Given Up On Your New Year’s Resolutions? Try This Instead
I don’t know about you, but January 1 feels like it was a long time ago already. Has that feeling of it being a new year and a new start for your life faded for you? And, how are you doing with your New Year’s resolutions? If you have, don’t beat yourself up. According to research by Statistic Brain, at the two-week mark of the year, 31% of people quit their resolutions and just over half of us make it to the one-month mark. Resolutions are difficult to keep!
Which is why I stopped making resolutions a number of years ago and now focus on setting intentions instead.
SEE ALSO: 5 Ways To Find Your Life Purpose
The problem with resolutions
Self-improvement, growth, and evolution are all wonderful things, and something I think each one of us should strive to do so that we can become the best possible version of ourselves possible.
At the surface, resolutions sound like a great idea to help us do that self-improvement. We tell ourselves that we are going to finally lose that 10 pounds or make it home for dinner with the family three times a week or write that novel that we have talked about for the last decade. If we’re really into goal-setting, we make sure that our resolution is a SMART goal — specific, measurable, actionable, relevant and time-based — so that we can conscientiously chip away toward that resolution.
The problem with resolutions is that they are so darn easy to break! We start off the year with the best of plans and spend the first week going to the gym or eating salads to help us meet our resolution of losing 10 pounds. Or maybe we rearrange our schedule so that we are actually home three nights a week for dinner with the family. But then weeks 2, 3 or 4 of January hit. Work starts to pick up, and suddenly you have several evening meetings that prevent you from leaving on time to have dinner with your family or go to the gym. Pizza is ordered for dinner and without thinking, you scarf down 4 greasy slices of pepperoni and help yourself to some of the cookies your co-worker brought in.
You might tell yourself, “Oh, I’ll start again tomorrow,” and you really do try. But somehow that clean slate feeling of the New Year is gone. You start to feel that you have failed and that the entire resolution is impossible because you messed up one week of the year.
The thing that makes resolutions impossible is that most resolutions are too narrow and you are almost doomed to fail unless you have an extremely high level of focus, determination, and willpower. Resolutions tend to be set with a clear “black and white” mentality that doesn’t give you much — or any — flexibility. And that’s where the problems start.
Set intentions instead
Intentions are different. Intentions are purposely broad in their focus, and perhaps even a little bit vague. They are aligned with growth across the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of your life. Intentions tend to include a variety of paths to get there, which means that they are much easier to keep and see changes in your life. Their strength is in their flexibility.
The other thing about resolutions is that they don’t often address the root cause of whatever it is that you are really trying to accomplish. They tend to focus instead on the symptom, if you will, instead of the cause. What I really like about intentions — in addition to the flexibility and self-connection that they provide — is that they tend to get to the true desire of what it is that you want to cultivate in your life.
Let me give you a couple of examples that help show the difference between a resolution and an intention.
Let’s say that your resolution is to lose 10 pounds, and you have decided to do that by eating salad everyday for lunch. The corresponding intention that gets to the “root cause” of your desire to lose 10 pounds could be to take better care of your health…which could include eating salads, but on any given day you could choose to take better care of your health through other means as well. Perhaps one day you take a walk at lunchtime, while on another day you go to bed earlier so that you can get eight hours of sleep.
All of these things — and so many more — could align with your intention to take better care of your health, and each is an appropriate step on that path. You have the flexibility to connect with your body and feel what it most needs and act on that, rather than boxing yourself into just one action. Here’s another example. Perhaps you set the resolution to be home three nights every week so that you can have dinner with your family. Thinking about the “root cause,” your deeper desire is actually to spend more time with your family. Again, there are many ways beyond family dinners to incorporate more family time into your daily life.
So, for example, you could choose to have an at-home movie night with the kids, or a date night with your significant other, or plan on cooking dinner together or volunteering to be a chaperone for the school trip. You can do whatever feels right for you and your family for this intention.
It’s important that your intention is something that is positively focused and can grow, change and evolve with you. Your intention should be broad enough that you can continue going after it as your life changes, yet focused enough that it serves as a guiding force in your life. Let it serve as your sounding board and put it out into the world to manifest, open doors and bring growth to you.
Intentions have to be something that you believe in your heart and want completely for your life, because once you set an intention and start living it, you will be faced with some potentially tough choices every day. Your way of living and who you are will be challenged. Mine was!
My personal experience
For the past two years I have had the same intention: to live my life with authenticity; bringing in passion, unapologetic fierceness, courage, freedom, love and joy into all aspects of my life. When I made this intention, I really didn’t know the actions I was going to take to do this. After all, what does it mean to be courageous and fierce? How do I bring the authentic me forward?
But even though I didn’t know how I was going to live my intention, I set it anyway and committed to it. What happened when I committed to it was that I began to question each decision and each belief against whether or not it felt “right” for me; whether or not it brought me joy, and whether or not it invigorated me. If something didn’t do those things, I then started to ask myself why I was doing it.
