Intention Setting: The True Tool for Recovery
by Marissa Sappho, LCSW, BCD, CEDS
The start of a new year on the calendar is a milestone that encourages inner-reflection and assessment. Many people are familiar with the concept of "New Year's Resolutions" -- where a person "resolves" to change an unwanted trait or behavior. Studies have consistently shown that most people fail at these resolutions (sometimes at failure rates as high as 90%!). In 2017, I encourage everyone to re-frame their relationship to New Year's Resolutions. This year, instead of using the word Resolution as a verb (to solve or fix something), use the word Resolve as a noun -- a firm determination to do something. Make 2017 the year that you Resolve to Recover. And you will do this not by setting harsh resolutions that are tied to stringent outcomes, but instead by setting intentions.
Intentions are purposeful, filled with meaning, and require us to be aware and mindful. Intentions allow us to consistently bring our focus back toward our truest aim. An intention solely asks you to stay mindfully aware moment-to-moment in a fully present way. There is no timeline or deadline to meet, and thus there can be no feeling of failure for doing or not doing -- there is simply an observance of moments and a gentle questioning of the self: "Is this action serving my intention?" Sometimes the answer will be yes, and sometimes the answer will be no. Both of these answers are just fine. The more you attune yourself mindfully, gently, and consistently to your intentions, the more you will see changes happening almost without effort.
Eating Disorders including Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder, involve extremes in thinking. Distortions abound and can take the form of Body Dysmorphia (obsessive preoccupation with one or more parts of your body which you believe to be noticeably flawed), food portion-distortion (viewing your reasonable food intake as either too little or too much), non-reality-based food-anxiety related to fear of gaining weight and much more. When your eating disorder is in charge, goals and resolutions are based off of these distorted beliefs. In recovery, we aim to set goals that are realistic, healthful, manageable and in service to our highest spiritual self. Eating Disorder Recovery Goals are important to have as a road map for where you want and need to go, and when you connect those to energetic intentions your capacity to recover expands exponentially.
So what exactly is the difference between a goal and an intention?
Your goal is the endpoint, but your intention guides you and gives you purpose.
It helps to start with goals that are SMART (specific, measurable, agreed-upon, realistic, and time-based), but even using intentions with broader less defined goals will give you a recovery-focused boost. Start by taking some quiet and unhurried time for yourself to collect your thoughts about where you currently are in your recovery. Identify three recovery goals for yourself (you can use the SMART template to further optimize the goals). Now, using the below examples as a guide, identify a daily intention for each goal. Write these intentions down on a piece of paper or index card (and yes, I encourage you to write them out by hand instead of typing them into your phone, as scientific research has demonstrated that we learn & remember more, and are more successful at applying and integrating concepts when we write them down). Every morning make it a practice to read these intentions to yourself -- you may want to integrate this step into a current meditation practice if you have one. Carry the card with you, and remember to check in with yourself throughout the day in mindful moments and remind yourself of your intentions.
Tips for setting intentions: Intentions should be related to the present moment and convey a state of being. Intentions are experienced moment-to-moment, day-to-day, and even though they may be connected to a larger goal, they function independently of progress toward the goal; i.e. even if you have stalled in progress toward your goal overall, you can still be active in a related intention at any given moment. Intentions are related to your relationship with yourself and others. Your intention should bring focused awareness to a quality or virtue you would like to cultivate in yourself. When you add intention to a goal, you connect with your own powerful energy to make things happen.
Goal: Do not use any eating disorder behaviors this month
Intention: My daily intention is to make recovery a priority
Question to ask yourself in mindful moments: Is this choice helping me to prioritize my recovery?
Goal: I will not binge eat this month
Intention: My daily intention is to eat with awareness, adhering to my meal plan and reaching out for support when feeling triggered
Question to ask yourself in mindful moments: Am I eating with awareness? What mindfulness tools might be helpful for me right now?
Goal: To accept and love my body
Intention: My daily intention is to be peaceful with myself by using gentle, loving, and neutral words when speaking to myself about my body; I am responsible for my body and will attend to its needs even when I might be having difficult feelings about my body
Question to ask yourself in mindful moments: Is this self-dialogue coming from a place of compassion? Is this action/decision consistent with the responsibility I have for my body?