As the clock strikes midnight on December 31st, many of us turn our thoughts to the year ahead. We make grand plans and promises to ourselves, vowing to finally lose weight, get that dream job, or travel the world. These are our New Year's resolutions. Sometimes they're fuelled by good intentions, but often there are other factors influencing our choices too.
What if there was a better way to approach our goals? If you’ve decided on a resolution after a conversation or thought process that has included a lot of "shoulds", "musts" and "have to's", then maybe a more compassionate approach would be helpful. What if, instead of setting resolutions that are destined to be broken, we focused on setting intentions that could guide us towards a more fulfilling and meaningful year? Thinking about "wants", "needs" and "would like to's" can provide a more honest picture of how you want to live your life.
What are New Year's resolutions?
New Year's resolutions are specific, often time-bound goals that we set for ourselves. They're typically focused on things we want to change or improve, like losing weight, quitting smoking, or learning a new language. While resolutions can be a great way to motivate ourselves, they often come with a lot of pressure. We set the bar high, and when we inevitably fall short, we feel like failures. This can lead to discouragement and even give up on our goals altogether.
When I used to make New Year’s resolutions and I dreaded it every year. Every year it felt like me punishing myself because I failed to achieve it last year…and the year before that…and the year before that. Because it was inevitably the same resolution I set every time - to be thin. It took a long time for me to realise that I didn’t achieve it because the goal wasn’t one that was really mine. It was based on my desire to be ‘acceptable’ and to fit in, and my desire to be what everybody else expected of me and how they assumed I should be. I didn’t want to be a disappointment. And eventually I worked out that setting myself goals to please other people wasn’t really working for me, and that I had to find another way.
What are intentions?
Intentions are more general and open-ended than resolutions. They're about the energy and mindset we want to bring to the year ahead. Instead of focusing on what we want to change in our lives, intentions focus on how we want to be in our lives. For example, instead of setting a resolution to lose weight, we might set an intention to be more mindful of our health and wellbeing. Or, instead of resolving to get a new job, we might set an intention to find work that is more fulfilling and meaningful.
When I realised why setting a resolution to ‘be thin’ wasn’t working for me I thought about how to change my thinking about how to start my year. It would be nice to start on a positive note for a change, without the weight of expectation - and inevitable failure - hanging over me. Instead my intention was to be more healthy in general - to eat well, move more and look after my mental and physical health. To feel happier about being me, in my own skin, just as I am. And to forgive myself at the times when this felt hard. I feel happier for it.
Why are intentions better than resolutions?
There are many reasons why intentions are a better approach to personal growth than resolutions. Here are just a few:
Intentions are more positive and empowering. They focus on what we want to create, rather than what we want to avoid. This can help us stay motivated and engaged in our goals.
Intentions are more flexible. They are also more compassionate. They allow us to adjust our course as needed, without feeling like we've failed. This makes it more likely that we'll stick with our goals in the long run.
Intentions are more present-focused. They help us focus on taking action in the here and now, rather than getting caught up in the future. This can lead to meaningful progress and real satisfaction.
How can I set effective intentions?
If you're ready to ditch the resolutions and embrace the power of intentions, here are a few tips to get you started:
Start by reflecting on your values. What’s truly important to you in life? What do you want to be known for? Once you know your values, you can start to set intentions that are aligned with them. If you’re feeling a bit stuck with this, there are many resources online that can help you to work out what your values are. I recommend Brene Brown's work on values and her podcast, 'Living Into Our Values' is a great place to start.
Make your intentions clear and concise. The more specific you are, the easier it will be to take action. However, remember to make your boundaries elastic, not rigid. Leaving room for flexibility and adaptation makes allowances for the curve-balls that life can sometimes throw at you that knock you off balance. It's a blip, not a failure.
Share your intentions with others. This can help you stay accountable (if that's something you need) as well as providing encouragement along the way if you need it.
Focus on taking small steps. Making positive and sustainable changes in your life is a marathon, not a sprint. Don't try to change everything at once. Start with small, achievable actions that you can build on over time. And remember to celebrate these small successes!
Visualise your intentions. Take some time to close your eyes and imagine yourself achieving your goals. This can help to increase your motivation and commitment.
Create a vision board. A vision board is a collection of images and words that represent your goals and dreams. Vision boards can be fun to make (grab some friends for a vision boarding session!) and they are a great way to keep your intentions at the forefront of your mind. Putting your vision board somewhere that you can see it often helps with this too.
Be patient and kind to yourself. Being able to show yourself compassion goes a long way to making positive change. Change takes time, so don't get discouraged if you don't see results immediately. Just keep taking action and trust that you're on the right track.
Remember, the most important thing is to choose intentions that resonate with you and that will help you create a life that you love. With a little focus and effort, you can use the power of intentions to make this your most fulfilling year yet.
I wish you a Happy New Year!
I hope you find these blogs interesting and helpful. If you’d like to read more of my musings you can subscribe to my blog at https://www.tranquillocounselling.com/blog and follow me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tranquillocounselling.
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