Creating New Habits – Step #3 – Setting an Intention

From the Harmony Habit Tip Archives (Oct 2012):

“Your intention is your driving force.”
~ Greg Hicks and Rick Foster



“How do you remember to be more mindful?” a client of mine recently asked, after I told him about my commitment to be more present in my life. “I’m very intentional about it,” I said, “and I’m a huge fan of post-it notes!”

I wasn’t kidding. Whenever I aim to develop a new habit I have to remind myself daily to practice that new behavior, otherwise I easily forget.

In last month’s Harmony Habit Tip, I wrote about the first two steps to building a new habit – we need to have the three elements of knowledge, skill and desire in place. To stay motivated, we need a higher purpose, a big “why”. Yet, even with all these elements in position, if we don’t regularly intend to do things differently, the outcome we’re hoping for is not likely to happen.

So the third essential step to building a habit is to consciously set an intention.

One of the habits I’m learning to break is leaning too much into the future. I often find myself engaging in thinking and planning about things that are unrelated to what I’m doing. That habit takes me out of the moment. Over the years, I’m sure I’ve overlooked a lot of things I’d rather not have missed.

Just last week, for instance, I decided to go for a run around a lake near my home to get some exercise before I left for a long drive to visit my client’s office. It was a beautiful fall day, the sun was shining brightly, and the lake was perfectly still. Brilliant red, orange and yellow leaves adorned the trees and lined the trail I was on. Unfortunately, I didn’t even notice these exquisite surroundings until I was more than three quarters into my run!

Why? Because I had been in my head thinking about the drive in front of me, the meeting I needed to facilitate the next day and the many things I had to do before I left. I was missing out on all this beauty! The good news is though, I caught myself. I noticed I was doing the opposite of what I intended to do. That was a pivotal moment, because now my intention could drive the show. Remembering my commitment to be more mindful, I stopped running, took a deep breath, and slowly sensed the magnificence that was all around me.

We all know how to be mindful – most of us have the skill and desire to do it, and even know the “big why” – that doing so enhances the quality of our experience. Yet, in order for any behavior to become a habit, we need to frequently practice at it – and keep repeating it – until it becomes almost involuntary.

Post-itsWe also need to develop systems that will help strengthen our new habits. Daily reminders like post-it notes and calendar items, supportive friends and role models work well. I place signs on my computer, bathroom mirror, refrigerator and even the dash board of my car when I want to remember to do things differently. Another great technique is to have a buddy system – a friend you can regularly check in with to hold each other accountable.

The bottom line is: Building new habits takes commitment, time, patience, and persistence, yet the payoff for becoming more intentional is great- it allows us to create the kind of life we want.

Most importantly, the habits we develop from this day forward determine how our future unfolds. What that will look like has a lot to do with the choices we’ll make today.


This month’s practice:

First of all, get clear about the behavior you really want to embrace. Then determine whether you have the knowledge, skill and desire to build upon it.

Ask yourself: Do I need to acquire any more information about this behavior/practice? Do I know specifically what I need to do in order to become more skillful or successful at it?

Then dig deep – do some soul searching – do you really, honestly want to do this – even more than what you’ve been doing before? If so, list at least 5 good, solid reasons why and keep them nearby to help motivate you.

Lastly, the daily renewal of your intention helps to override the old habit energy that keeps you from achieving the result you’re after. So, first thing every day, recommit. Say it out loud. Imagine it happening. Sense how great it would be to create the life you want. See, feel, taste, touch, and hear it! Make it real.

Aim to become a fan of post-it notes, remind yourself with a calendar item, or ask a buddy to text you to see how you’re doing. Give yourself 21-60 days (it takes that long to unlearn an old habit and replace it with a new one). Be sure to check in at the end of each day to assess your progress and then reward yourself to positively reinforce what you’re accomplishing.

Remember, intention is a very powerful force. Our intentionality ensures that we don’t lead a “substitute life” and miss out on the one we simply wished for. Instead, when we harness the power of intention, it becomes the driving force in consciously creating a life by design.


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