02/20/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Taking Action in Achieving Your Intention

So let's say you already know what you want to accomplish for 2009. You've written down all your intentions. You've talked about them with your family and friends. Every night, you use positive imagery exercises to imagine how great it would feel to get those intentions done.

But what are you actually doing? What tangible action steps are you actually accomplishing? As M.J. Ryan warns readers in Week 2 of her Intent Learning Series, don't confuse thinking about your intentions with doing your intentions! Otherwise, you will always be stuck in the same place: making lofty designs for the blueprint of your dreams rather than actually getting your castle off the ground.

Break down your big, bad intention to the smallest baby step possible. Then take that first baby step. Maybe it's typing out the first sentence of your debut novel. Maybe it's making the phone call to your local gym. Once you're done with that baby step, take the next step. If you stay focused on accomplishing that next baby step -- and nothing else -- you will be less likely to be scared off by the distance between what you've done and what still needs to be done.

Here's another way to keep your intent fail-proof. Make it specific! Or as M.J. puts it, make it SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timebound. The more clearly defined your intentions are, the less likely you will succumb to the temptation of throwing your motivation out the window. It's one thing to say, "I want to lose weight." Anyone can say that. It's a whole different ballpark altogether to be able to clearly state instead: "I want to lose twenty pounds in six months by exercising three times a week and cutting back on meat every other meal." Doesn't the second one sound a whole lot better?

You can enlist two more useful habits to keep that action ball rolling. One habit is to track your progress. Whether you are recording it in a journal or putting star stickers on a wall chart, always be aware of the baby steps you've taken, and the baby steps you need to take next. That way, you will always be encouraged by how far you've come along, and keep spurring the inner flame to move forward.

Secondly, enlist some allies. No matter how SMART your intention is, it's even smarter to reach out -- whether it be a friend, an online group, or a therapist. Sooner or later, you're going to need some outside help in those inevitable moments when you feel stuck or discouraged.

An intent can be anything you want to change or achieve in your life or in the world in which you live -- it can be personal, social, or global, or all three.

Getting Started:

Adapted from This Year I Will...: How to Finally Change a Habit, Keep a Resolution, or Make a Dream Come True