From resolutions to intentions

 It’s July and we are now half way into the year. Did you set New Year’s resolutions at the start of 2012?

If you did, are you near meeting them? Or, like most people, have you forgotten about them or abandoned them by now?

The last New Year’s resolution I made was to practice yoga daily. Yoga, every day, first thing in the morning.

On January 1st, I was off to a perfect start. But once February rolled around, other stuff began to take priority (like getting enough sleep or getting to work early).

Soon, yoga became just one more task to check off from my to-do list. Making it into a resolution turned it into something I had to do and achieve. The next year, I resolved to never make resolutions again.

I find that setting intentions (i.e. determination to act in a certain way) is much more effective in sustaining change. It involves reflecting on your deepest values (e.g. self-care), tapping into your heartfelt desires (e.g. good health), and making conscious choices to live in alignment with them (e.g. yoga practice). The course of action you take is a dynamic process, not a hard and fast rule.

Why resolutions don’t usually work

Habits are hard to change overnight. Resolutions are the bad habits you want to drop or the good habits you want to take up once the new year arrives.

But most changes require ongoing, consistent and deliberate effort over time. Sheer desire to start the year fresh gets you only so far.

End goals are affected by external factors. On the road to success, you will have detours, stop signs, and U-turns.

When you are overly attached to reaching a specific goal in a specific time frame, you are more likely to get discouraged or stressed out by obstacles and delays.

Focusing on flaws depletes your energy. Most resolutions include fixing perceived weaknesses and negative aspects of your life.

Berating yourself for the things you’re doing wrong chips away at the inner reserves you need to sustain change.

Why intentions work better

New habits are formed by specific action steps.  An intention involves making moment-to-moment choices that will get you closer to where you want to be.

When you know your larger purpose, you know what you need to do and where to focus your attention.  Instead of pining for the fruits of your action, you enjoy the action itself.

Aligning with your values is inner-directed. If your effort is directed more toward bringing out your true nature, instead of reaching an end goal, you are more likely to stay on the path even when it gets rough.

When you have setbacks, you sit with the discomfort, recoup, and renew your energy. Then you pick yourself up and start again as part of the alignment process.

Embracing your whole self preserves your energy.  Setting intentions involves reflecting on how you would like to show up differently in the world. It does not require seeing yourself or your life as a problem that needs to be resolved.

Rather than scold yourself for your flaws, you call out the more positive aspects of what is already within you.

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While yoga practice is still a priority for me, it is not a daily activity that I must squeeze in when I need to attend to other priorities. As long as I foster self-care and good health through other conscious choices and courses of action, I’m at peace.


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Photo by: flickrfavorites