Feb 26, 2020

The Power of Setting an Intention

Before leaving bed in the morning, I have been sharing an intention for the day with my wife; and she shares hers. Today I have a lot to accomplish, and my intention is to stay focused and be kind to myself. The intention I set in the morning informs my day in subtle or profound ways depending on the extent to which I keep it in my conscious awareness. It is quite easy to lose contact with the intention and then it is just a nice way to start the day. Ideally, however, intention becomes a bit like focusing on the breath in meditation, in that when I veer too far from my intention, I return my attention to it. Again, and again. I marvel at this aspect of being human; we can move toward growth and change by imagining who we want to be in the world in the present, but also in the future. And, setting an intention can keep our aim true. 

I have been thinking about how useful it is to work with intention in the context of caregiving. Whether we care for a loved one or care for a patient, using intention can be extremely supportive. Caregiving offers many rewards, however, it can at times be really challenging; it asks a lot of us. We all need a little support from time to time. Using intention can be a way of coaching oneself to be our best. Not just to provide the best care possible—something we all want—but also to nurture our self in the best way possible. Setting an intention clarifies what is most important. It allows us to step back for a moment and consider how we want to show up before taking on a task or entering into an encounter. Setting an intention can activate meta-awareness, or knowing you are having an experience, as opposed to simply having an experience. Meta-awareness is something we are all capable of activating if we can pause long enough to step back and observe our own actions, attitudes, or emotions. This kind of awareness can help keep us from getting swept away in negative thoughts or behaviors; the stuff that just makes things worse.

When we set an intention for our caregiving experience, we provide our self with a guidepost. Instead of getting lost in the immediacy of challenging circumstances, we can more readily check-in and ask, am I showing up the way I want to show up for this experience. Setting an intention for openness may allow us to meet a family member of a patient who usually triggers us with more understanding or patience. Or, setting an intention for calmness can support us to stay grounded when mom starts getting agitated when she is not understood. Or, an intention to take better care of myself today can help us remember to step outside in the midst of our busy day to simply pause and remember that the trees still bloom after a long cold winter.

Well, it doesn’t hurt to try, right? Consider intention setting a small thought experiment. You can try it now after reading this… take a deep breath, another, then consider what your intention is for how you want to show up for the remainder of the day. Something simple. The most powerful intentions are short and to the point. Perhaps you write it down on a post-it note or commit it to memory. But either way, carry your intention with you and return to it when you need it. See if it helps. I am confident it won’t make things worse. And that is something.

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