Planning for 2020: Start Setting Powerful Intentions Now
"You can't become something you can't imagine."
The room grows silent, and I pause to let this sink in. My audience is a group of professionals gathered to talk about visioning and goal setting. As many participants admitted upon entering, two hours on a Saturday morning feels like a lot of time to take out of their busy weekend schedules to indulge in practices like sitting still and visualizing the future.
But by the time the two hours had concluded, most participants walked away with a renewed sense of the importance of taking time to pause, track progress, assess intentions and recommit to goals. After all, if it works for so many hard-driving corporations dedicated to measurement and assessment as a means of improving outcomes, why should we not do the same for our personal lives?
Below, find five reasons why setting intentions and self-reflection is the most powerful tool you can engage with this month:
1. Successful people set intentions
What we know is that top executives and innovators who make a conscious effort to slow down and self-assess outperform their peers: "Despite having way more responsibility than anyone else, top performers in the business world often find time to step away from their urgent work, slow down, and invest in activities that have a long-term payoff in greater knowledge, creativity, and energy," writes Michael Simmons, who has studied the lives of Oprah Winfrey, Albert Einstein and Warren Buffett, among others.
For most of us, spending time casting our thoughts back over the past day, week, or month and sitting down to regularly set goals for the future feels like a luxury of time we can't afford. Many avoid it because it can also be painful: What if I'm not proud of what happened this year? And what if setting goals for the coming year leads to more disappointment down the line?
2. Visualizing our goals helps programs the brain to make scenarios happen
In a world where everything from politics to wildfires to parenting feels out of our control, taking the time to set strong intentions is not an exercise in magical thinking; rather it is a way for us to program our brain (and our subconscious) toward what we want to see happen. Research shows that visualizing an ideal future outcome as if it's happening can actually program the brain to increase its likelihood of happening. Sports psychologists have been onto this phenomenon for years.
With clients and with myself, I run regular drills imagining positive scenarios to help train our visual cortex, which interprets mental pictures - imagined or real - in exactly the same way. This means that if you are regularly dreading next week's board meeting or Aunt Mildred's meat pie, playing a worst case scenario in your head on repeat, your brain will interpret this data as real, making this pattern very easy to play out as the situation takes place.
3. Positive intentions bypass fear-based thinking
How do we switch our brains into visualizing the futures we want? The choice to proactively vision forward, even through the next few moments or days, is a choice to commit energy towards a positive scenario where your desired outcomes take place. This takes real courage.
For many, our default posture, born of the inner critics, claims it's better to be prepared for the worst than hope for the best. The vulnerability and energy required to imagine and articulate a best case scenario makes it easier to retreat to a posture of defensiveness and reactivity.
But intention setting works to harness this dormant energy and focus it towards a particular outcome.
4. Clear intentions lead to clear outcomes
When a clear positive intention is present, the methods for achieving it tend to present themselves, whereas unclear intentions tend to lack both clarity of direction and sufficiently focused energy, resulting in nebulous outcomes. Intention setting can be as simple as determining a clear goal at the beginning of each small task or activity, visioning yourself at the start completing it successfully with the intended outcomes you desire.
Power tool: Ideal Scenes
Ideal scenes - a snapshot of a powerful scene you would like to see come to life in a certain aspect of your world - help set clear visual pictures towards a nine to twelve month goal.
For example, just a little over a year ago, I crafted an ideal scene for myself that seemed like a stretch: A vision of a thriving, successful coaching business, where clients appeared organically and with ease and where my time was my own for deeply creative and purpose-filled work. Without this ideal scene, a vivid marker of my goal that I then referred to regularly throughout the ensuing twelve months, I would have lacked the clear picture of where I was headed, a north start that pointed me again and again towards my best future life.
Using the ideal scene as my guide allowed me to apply effort and watch with amazement as the entire picture came to life, down to the smallest details (not to mention the other ideal scenes I've watched unfold after I articulated them around family, friends, romance, my living space). Now, I'm updating my ideal scenes to reflect a new vision of my life 12 months from now.
5. Looking back helps us determine where we want to go in the future
As we conclude this year, I encourage you to take a long look back at your personal wins, losses, transformation and learning from this last year (a helpful process for reflection is here). And as you move towards the start of a new year, ask yourself: Am I ready to take the radical step to self-reflect, to check in on who I've become and where I'm headed? To imagine who I want to be, to see it, create an ideal scene, and become it in the coming year?
This season, in the midst of indulgent, demanding and abundant activity, see what spacious quiet time emerges (plane trips are perfect) for looking back and visioning forward. You may jot yourself an ideal scene for Christmas morning, or for the whole of next year, and sit back to find it playing out with surprising, grace, ease and speed.
When the intention is clear, the methods appear - so get ready to intend into an amazing new chapter.