Reference Guide: Setting Intentions

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Module Reference Guide

A holistic approach to your life

The personal strategy map is both dynamic and interconnected. Consider it an ecosystem of your life. Each element is connected to the other elements, and changes in one will result in or require changes in another. For example, a change at work may have significant implications for both you and your relationships. Or a change in how you want to live your life may require adjustments to your career and impact your relationship with another or others. 

As you work through setting your intentions in the three pillars, be aware of the consequences of your choices on the other aspects of your life, and where you may need to make adjustments in order to achieve a different overall outcome.


Setting our intentions

Setting our intention is a prerequisite to making conscious choices as to what we will put our attention to.

How often do we start the day, week, month, or year without even thinking of how we want it to go? Setting an intention guides us through life’s many twists and turns. It’s always there to help us manage our focus, energy and mindset when we need it the most.  There is an Indian proverb meaning that what we enjoy tomorrow is a result of how we start today, “All the flowers of tomorrow are in the seeds of today.” For an abundant harvest in the future, we need to invest today, not wait until the future to sow the seeds.

Our lives are typically filled with all kinds of busyness, dealing with everyday activities, urgent demands and immediate concerns, whether at work focused on operational issues or gaining instant gratification at home. If we spend our days in this way, it easily becomes the way we spend our lives. The urgent and easy will always drown out the important and difficult, short-term gain wins over future potential unless you are deliberate and intentional about what’s strategic and significant.

In developing our personal strategy, it’s important to make conscious choices about what you will do and what you will NOT do. When we focus our key resources – energy, funding, talent, and time – on the most important priorities, we are more likely to realise our promised potential. We cannot do everything at once, so we need to make trade-offs in the different parts of our lives. Once those trade-offs become conscious choices, aligned with our values and in the direction of our aspirations, any guilt, regret, or sense of compromise evaporates, and our lives become more harmonious and congruent.

In the strategy map, these choices are articulated as a priority – a ‘statement of intent’.  These statements describe intentions that, if successfully acted on, will deliver the biggest impact on achieving our aspirations. Note! The priorities you choose are not a long shopping list of actions, targets, or projects; they are an objective that you want to achieve. The strategy identifies how to go from here to there. Consequently, the statement of intent should start with a verb indicating forward motion. The verb you choose is critical in indicating the urgency, speed, extent and materiality of the intent.

For each of the three pillars (Self, Relationships and Work) prioritise three statements of intent supporting your aspiration that will move you closer to your vision.  This imposed limit helps you to think through what is really important to you, what you need to focus on and what you need to stop focusing your efforts on.  They need to be important enough for you to commit to investing your personal resources (time, energy, emotion, external support, funding) and make trade-offs to achieve them.


Developing your intention statements (in the next modules)

The process of developing the priority statements of intent and the iteration of the language after experimentation and reflection is as important as creating the Personal Strategy Map itself.

When you are crafting your statements of intent, let go of what you think others may think or expect of you; it’s unlikely that you will be successful in implementing someone else’s strategy in your life. This is your personal strategy, not anyone else’s. The priorities must be things that you WANT, not what you think you SHOULD do. Be aware of the tendency to write about events outside of your control or the actions of others – the statements are expectations of yourself. Write them in a way that you connect with them easily. The clearer the statement, the clearer the outcome.

Getting the statements succinct and meaningful usually takes time and percolation, but the process of getting the language crisp helps you really think through the words carefully, making it meaningful and relevant to you and not something that just sounds good. Don’t be tempted to copy statements from others’ maps.

It’s helpful to clearly articulate your thoughts by explaining them to someone else and writing them down. I’m an advocate of writing ideas on post-it notes and then moving them around and clustering them as my strategy takes shape. I’d recommend that you use the printed strategy map template to collect your thoughts. The point is, however, to get your thoughts out of your head, test your assumptions and create your new strategic narrative. Oftentimes it takes a while for the statement of intent to emerge through rounds of reflection and iteration so that the statement is articulated clearly and concisely and is meaningful and memorable. Keep moving forward and review, reflect and refine as you go. Progress, not perfection!

There is some magic in doing this, and many people find that the very act of articulating the story of their strategy accelerates the realisation of it.

As has been said by many, including Winston Churchill: “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” It takes time to reach the kernel of your purposeful intentions.

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” Leonardo da Vinci 4


Embark on this with a constructive mindset

Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, philosopher and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl wrote in his book Man’s Search for Meaning 5, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.” Whatever mindset and thinking style you choose to put into that space will determine the outcome for you and those whom you interact with.

As you work through setting priority intentions, be conscious of what thinking style and mindset you are bringing to the exercise and be aware of what limitations you might be imposing on yourself based on your experience of the past. We live our lives based on the beliefs that we’ve acquired through our experiences and accumulation of knowledge. Often, we define ourselves and whom we need to be based on the expectations, beliefs and traditions of others. Sometimes we bury our true selves and have created a ‘packaging’, a story that we tell ourselves that suits the needs of our environment. Limiting beliefs about ourselves will justify why we shouldn’t try and be or do something else. (Refer to reference guide in the Self Pillar for more on this.)

Here it is important to challenge those expectations and limiting beliefs in order to consider who we are and what we want for ourselves. Ask yourself, “Do my beliefs help me to live a life I truly love?” And “How many of my beliefs are my own – and how many were given to me?”

“Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.” Lao Tzu 6

Approach developing your personal strategy with a mindset of abundance versus a mindset of scarcity. The culture of never enough, of hyperawareness of lack, allows scarcity to thrive. Lynne Twist in ‘The Soul of Money’ 7 refers to scarcity as “the great lie.” She writes ‘our first waking thought is “I didn’t get enough sleep” the next one is “I don’t have enough time”…before we’ve started, we’re already inadequate.’ If the opposite of scarcity is enough, then practising gratitude is how we acknowledge that there’s enough and that we’re enough. By cultivating gratitude and letting go of scarcity in your intentions, you start from a place of worthiness.