

We’ll explore the key elements of a good goal in the next post.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments and share your experiences!