In some cases, I decided to keep doing it even though it didn’t align with my intention. There are some things in life that we just have to do and there are no two ways about it. We need to pay our bills, for example. And while I could feel grateful that I had the means to pay my bills, paying bills was not something that brought me joy or invigorated me, but it is required to be a responsible and ethical member of society. So things like paying my bills continued to stay on my “to do” list.
But there were other things that I really began to question deeper because they didn’t fit in the “responsible and ethical member of society” bucket. As I questioned things, I discovered that many things I was doing I was doing out of a sense of obligation, or a sense of how things should be, or even just doing mindlessly because it had never occurred to me to even question it.
I found myself starting to say “why” and “why not’ a lot as I challenged myself on how I had been living. I began tuning in more and more to what my heart and soul wanted for my life, and I began to listen to them…which led me to make a number of changes — some of them drastic — in my life.
I realized that my heart and soul wanted me to really devote time to my shamanic, coaching and writing work and that I would regret it if I didn’t take time to really focus on this type of work. This led me to quit my consulting job so I would have the space and energy to really connect with this spirit work that was calling to me. Quitting a job and career that I had dedicated so much time and energy to — and enjoyed and was good at! — took a lot of courage and fierceness. I know some of my family and friends thought I was crazy to do it. My boss and coworkers did their best to talk me out of it.
I could have easily just stayed put, but that “fierceness” thing about being authentic kept popping up. I knew that if I didn’t give myself that opportunity, I would not be being true to myself. It was a scary thing to do, but I took a bunch of deep breaths and did it.
Once I said yes to dedicating time to my spiritual work, other things began to come forward and open up for me. For example, a bunch of people told me that they thought I should record an audio version of my book so I did. I wouldn’t have considered it if I was still working full time because I would have told myself that I didn’t have the time. The audio book then opened up the door for the conversations about having the radio show — something that wouldn’t even have been on my radar screen — and gave me the time to go to Guatemala for vacation for a week.
Being in Guatemala for vacation opened up another door for me that was so far off my radar screen that it felt absolutely crazy even to me: putting everything I own in storage and traveling around for a year. As I explored that thought and whether or not it aligned with my heart and soul, a whole host of fears came up around safety and security.
I had bought into the belief that if I had a “typical” home, I would be safe and giving up the concept of a typical home would open me up to all sorts of risk: Would I be able to juggle my spiritual work while not having a defined home base? Would I be able to find a place that would be willing to rent to me with a gap in my rental history when I was ready to settle back down again? What if I ended up homeless?
These were all the fears that I needed to overcome in order to do exactly what was nagging away at me in my heart: to live life on the road for a year, traveling to places that appealed to me, and getting to know those places better. I did my best to address each of them, but ultimately I realized that the fears were always going to be there and that if I truly wanted to live authentically and with courage, I would have to trust my heart’s desire for me life and just do it.
There were so many other openings that happened in my life once I committed to living authentically that I decided to extend that intention through 2018. The gifts that have come to me as a result of me connecting to and listening to my heart have been immense, and I do not regret a single moment or decision made. These past two years have truly shown me that when I listen to and trust my heart, doors open, things come together, and my life goes even bigger and out in directions that I could never have imagined.
So, how do you go about setting an intention instead of a resolution?
One of the first things I would suggest is that you spend some time looking at any resolutions you have made and see if there are some themes. Are all of your resolutions focused on one area, such as physical health and wellbeing, for example? That could be a clue to what it is that you really want to do for yourself.
If you’re having trouble finding a theme, spend some time asking yourself “why” for each of the resolutions you have set. And keep asking yourself “why” until you get to the intention. You’ll know you’ve gotten there when the answer resonates strongly with you and your heart. You might even hear a quiet “yes” bubbling up in your soul when you get there.
But what if you don’t have any resolutions as a starting point? Then I’d suggest spending some time in meditation, connecting to your heart, or doing some channeled writing exercises that focus on answering the questions: What do I want for my life? What do I want my life to be? What do I want to bring forward in my life? Notice that these questions move beyond wanting a new computer or finding a life partner to push you to really think deeply about what you want to cultivate in your life. The computer might be a symptom of you wanting to connect more deeply with others who live far away from you. The life partner might be a symptom of the type of love you want to cultivate in your life and the world around you.
Another way to identify an intention that aligns with your life purpose is to ask yourself: If I could give one gift to every person in the world, what would that gift be? Go with what comes up for you immediately — don’t overthink this! — and then reflect on the answer you got. You’ll get some great insights on not only a possible intention for your life but also your life purpose and passions.
Write your intention and put it someplace where you can see it and/or read it aloud daily. When I wrote my intention to live authentically, I put it on my home altar and made a point of reading it out loud every day. This reminded me of what I wanted to create for my life and provided the direction I needed for my day. Once you have your intention, it’s time to start living it. Situations will come up, opportunities will come forward, that nagging voice in your head will remind you of your intention and your need to be open, say yes, and take action. You’ll discover a greater clarity and a deeper sense of alignment as you go through your day.
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