“The biggest mistake people make is that they go to the gym and just go through the motions; they don’t have their mind inside the muscle. There were guys next to me who trained just as long as I did, but they looked like shit because they didn’t concentrate. They did the same exercises that I did, but they weren’t paying attention. They didn’t know why they were training; they weren’t inside their biceps. You have to be inside the muscle.
– Arnold Schwarzenegger from Pumping Iron
Let’s talk about intentions and how they can help you not only improve your training, but also other areas of your life. First, what is an intention and the difference between it and a goal? Goals are desired results and are what you can concretely achieve. They are a practical, efficient way to see the future. That all sounds great, but in the meantime, life happens, and it is possible you will experience wavering motivation, willpower, and self-discipline trying to follow plans.
Intentions support goals through our internal process. It is stating what you intend to accomplish through your actions. When we are intentional, we focus on how we want to be in the moment, independent of external circumstances.
We can use this tool as a guiding principle for how we want to be, live, and show up during training, in relationships, at work, or any other areas in life. Having clear intentions supports our actions throughout time. Simply asking yourself, “what matters most to me?”, can create a powerful intention to which you can align your thoughts and mindset.
If any of the following sound familiar, setting intentions can create a positive shift for you:
- Days are busy and at the same time, progress is difficult to identify/acknowledge.
- Little energy is spent on a daily basis working towards goals that have been set
- Goals are easily influenced by external input and opinions
- You feel like your life is on autopilot
- There’s a sense of lack of fulfillment or meaning
We can live our lives going through the motions without necessarily having meaning behind our actions, or knowing how these are affecting our lives. Intentions trigger introspection and are a powerful reminder of a bigger perspective. Also, the incorporation of intentionality into our training can bring benefits of better mind-muscle connection, technique, safety, results, and overall enjoyment.
How to Set Intentions
To start, take a moment to pause, breathe, and connect with your values. Use a simple, yet powerful word that resonates with you regarding what’s happening in the moment. Intentions should be linked to personal thoughts, values, and beliefs on life. They should evoke feeling and purpose, like “It feels better being lighter about things (while still lifting heavy),” “I am learning to express more compassion for myself 1 if I go over on my macros,” and “I’m releasing fear around being a little more fluffy than I’d like”.
Find yourself stumped in forming an intention? Here are some questions to get you going:
What is most important to me?
How do I want to create and nurture my life?
What would I like to forgive in my life?
What fears or other things do I want to release?
What makes me proud?
How do I feel and what do I do when I am my happiest self?
What am I grateful for?
What words do I want to align myself with?
What dreams do I want to realize?
We want our intentions to have a positive focus. Instead of focusing on things you don’t want like, “I don’t want to…”, shift your focus to a positive framework pointed towards what you are wanting to enhance in your life 2. If being positive is too much of a leap, shift your focus to a neutral framework. Practice giving yourself permission to celebrate where you succeeded too! This is something you are aiming for and will be your guide.
Are you saying yes to things that you truly intended to say no to? Do you make promises to yourself that you don’t keep? The process of setting intentions can highlight what is or is not matching up with your true desires . Give yourself permission to do things differently to realize your intention.
Detach from the Outcome
We want to focus on the process of what we are doing, not the end result 3. We can often feel compelled to try to control how our lives play out, even after setting intentions. Intentions work best when affirmed, owned, and then let go.
Practice Makes Progress
Just like one day or week of dieting isn’t going to get you shredded, stating your intention once at the start of your day won’t be enough to build momentum. Revisit your intention often, even when things are going great! This practice will help you stay grounded and connected to your values.
It can be easy to go through the motions in life and training and lose track of our direction. Constant distractions can cause us to forget our “why”. Intentions may seem simple, yet they are truly powerful in gaining clarity on your passions and purpose.
“You are what your deepest desire is, as your desire is, so is your intention, as your intention is, so is your will, as your will is, so is your deed, as your deed is, so is your destiny.”
What’s been your experience in setting intentions? Let us know in the comments below!
Footnotes and Related Research
- For many expressing self-compassion seems wrong, as it feels like you aren’t holding yourself to a high enough standard. Some athletes even fear self-compassion, believing it might cause their performance to degrade. However, research shows lower self-compassion does not predict a higher athlete caliber, and fear of self-compassion predicts psychological distress.
- As a bonus, when you frame intentions or goals as “approach oriented” (setting a goal or intention to do something, or adopt a behavior), rather than “avoidance oriented” (setting a goal or intention to stop doing something, or stop a behavior), they are actually more likely to succeed as shown in a large-scale study of New Year’s resolutioners.
- Focusing on the process during exercise was shown to improve performance more than focusing on the eventual outcome of exercise (e.g., focusing on the aspects of the experience you enjoy, rather than the eventual goal of gaining muscle or losing fat). Further, exercisers who focused on the process performed better than they predicted they would, while those who focused on the outcome performed worse.