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4 Easy Steps to Intention Setting

Why intention setting is replacing New Year's resolutions.

Key points

  • Starting the new year with the right intentions can help you grow and change.
  • With intention setting, we move toward emotional and behavioral destinations and start journeys that may last a lifetime.
  • Change takes time, so, unlike resolutions, expect gradual approximations of your intentions.
Setting intentions
Source: Max-Kegfire/iStock

For most of my life, a new year meant new resolutions. The list looked just about the same as everyone else’s list. The most common resolutions, according to Statista Research Department, are

  1. Do more exercise/improve fitness.
  2. Lose weight.
  3. Save more money.
  4. Improve eating habits.
  5. Pursue a career.
  6. Spend more time with family.
  7. Take up a new hobby.

Resolutions like these were well-meaning and increased my sense of control over the future. They made me feel like I cared about myself and was able to make better choices. Now imagine how I felt when I failed. Does any of this resonate with you? According to U.S. News & World Report, about 80 percent of New Year's resolutions fail. In fact, most are abandoned by just the middle of February!

Why? Mainly because resolutions are all-or-nothing external achievements based on what we think we should be doing. With that mindset, we either succeed or we don’t, and since we usually don’t, we feel bad about ourselves and have even less sense of control over our future than we did before we made the resolution.

Enter intention setting. It’s a New Year’s, new start game changer. It works like this: Instead of listing goals, intention setting means we make plans. We move toward emotional and behavioral destinations and start journeys that may last a lifetime. We create intentions based on what we would wish for ourselves and others, not based on what we think we should wish for ourselves and others. Intentions are from the heart, not just the head, and there is no pass or fail. Intentions can expand and change, and self-awareness is the reward.

How to set intentions? Here are some easy steps:

  1. Start with reflection. Think about what gave you the most peace of mind, satisfaction, or happiness last year (despite the pandemic). Was it learning a new skill or hobby? Was it discovering which friends stayed in touch? Was it making plans to start or build your family? Was it creating more time for self-care? These can be your first set of intentions.
  2. Write down these intentions. By writing down these intentions, it’ll serve as a reminder of where you want to go. It will also allow you to reflect on the experiences you’ve had and the ones you want to nourish. I keep mine on my phone as a constant reminder of my set intentions. It’s not a “to-do” list because that would give unnecessary pressure. It’s my “want-to-do” list because it makes me feel hopeful.
  3. Create conditions and choices to make your intentions possible and probable. Make choices that lead you along your intended path. My niece says she pictures herself in the future talking about her current life at college. She knows just what she would like to be saying, and that’s her set of intentions for now. Or one of my patients has said she intends to become a parent and now knows there are many paths to that experience. Each IVF cycle has become just one step, not an all-or-nothing step, because she knows that her journey is not all mapped out yet. Her intention-setting mantra is, “I will find my way because there is always a way.”
  4. Set and give yourself boundaries. Now that you have the time and energy, creating boundaries for yourself is important. Take yourself off autopilot when it comes to doing things that others say you should do, and practice saying “no” graciously without guilt or defensiveness. You can’t make all of your commitments a priority, so make fewer commitments to others and more to yourself and your intentions.

Change takes time, so, unlike resolutions, expect gradual approximations of your intentions. Half the fun is getting there, and the other half is watching them—and you—change and grow. It’s also OK to change your intentions as you continue to grow. Things may happen during the year that may cause you to reflect and re-orient. After all, we can’t be perfect, so be kind to yourself. Set intentions, not resolutions, and enjoy the new year.



U.S. News & World Report:…

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