Where to begin when you are ready to shift from goal setting to intention design

Intention design is a powerful way to find meaningful, actionable, and flexible direction for your creative and professional development.

An intention design framework that focuses on present action instead of future states of being can not only take you further faster but will also be more connected to your core values in meaningful ways.

In this article I will go over a simple way to start putting an intention design framework into practice.

3 important things to understand about intention design

It is important to prime ourselves a bit about the nature of intention design before you start implementing. Keep these concepts in mind as you start to explore the direction you want to move in with our development.

Intentions can help you find direction for your time and your actions

With time focused intentions, you are designing for a specific block of time. It might be a daily intention, weekly intention, monthly, or yearly. The scale and specificity of the intention can be easily adjusted and experimented with depending on context and need. I primarily focus on designing daily, weekly, and monthly intentions.

Action focused intentions are designed for specific activities, usually organized around projects. The scale and specificity of the intention can be adjusted and altered based on need and context.

Intentions are particularly powerful within the context of projects and help to clarify whether the work you are doing is in alignment with your values and aspirations.

There is no such thing as a wrong or failed intention

One of the many advantages of working with intentions instead of goals is that there is no such thing as a failed intention. Intentions are focused on direction and action instead of a projected state of being. They promote a focus on process and evolution, not static finish lines. Because of this, there is no such thing as failing.

Is it possible to work in a direction counter to your intentions? Sure, but that is a project management issue, not an intention design issue. I will cover how to recognize when this is happening through a reflection practice in a future article.

Do not worry about designing wrong intentions. Intentions are flexible, agile, and can be adjusted at any time. Iterating and even abandoning intentions is part of the process and indicates progress and development. You are fine-tuning your direction not abandoning an imagined destination.

Intention Design is a learned practice

As you start to explore intention design it may feel challenging or you may find yourself slipping into goal-setting mindsets and worrying about whether you are doing it right. This is fine, no judgment, just recognize that you are feeling this way and keep practicing. The more consistently you design intentions the more intuitive and personalized the system will become.

Intentions to Interest

Let’s start the practice.

For the sake of clarity and simplicity, you will start with designing a basic time focused intention. In this instance a weekly intention.

Step 1 – Think about your interests

On a piece of paper, your journal, your sketchbook, or your favorite notes taking app list 3-5 things you have a strong interest in right now.

If you struggle finding an interest, try and recognize what you find yourself thinking about unprompted. What pops in your head when you go for a walk or take a shower? What questions have you been asking yourself? What topic or domain have you been gravitating towards lately?

There is no wrong answer. You are just practicing and getting started. Large amorphous interests are fine, small precise interests are great as well.

Do not spend more than a minute or two. You can always add to the list later.

Example:

My interest list for the week of January 22, 2021 looks like this –

  • meditation
  • prospect research systems
  • writing blog articles
  • content marketing systems design
  • dinner recipes for a three-year-old besides macaroni and cheese.

Step 2 – Pick one interest (for now)

Once you have your list pick just one.

Pick the one that seems to give you the most energy and excitement when you think about exploring it. Which interest seems to have the strongest gravitational pull on you this week?

If you are equally excited about multiple interests just pick one for now. You are not throwing the others away. Save the rest for later.

Example:

For my week I have a strong contest going on between

  • meditation
  • prospect research systems
  • writing blog articles

I pick meditation for now.

Step 3 – Make a commitment to exploring your interest

Got that interest picked? Great now commit to exploring it this week by completing this sentence.

My intention this week is to explore (insert interest).

Feel free to replace to explore with relevant action words. It might be something like:

  • to learn about
  • to improve
  • to design
  • to write
  • to create

Focus on actions, not a state of being. Frame your intention as a to do – not a to be.

Example:

Using my meditation example, my weekly intention looks like:

“My intention this week is to improve my meditation practice.”

Not – “My intention this week is to be a better meditator.”

Congratulations! You just designed an intention.

Go back and repeat the process with any remaining interests you listed. Try not to go overboard by setting too many intentions for the week. It is better to start with what feels like too few than to overwhelm yourself with too many.

That’s it?

Yep, for now. Great work!

You have taken the first step in creating a consistent practice of thinking about and articulating your intentions. This allows for increased clarity of purpose and alignment as you start to take the actions that will improve your creative, intellectual, and professional growth.

What’s Next?

What you just completed is the first part of a larger system of practice that will help you develop through a cycle of intention, action, and reflection.

You are not designing intentions to simply design intentions. You must leverage our newly focused direction in order to start doing meaningful work.

In the next article we will start to explore how to put your intentions into action through effective project design. This is where things start to get really exciting as you will start organizing and implementing the actual work (now aligned with your intentions) that is required to move you forward intellectually, creatively and professionally.

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