As my family and I were making plans to welcome 2020, I spent a few quiet moments with my favorite notebook and pen. It felt invigorating to glance at a fresh calendar and imagine all the possibilities. What resolutions could I set for myself that would add more meaning and satisfaction to my life over the next 12 months?
The process of making new year’s resolutions is a familiar one. Do you remember what goals you set at the beginning of 2019? Did you follow through with them? Are you feeling good about the results?
Many of us feel anxious and guilty when we look back and see that we abandoned our goals only weeks after setting them. But we’re not alone. Studies show that 80% of all new years resolutions are broken by mid-February, and only 8% are ever achieved.
Maybe we need an entirely different way to approach life planning – one that will help us feel happier, healthier and more successful not only over the next year, but in the long run too.
ACCEPTING THE PRESENT, SHAPING THE FUTURE
Psychiatrist Monisha Vasa, writing in the website Tiny Buddha, admits she has struggled with traditional “new-year-new-you” thinking in the past.
“Many of my resolutions involved behavioral changes that I knew would be beneficial –eating better, exercising more, writing more, waking up earlier,” she writes. “But I often found myself in a mental tug of war with my resolutions.”
Vasa discovered that envisioning a new future without accepting herself in the present set her up for failure. She says she pursued her goals with an attitude of “striving, wanting, and sometimes forcing.” This, she feels, was the opposite of what she’d actually hoped for, which was greater mindfulness and peace.
This is an interesting perspective, isn’t it? Can we really hope to achieve our goals if we’re always shouting at ourselves, pointing out where we’ve fallen short?
REPLACING RESOLUTIONS WITH SOMETHING DEEPER
Vasa ultimately decided that she would approach the new year by setting just one intention for herself. This replaced the “slew of resolutions” she had piled on herself in the past.
Unlike the typical new year’s resolution, which is both vague and specific – for example, “lose weight” or “eat healthier food” – Vasa’s intention read more like a vision. She simply promised herself that she would live consciously and compassionately in each moment, whatever the moment would bring. She then made a list of examples of what it would mean to fulfill this intention:
- Moving when my body needs to move.
- Resting if I am tired.
- Nourishing myself when I am hungry.
- Stopping when I am full.
- Silencing my inner critic.
- Acting with kindness toward myself and others.
Vasa realized that her list of examples could go on and on. It was simply a handy way of reminding her of the kinds of actions that would move her closer to the peaceful existence she wanted.
HOW TO WRITE AN INTENTION
It’s encouraging to know that you can create an intention for your life at any time. So if you’re reading this several weeks into the new year, there’s no need to worry. Just relax and begin where you are.
Keep in mind that an intention – unlike a new year’s resolution – is a broad and affirmative vision. It can guide your thoughts and actions for many years, and you may choose to revisit it now and then to make positive additions that will keep you on track.
Here are some helpful tips for writing a clear, positive intention to guide you in 2020 and beyond.
- Focus on what you want, not what you don’t. Your intention should be expressed in positive terms. Instead of writing, “I don’t want to be in debt anymore,” you might write, “I want to owe nothing and feel financially secure.”
- Write as if the desired outcome is already happening. Another way to describe being debt-free might be: “I am financially secure. I have no money worries.”
- Show gratitude. Your intention will be more powerful if you acknowledge some of the things you appreciate in your present life. These can serve as a foundation for change. For example: “I rely on the presence of my loved ones to feel secure, satisfied and needed.”
- Deal immediately with “blurts.” These are negative thoughts that may pop into your mind as you are shaping your intention. Simply notice them, jot them down and draw a circle around them. Then ask yourself, “Are these negative thoughts helpful in any way? Do they point the way to something I need to change?”
- Focus on the feeling. If the words in your intention give you a warm, positive sense about your life and you can see yourself arriving in the positive place you’ve described, you’re on the right track.
DISCOVERING WHAT YOU REALLY WANT IN LIFE
As a therapist working with adults of all ages, I am here to help you create a healthy, satisfying life. If you are struggling to envision the future you truly want and don’t know how to get there, working with a professional therapist can be tremendously helpful. Reach out to me anytime to schedule a private appointment in my Oak Park office.