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Setting Intentions for Mental Health

Setting Intentions for Mental Health

This material has been reviewed for accuracy by: Renee Albers, PhD

Labyrinth on a beach made of stones representing using mindfulness and intentions for mental healthAnyone who sets goals for their life knows there’s a chance some of them won’t be fulfilled. Just as with New Year’s resolutions that fall by the wayside before the calendar turns to February, goals sometimes end in disappointment.

There’s another way of framing goals that may take some of the pressure off, however. When beginning a personal growth journey or identifying something to improve in your life, starting with an intention can pave the way for successfully getting there.

Setting intentions can be positive for mental health by providing a flexible, adaptive approach to achieving what you desire.

An intention is simply a statement, word or idea that serves as a guiding principle. For example, someone struggling with impatience could use “I want to be a more patient person” as an intention, or simply shorten it to “patience.”

Deepak Chopra, M.D., is noted as saying that, “Intention is the starting point of every dream.”

Further, intentions can help prevent some of the stress associated with striving to attain specific goals.

“Intention-setting is about creating a mindset shift to bring about more broad positive changes, by defining a guiding principle that you want to live by,” Bisma Anwar, a licensed mental health counselor in Astoria, N.Y., says in an article published by mental health company Talkspace. “Intention setting doesn’t try to hold you to a specific outcome or behavior change.”

Hands with woven bracelets on wrists holding a compass, indicating setting intentions for mental healthImportantly, intentions are a viable substitute for New Year’s resolutions and similar goals that can be damaging to mental health if not met.

“Too often, we set goals for ourselves, and when we don’t meet them, we can have feelings of failure that can ultimately lower our self-esteem, which can trigger stress and anxiety and take a toll on our mental health,” writes Anita Everett, MD DFAPA, Director of the Center for Mental Health Services within the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) federal agency.

When intentions differ from goals

While intentions and goals are interrelated, they are not the same thing.

“Manifestation is the conscious act of putting energy and effort into attaining a goal. By setting intentions, which is the objective you want to bring into your life, you are manifesting your passions,” according to an article on Refinery29.com.

Button reading Download Doctor Discussion GuideAnother way of looking at intentions is to consider how they can be used to help you achieve a goal. Setting regular intentions may be foundational to reaching your goals.

“As you learn and commit to your goals, intention becomes the very first step in achieving them,” Jason Frishman, Psy.D. told Shape magazine. “Setting an intention is the initiation, the first step into your preferred story. Particularly if your intention is solidly aligned with your values, then you have a powerful tool for moving forward and achieving your desires.”

This thought was echoed by Sara Weand, L.P.C., licensed dialectical behavior therapy therapist and counselor, in the same article.Open hand facing upwards over blocks spelling success representing better success with intention setting vs. goal setting for mental health

“When setting an intention, it’s like laying the foundation for what you’d like to have, feel, and experience versus just being a passive participant going through the motions,” she explains. “Intentions provide you with the opportunity to actively participate in your life the way you want to live it.”

Intentions and mental health

For those suffering from a mental health condition such as major depressive disorder, setting and attaining goals can seem overwhelming.

“People struggle to act on the goals that they set themselves, and this gap between intention and action is likely to be exacerbated by mental health problems,” according to a paper on goal-setting published in the British Journal of Clinical Psychology. In reviewing 29 experimental studies, the paper found that implementation intentions can be effective across various mental health problems and goals.

“Taken together, the findings suggest that forming implementation intentions can be a useful strategy for helping people with mental health problems achieve various goals and might be usefully integrated into existing treatment approaches,” according to the paper. “However, further studies are needed addressing a wider range of mental health problems.”

Setting intentions can be an effective way to achieve good mental health. They can also help set a path for what you want to achieve in life, whether it’s a specific accomplishment or a general way of living.

For more information about intentions and goal-setting, please read these articles:

Meditation for anxiety

New Year’s Resolutions: Add Mental Health to the List

Better Understanding Therapy: What’s It Like and What Really Happens in a Therapy Session?

Our articles are for informational purposes only and are reviewed by our Medical Information team, which includes PharmDs, MDs, and PhDs. Do not make any changes to your current medications or dosing without consulting your healthcare provider.

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