At the beginning of most yoga classes, we set intentions. Intentions bring awareness to qualities we hope to cultivate on and off the mat. Sometimes intentions are hard to choose and sometimes it feels like intentions choose us. Either way, they’re vehicles for yoga to permeate our everyday lives and help us become the kind of people we want to be.
How often during the day, though, do we reflect back on the intention we set at 6am? Do we catch ourselves being patient, non-judgmental, or receptive—or needing to be? Do we purposefully or indifferently set the same intention every day? What do we do with our intentions and how do we know they matter?
If you set a New Year’s resolution for 2018, you’ve either kept it so far or snubbed it. Maybe you didn’t set one because you typically fail, forget about it, or can’t choose one. Statistically, 25% of people abandon their New Year’s resolution after a week, 60% abandon it within six months, and the average person makes the same ill-fated resolution 10 times.
If intentions are more about cultivating virtues and resolutions seem bound to fizzle, how then do we make change? Research tells us that people who regularly write goals down are 42% more likely to achieve them. Our chances for success increase when we articulate our goals to someone we trust. A study about goal setting at Harvard University offers compelling data about why we should write goals down.
Students were asked if they had set clear, written goals for their futures and if they had made specific plans to convert their goals into realities. The baseline: 3% of students had written goals and plans to accomplish them; 13% had goals in their minds but hadn’t written them down; and 84% had no goals at all. Ten years later, the students were interviewed again. The results? The 13% of students who had goals but didn’t write them down earned twice the income of the 84% who had no goals. The 3% who had written goals were earning an average of 10 times as much as the 97% of the class combined.
The left side of the brain is the literal, analytical, sequential, precise, logical side. The right side of the brain is the figurative, creative, irregular, general, imaginative side. If we just think about what we what to achieve or the kind of person we want to become, we’re only using the right side of the brain. But if we think about our dream and write it down, we’re enacting the power of the left brain as well. Writing our goals down creates a greater level of clarity around them while the left brain helps us become aware of opportunities related to achieving them. If we only think about goals using the right brain, we may not see the logical steps or real-life strategies that lay right in front of us.
Writing goals down helps us sort through our thoughts, think big, and identify what we actually want. Written goals create focus and explicit direction. They’re also useful reminders when we get busy or distracted. While it may be true that energy flows where our focus goes, the act of writing goals down allows us to structure time and allocate resources. When we specify the exact, necessary steps to achieve our goals, it’s easier to recognize when we’re too ambitious or unrealistic. To build the resilience needed for eventual execution, celebrating the milestones we reach is equally important as granting self-compassion and a blank slate when we falter.
Goal setting is deceptively simple. It’s a process that requires discipline. We have to slow down, examine our values, and whittle away at the trivial. We have to make decisions about what we truly want. Goal setting isn’t an end in and of itself; it’s a starting point to live life with intention and direction.