How to set intentions for better mental and physical health

February 2023

Have you ever found yourself acting a certain way without ever meaning to? Or maybe you’ve completely checked out in the middle of a conversation and suddenly snap back to reality? Have you ever been on social media and thought to yourself, “Why am I still scrolling through this?”.

“So much of what we do every day is largely repetitious,” explains Lee Godfrey, Performance Coach and Remote Teams Expert. “We get up, make coffee, read the news, get dressed, and so on. Setting an intention is deciding to be purposeful and present in our thoughts and actions—even if it’s just making coffee.” 

Intention setting is an empowering practice that has far-reaching implications on our overall mental well-being. Studies have examined intention setting through a scientific lens and have found that setting intentions is, for many people, a powerful way to help improve your mental health and physical health.

Why is it important to set intentions?

Intention setting is an integral part of reaching your health goals—when you commit to your goals, intention setting becomes the first step. Before we get started, let’s take the time to understand the difference between a goal and an intention.

Goals…                                                                    Intentions…

… focus on the future.                                           … are grounded in the present moment.

… are a special and specific achievement.         … are lived each day, whether or not you achieve your goal.

… are external achievements.                              … center around your relationship with yourself and others.

… have a specific outcome.                                  … describe how you want to be or feel at any given moment.

When we set an intention, we create a framework for considering how we want to do something, whether we want to do it differently, or why it might be best to stop doing it entirely,” says Godfrey. 

Godfrey explains why intentions are important and can serve as a guiding light throughout our lives:

  1. They can steer us toward future successes — "This opportunity is right for me because it supports my intention to work on my physical fitness."
  2. They can act as a reminder to celebrate what we’re doing well — "I'm prepping my meals for the week on schedule, and that's in line with my intention to stay organized." 
  3. They can be called in as a guardrail — "I'm feeling ill-at-ease about this situation, and that's not aligned with my intention to safeguard my peace of mind."

The benefits of setting intentions

Intention setting can help you in all avenues of your life. Studies have found that intention setting can help you manage chronic conditions like diabetes, kick bad health habits like smoking, and improve your overall mental health

But what is it about setting intentions and goals that improve so many aspects of our lives?

Godfrey points to the power of intentions to build our self-confidence. “When we harness the power of intentions—instead of just trying to use willpower—we can feel a positive boost in those moments of making decisions.” The positive feedback loop this creates increases the likelihood that you will stay on track with your goals in the future.

She also notes that intentions give us the power to see the impact our actions have on our goals. “Intentions can improve our ability to focus on what's working well and enable us to forgive ourselves when we slip up.” 

“Intentions can be what we lean on when we're trying to figure out the best course of action— especially when the going gets tough, or emotions are running high,” says Godfrey.

Even if we aren’t consciously aware of an intention at the moment, we may still be subconsciously aware of the impact it has on our lives—“It sits in the background all the time.”

“Anyone of us can improve our mental health by creating, keeping, and celebrating intentions,” says Godfrey.

4 tips to effectively set your intentions

We asked Godfrey to walk us through how to effectively set our intentions each day. Follow these 4 tips when setting your intentions:

1. Believe in yourself!

First, know that you are completely capable of setting and working within intentions! You know what you want to hold as important - in your heart, your mind, your gut, your personal space - before you even create your very first intention. Trust yourself

2. Decide what intentions would serve you best. 

Think about areas where you'd like to act in ways that are more specific, or more structured. Be gentle with yourself as you write or type out your intention(s). Remember that intentions are often best said in a positive voice (“I choose to...”) instead of in a negative way (“I won't...”).

3. Use declarative, present-tense language. 

This works well because the brain doesn't know truth from fiction. When you repeatedly remind yourself of your intention—"I am intentional and organized with my work"—your brain accepts that as part of your reality.

4. Don't forget to celebrate your victories! 

Remind yourself each time you successfully act, think, or speak within the intentions that you've set down for yourself. Not only do you deserve it—you create a pattern that your brain will want to repeat.

Your mind is your most powerful resource—give it a leg up by setting intentions to help you reach your health and wellness goals.

Other resources you may be interested in:

Related articles