Dr Stephanie Minchin is a Clinical Psychologist in the NHS and a Yoga Teacher with weekly yoga classes in Hackney (@theyogapsychologist)
A resolution is a ‘firm decision to do or not to do something’; an intention is a ‘thing intended’ which also suggests purpose and meaning. If these two things already seem far too similar, then continue reading. What I am suggesting is that instead of new year resolutions being about a month of doing or not, rather the new year can be a time of a greater commitment to being, going forward.
How do you discover your intentions?
The turn of the new year often marks the closing of many chapters for some and fresh starts for others, and thus is good a time as any to become aligned with yourself. But first, perhaps we have to look back and reflect on the previous year in order to know how to move forward in the next.
Give yourself the time to fully reflect back on 2017; not just the main events, but all those little experiences in between. Reflecting can be a process of learning about yourself, your relationships, and the wider community in the world around you. Perhaps start by questioning what were the ‘peaks’ and the ‘pits’? Not just what where they, but how you related to them. What did you notice, think and feel about these experiences, and how did you react to them? Why were these experiences positive/negative, and what might you do differently next time? What skills did you draw on through the year, how did you develop and learn, and who did you go to and for what? What were your successes of of last year, and how did you celebrate yourself?
Following reflection, intention-setting can be a call to awakening, in line with a specific motive or resolve. Setting an intention or two can also support you in a journey of self-care. As Wiest (2017) suggests that self-care should be about designing a life that you don’t need to regularly escape from and helps you to become the person you want to be.
An example of setting an intention (being) instead of a resolution (doing):
Resolution (or goal): Go the gym 4 times per week or to lose weight
Intention: “I intend to be healthy with mindful eating and healthy food choices, and be more physically active”
Tips for setting intentions:
- Make the intention personally meaningful and resonate
- Align the intention with your values, beliefs and feelings
- Consider the function and purpose behind the intention
- Be clear and specific about the intention
- Start from a place of openness and positivity when making the intention
- How will you actualize the intention? (e.g. be realistic about what is possible, what barriers may get in the way, and how you may overcome such challenges; what amendments are required in your daily schedule. and how might you commit?)
- Repeat/rehearse the intention regularly
- The power of visualisation – meditate and imagine the intention in all its glory! (e.g. how might your life look/feel/be in a few months/year from now with the intention actualized?)
- Practical reflections about the intention e.g. reflective journaling, diary-keeping, post it’s, pro/con list
- Writing the intention down or sharing it with others (even going public about your intentions makes that commitment a little stronger!)
And for the yogis among you, I encourage you to invite the use of a Sankalpa (‘solemn vow, determination or will’) into your yoga practice. The sankalpa acts as a specific intention which is not driven by the ego but felt by the heart and seeks a deeper meaning both in the yoga practice and in life beyond the mat
So if new year’s resolutions are short-lived, not personally meaningful, and leave you feeling exhausted from ‘doing’ everything all of the time (especially a symptom of the ‘urban-city-trap’… guilty as charged!), I encourage you to discover the art of intention-setting. Instead of asking ‘what shall I achieve/do this year’ perhaps ask the questions ‘where do my values lie?’ and ‘who do I intend to be this year?’.