Growing up, new years resolutions were an unquestioned element of December 31st. Looking back, I see how harsh and critical and unattainable they always were, focusing on stupid things we wanted to stop doing for no real reason. For years I have rejected the idea of resolutions in the same way I have resisted starting a new diary on January first and going out partying on New Year’s Eve. But I LOVE the concept of new year intention setting. Of course, self-development shouldn’t only happen once a year. And of course, it isn’t meant to induce negativity towards yourself or guilt. But creating a focus and keeping it in your mind, allowing it to inform your day to day and wider choices, can be enormously fulfilling, helpful and productive.
To me, new year intention setting is a soft practice, an invitation. One of self-love and clarity. One that reflects on the past year, on all the ways I grew or brought more contentment, joy or (com)passion to my life. And looking ahead, intentions can help us clarify how we can continue to bring more of these things to the fore. How can we cultivate the butterfly feels of bravery and boldness in making choices that support the life we really want?
Of course, intention setting doesn’t have to only happen at the threshold of a new year. I like to have long term intentions, the ones that form my dream future if there were no limitations and no barriers. But I also like to set intentions for the coming month, as well as for this week and, even, the day ahead. There are no limits. Often my daily intention is to ensure that I make time for quiet, especially if I am at work that day in a busy, hectic and noisy, indoor environment. Holding that intention in my mind both gives me something to look forward to at the end of the day but also ensures that I don’t forget, that it doesn’t get to midnight before I suddenly realise that I failed to stop working and make the time for some candles and meditation and a good book by the fire. Intentions help form the shape of the day, reminding us to live life on purpose and create the kind of life which we truly want and need rather than being swept along in mindless waves of busyness.
So, whether it is for the day, week, month or year ahead, how does intention setting differ from more traditional resolutions or business-style projections in the form of a five- or ten-year plan? For me, intentions are much, much softer. The clue is in the name. They are intentions. These are not hard and fast rules. They are not rigid but open to meandering. They are a not statement of intent, but a soft and compassionate guide. Mindful intentions provide a joyful, positive focus, one which you can commit to moving towards while understanding that hiccoughs happen, plans alter, desires change. Intentions require both commitment and compassion. Yes, we will aim to reach that goal and yes, we will do whatever we can to move ourselves in the right direction. But this comes with the understanding that, should the path veer off at some point, or suddenly climb steeply, causing us to take much, much longer than anticipated, or even should the path stop abruptly, that we will not heap blame, criticism or judgement on ourselves or freak out over the idea of our fixed destination. You will need trust and faith and perseverance in bucket loads. Accepting the pitfalls and pot-holes of the journey while trusting in your intuition, wisdom is vital. As is understanding that the outcome may look different from the one you initially visualised. Maybe the actual destination will turn out to be a hundred times more fulfilling and productive than the one you intended.
Once we have created our intention, polished it, refined it, visualised the crap out of it and dreamt it, we need to act. Not straight away. No hell for leather, gung-ho sudden changes in this practice. Instead we step back. Breathe. Keep visualising. You must surrender fully and, conversely, be filled with purpose. And slowly as we move on through the coming days and weeks, we use our intention to inform our actions, decisions and choices. In this way our intentions are the pebble in our pocket, our always-there reminders. Our sign post. Our inner guide. Is this decision going to move me toward my dream or take me further away? Simple. Move towards your goal whenever you can. Release, gradually, the things which stand in your way. Let this process take time, unfolding organically, authentically and slowly. Let every day be another brick in the road to your dream. Hold your intention in your inner light and move towards it wherever you can. Stay connected to your wisdom and intuition. Let them speak. Let them nudge you towards the things you need and, critically, attune yourself sharply to the things which are holding you back. Explore those – don’t be afraid of them. Be brave and face them down. Be patient but stay focused. It’s so exciting to have so much control over the shaping of your life.
So, what about when you feel hopeless about your potential for change? Or when circumstances mean that a particular path is not open to you right now? In my yoga teaching I talk a lot about the concept of sthira and sukha, the steadiness and ease within our bodies or minds and in the poses we perform. I often like to translate this as strength and softness; in every pose we have strength, physical or mental; a strong standing leg, an engaged core, strong ujjayi breathing, a fierce, bad-ass inner fire. And within and around that strength, we soften. The face. The shoulders. The mind. We create space for expansion and breath, compassion and clarity. And often in our life we need to embrace these same opposite forces. Maybe it just isn’t practical or feasible to leave your paid job right now, even though it’s causing you stress. You could view this as the sthira in your life – the strong and steady, the reliable. The challenging. So where in your life, within and around that, can you bring in more sukha, more softness and ease? That could mean a long after-work walk, whatever the weather. Or maybe you spend some of the evening journaling, painting, knitting, whatever you want to get better at. Maybe you factor in something small and simple to look forward to every day, something to help you transition from the work day to you evening of soft self-care, your time of living on purpose. (I have written a whole piece on this subject of treats and self-love in my blog, ‘Staying Afloat’). Your intention may be years down the line, but you can still hold onto it, visualising the shape of your future, making baby steps, always, towards reaching that goal. Holding that intention close, feeding it and watering it will ensure that you stay alert, that you notice those doors opening, the shifts in circumstance, in this example those potential new jobs. Your intention, so loved and cherished, will embolden you to speak out for yourself, making you more confident in reaching for what it is that you want, those things that take you closer to your goal. And you’ll know for sure that it’s the right thing because you will feel so alive, so utterly in tune with the universe, as though you are dancing with joy, happy for no reason.
So, give it a go. Grab your future and mould it to your liking. Dream big. Go for it. Feel the shape of your life and colour it in. What are the feelings which you want to bring to predominance? Peace, contentment, excitement, calm, freedom. What would a life look like that would bring you more of those feelings? There are no harsh lines. No rules. No deadlines. No criticism. No blame. Just an invitation to take control. Go out under the full moon. Snuggle up by the fire in the dark of a new moon. Sit at your desk. Or on the top of a mountain. Buy a beautiful new journal. Close your eyes. Breathe slowly. Let your dreams and idea begin to surface. Explore them. Sharpen them. Let them fully form. Hold nothing back. And then take the first step. And then the next. With joy and purpose and a sprinkling of magic.
‘Tell me. What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?’ ~ Mary Oliver