Setting Intentions Are A “Part Practical, Part Magic” Wellness Practice, Experts Say

They could be crucial in boosting your mental health.

By Jessica Estrada
setting intentions for manifestation

In my early twenties, I fell down the rabbit hole of learning about personal development and spirituality. Arguably one of the most powerful practices that I learned was the ritual of setting intentions. As cliche as it may sound, it changed my life, truly. I spent decades coasting through life thinking that things — both good and bad — just happen to you, and you didn't have much say in the matter. However, setting intentions empowers us to decide what we want and how we want to experience life. Sure, life is unpredictable and will likely still throw us some curveballs. But ultimately, we are the ones writing the masterpiece that is our lives, and intention setting helps us do that.

"Intentions are an opportunity to design and take ownership of our lived experience," says Amina AlTai, a holistic leadership and mindset coach to TZR. "It's like setting the GPS for our lives, and it allows us to shift from an experience that 'happens to us' to true vision-hood."

Not to be confused with goals, Monica Berg, host of the Spiritually Hungry podcast and author of Fear is Not an Option and Rethink Love, tells TZR that intentions and goals are like siblings that work together. “Goals are static and set in the future,” she explains, “and intentions are in the here and now — they're about how you are being in the moment as you work toward your goals.”

One of the beauties of setting intentions is that you can do them anytime. Berg recommends doing them as often as possible. AlTai adds that moments when it's especially powerful to set intentions include the top of the month when you're setting goals, the beginning of the week to anchor in a desired outcome, or first thing in the morning to set the tone for the day. But really, any moment is an opportunity to start fresh with an intention. "One of the most wonderful things about being human is we can choose again at any moment," AlTai says.

To help you better understand and harness the power of setting intentions, ahead, these experts explain what intentions really mean, common misconceptions about the practice, and how to actually set them for results.


How To Set intentions, According To Experts

1. Identify the desire.

Identifying your desire is the first step in the intention-setting process, AlTai says. It can be big or small, something specific like buying a new car, or more general like living in the moment. Most people tend to stop there when it comes to intention setting, but AlTai recommends digging a little deeper to understand the feeling underneath the desire. "I recommend we keep the intention connected to a feeling versus a very specific desired outcome because there is often a deeper desire behind our original statement," she says. For instance, the desire might be getting a promotion at work, but the feeling underneath it may be to feel fully expressed in the work you do. "Once we've identified the feeling, we put language to it and actually write out the intention," AlTai says.

2. Get clear on who you have to be.

Goals are about doing, and intentions are about being, Berg says, and when you focus on who you need to be to achieve the goal, the doing becomes easier. To do this, she recommends journaling on qualities that you'd like to embody that will support you in achieving your goal. For example, if your goal is to write a book, intentions that could support you could be "I intend to make my creativity a priority" or "I intend to see myself as capable and strong."


3. Decide specific action steps.

Intentions are not one-size-fits-all. Intentions like "being healthier" can mean wildly different things for different people, Berg says. For that reason, she recommends getting specific with what action steps you'll take to fulfill your intention and follow through with them. "Specificity breeds success," she says. "So once you have the overarching intention in mind of 'being more healthy,' focus in with your goals by setting up smaller waypoints like: 'work out X number of hours this week.'"

4. Shift any limiting beliefs.

According to AlTai, not believing that the intention is actually possible for you is another common intention-setting challenge, which can impede the intention from manifesting. If this is the case for you, she recommends reframing your mindset to ensure your beliefs align with your desire. "We do that by finding evidence in support of it already happening in our current reality," she says. For example, if you intend to find love in a partner, but you don't believe it's possible, look for where love is already present in your life.

5. Reinforce intentions daily.

Intentions are part practical and part magic, AlTai says. "From a scientific standpoint, the brain is a belief engine and is always looking for confirmatory evidence to prove our intention or hypothesis," she explains. "What that means in practical terms is that once we've identified the new belief or intention, we want to reinforce it with examples from our lives." To do this, she suggests reinforcing your intentions after meditation when the brain is more relaxed and receptive.

6. Surrender and lean into faith.

Another aspect that trips people up about setting intentions is actually letting it run free. "Sometimes, when we are setting an intention, we use it as a vehicle to control our lives, but there is an element of faith and surrender — a quiet receptivity," AlTai says. "Surrender isn't waiving the white flag or giving up. Surrender is an absence of resistance." So if you find yourself being overly controlling with your intentions, remember to take a step back and let go of any resistance. Being too specific with our intentions, AlTai adds, is another way we tend to control the process.

Furthermore, Berg points out another misunderstood element of intention setting: They are not set in stone. Intentions are constantly moving targets that change and evolve as we grow, Berg says. So, she adds, there's no sense in stressing out over setting the perfect intention. Give yourself permission to change and adjust your intentions as you go, which in turn helps release control over the situation.

And lastly, Berg advises not to underestimate the power of setting intentions — they are constantly working behind the scenes to bring forth your desires.