Intentional Leader

Build great teams, products, habits, relationships

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!

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