The countdown to the end of the year is on. The new year is right around the corner. Yes, it’s that time again – when people want to shed bad habits and start fresh.
It’s time for New Year’s resolutions.
Or rather let’s not talk about New Year’s resolutions, but New Year’s intentions.
What is the difference between resolutions and intentions?
Resolutions have this notorious reputation for being difficult, unenjoyable, and somewhat of a sacrifice. Although some people are able to stick to resolutions, about one-third break them before the end of January.1 Popular resolutions include lose weight, quit smoking, save more money, eat better, drink less, travel more – all the most commonly broken resolutions according to Time.
The goals people often set are firm, restrictive, even draconian, and likely ghosts from New Years Past. It’s something difficult enough for people to postpone to “later” or “more symbolic”, like the new year, to attempt. Again.
One reason resolutions barely see the light of day is many people are simply not ready. Some of these resolutions, like losing weight, often result from over-indulgences during the Christmas holidays so they are guilt-based. Let’s not forget that sugar is even more addictive than cocaine. Other resolutions come about because people are either doing it for loved ones (like quitting smoking) or think the resolutions will make them happier, healthier, safer…even though they may still enjoy or are addicted to the “bad habit”.
It isn’t that setting goals is bad. It is not; we all need to know where we are headed and what our North Star is. Kudos to anyone who wants to make changes for a more well-lived life. Perhaps some people feel it is just semantics but words have power and the connotations of goals are more intellectual, business, one dimensional.
Intentions are empowering affirmations and announcements of how people want to live their lives, whether it is being kinder to oneself or creating deeper shifts. There is already an in-built action – intend – in the energy. There’s a plan, a way to move forward. The word “intend” comes from Latin roots meaning stretch and tend and the Middle English word meaning direct the attention to.
Resolutions focus on “what’s wrong” (real and perceived) in the present and seek to correct them through this lens. It was Albert Einstein who said that solutions can only be found from a consciousness different from which the problem was created. Thinking about solutions without going deep can only take us so far.
He also said that if he only had an hour, he’d spend only five minutes thinking of the solutions and the rest of the time on the problem.
Goals are often linear. Problem: I’m overweight. Solution: Diet. Problem: I don’t have enough time. Solution: Get up at 5am. Einstein suggests looking at the problem in every conceivable way, all possible angles, with imagination, to simplify it to really understand the root. The root of an overweight problem may not be eating too much. In the book Why We Get Fat, the author Gary Taubes shares some interesting insights on low conscious living and being overweight, an idea that will have many people up in arms. Greater awareness and self-knowledge can shed light on where the obstacles are.
Goals are also often based on lack or fear. According to David Hawkins (his book Power vs Force is a must-read), vibrations that are fear-based are forceful, meaning they need constant energy to sustain while higher vibrations such as peace, courage, and love are powerful because they are self-sustaining and self-propelling. Actions grounded in low vibrations require tremendous effort and energy to accomplish. This works well enough, at least for a period of time, for those with a will of steel.
Intentions, on the other hand, are rooted in the present and are formed from what is important now and how to move forward and unfold. When people meet themselves in the present and bring it back to what they can do now, it is empowering. It is not about fixes but rather an inner journey and a daily practice. More of a heart-based right-brained activity. While on the outside actions moving away from a fear and towards a love may be similar (or even the same), the seed and the energy are completely different, giving rise to different results.
Because intentions are set from a place of self-love, faltering is just another lesson. These road bumps are opportunities to check in with the inner guru. Stop and smell the roses. Stop and tie the shoelaces. Stop and readjust the compass. Just stop. Breathe. Pause. Gather. Breaking goals and resolutions, especially early on (like February), often causes self-confidence to plummet and self-judgment to set in. This is a vicious cycle. Spiralling vibrations and looping thoughts are difficult to stop. Focus on the breathe. Get grounded. Have your go-to rituals to bring you back to the present moment as quickly as possible.
Setting intentions is not about doing away with goals altogether. It is about understand the difference between them and using them to the full potential. In a society that often measures worth by external parameters, setting intentions can create powerful internal and personal shifts. Getting to the why of what people want to do helps them set more meaningful goals, goals aligned with their life vision. It is about setting the stage for maximum success to realize potential and to achieve real change.
Living an intentional life has no musts and shoulds. Life is change and an adventure. Receive each day as new and full of possibilities. Start the day and see what can be done to affirm the intentions. It is about mindful living.
Tips on Setting Intentions and Living an Intentioned Life:
1 Write Down Your Intentions
Put on paper your intentions in a positive and affirming way. Try posting them at key places like your bathroom mirror, computer, and front door. Speak your intentions out loud every time you see the reminders, and whenever you are having a “bad day”. This is what Robin Sharma calls the “morning declaration.” Declare every morning the vision you have for yourself.
2 Use Compelling Words to Set Your Intentions
Words like authentic, clarity, freedom, gratitude, and abundance are power words that are compelling. Using words that inspire us helps us keep on track. Using short powerful statements helps keep the intentions and us focused. They also make good mantras to use on a daily basis. Be sure that the words you use are concrete for you, in how they feel or look or sound. Use words that engage all your senses.
3 Share Your Intentions
It’s been shown that sharing what we desire helps us be more accountable, and thereby more likely to get us where we want to go. Choose positive and supportive people who want you to succeed. These people know when to cheer you on and when to call you out.
Why not start an Intentions Group and meet regularly?
4 Do Something Every Day
Setting intentions is the first step. Living your intentions requires you to take steps every day. Do something, no matter how small, to affirm your intentions. Be creative and have fun. This is your GPS for knowing you are on the right track.
Intentions are an ongoing process and are not set once, for an entire year. Life changes and we change and what we desire changes along the way. Life throws out lemons and we make lemonade. Check in often, get to know yourself well, and recalibrate your intentions to reflect these changes. When we do deep inner work, life does not magically become easier. Some people feel that as we “level up” what life throws at us ramp up, based on the philosophy that God (or the Universe) only gives us what we can handle. The inner work builds resilience so we can recalibrate more quickly and respond in a more aligned way.
Celebrate the life you desire, especially as it unfolds. Acknowledge the change and celebrate you.
1Will Your Resolutions Last Until February? by Tara Parker-Pope.
(updated December 2017)