Have you ever changed your life significantly because of a New Year's resolution? If you have, that's fantastic! But for most of us, resolutions end up being more wishful thinking than surefire strategy to leave something unhelpful or no longer necessary behind or start a beneficial new practice or two.
Maybe it's because we're bombarded with the same messages year after year about things like fitness, weight loss, organizing our homes and the like, but resolutions often end up feeling impersonal, even that we're simply being sold the same "solutions" like exercise equipment, diets and bins for every last sock and jar of spice.
That's why instead of trying to identify so-called problems, weaknesses and lacks, we'd like to argue for a different approach: visualizing what you want your life to look like, how you want to feel, and the experiences you want to have. It's a subtle shift in thinking, but it's one that puts the focus on what you want your life to look and feel like and the experiences you want to give yourself, not on actions you may or may not take (after all, most New Year's resolutions are abandoned soon after they're made) to fix your perceived shortcomings.
All About Intentions
Close your eyes for a moment and think what an ideal day in your life would be. Stay in the present tense, don't go back to how life was months or years ago. On this ideal day, do you feel connected to loved ones? Do you feel proud of something you've done? Do you feel rested and relaxed? On this day, do you have time for yourself?
Now imagine you can extend this day, making its qualities and activities your everyday reality. Do you feel like you have clear and healthy boundaries between work and life? Do you feel supported in all the ways you need to feel supported? Those feelings of connection and pride, how are they cultivated over time? Imagine your answer to these questions forming the scenes in a movie. You're the star. Who else is in the scenes with you? Who isn't there, or doesn't have as big a part as some may expect?
This exercise can help you identify areas in your life that deserve more focus. For instance, if it's connection with others that stands out, you might word your intention as, "I cultivate satisfying relationships that nourish my soul." This can help you discern where to put your energy: on the people who really care about you. You might also find that such an intention clears space for you to deepen some relationships or even seek out new ones.
Discerning Intentions from Resolutions
"I cultivate satisfying relationships that nourish my soul" (intention) is different from "I'll call or text at least one friend every day" (resolution). The former is an outcome, the latter is a practice. A perfectly fine practice! However, what happens on the day you don't reach out to anyone? Or when you don't hear back from someone for a while? Some will give up. Resolutions often make us results-driven: saying "I'll work out at least four times a week..." silently ends with "...and I'll lose pounds every week, too." But when that doesn't happen, or doesn't happen quickly enough, it's tempting to think the resolution failed or isn't worth the bother. Life gets busy, or maybe travel throws you off your exercise routine or you come down with a cold for a week. You miss some workouts and if you'd been thinking the resolution "wasn't working," you may just let it slip away. But an intention like "I enjoy moving my body because exercise makes me feel strong and less bothered by aches and pains" invites you to start again, wherever you are. With an intention, you don't fall behind, you just pick back up.
Intentions Into Practice
If only the New Year also came with a magic wand. We'd wave it at the to-do lists, the laundry, the groceries and even the dog! Your life doesn't get any less jam-packed just because you've articulated that you need more relaxation. But you can work with what you have. More me-time, for most of us, doesn't mean booking consecutive days at a spa. But it can mean taking a few extra minutes with your skincare routine to enjoy the experience rather than rushing through it, reminding yourself that you're doing it for yourself. Take the time to smell the shower gel, or better yet, dim the lights, burn your favorite candle and take a bath. Sure, you can think of these as just more tasks in your day, but if you choose to think of skincare and grooming as self-care, then they are.
Feeling more rested is often at odds with the realities of life that keeps us hopping right up to bedtime. Make the transition from "on" to "off" by turning down the volume on all audio, putting your phone away, and if it's a night when you're doing a face mask as part of your skincare routine, think of the time you leave it on your skin and then removing the mask as part of your countdown to sleep.
What If You Could Be a Better Friend to Yourself?
Remember that the changes you make are meant to bring more of what you want to your life or to give less energy to that which no longer serves you. Intentions are set not because you're doing things wrong or your life isn't good enough. Intentions are set so you can hone in on the joyful, the meaningful, the clear. Have compassion for yourself. Keep trying. Here comes the next moment. This is where we start.