“Live less out of habit and more out of intent.” ― Author Unknown
Happy Winter Solstice! Yes, it is the official start of winter, the shortest day of light, and a turning point with each day bringing more light as we move through the season. It is a good reminder that this is the darkest point of the year, where seeds of intention lay dormant, until we bring light to the ones we want to manifest in the New Year. So why set intentions instead of resolutions as we ring in 2017?
Research out of the University of Scranton suggests that just 8% of the people who set New Year’s resolutions actually succeed in achieving those goals, thus leaving the majority of us feeling like failures. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like feeling like a failure!
Some of the top resolutions people make include starting a new diet, losing weight, and saving money. All of these goals imply a need for more self-discipline, which brings with it an implication that we are currently not doing good enough. Coming from a place where we focus on giving up something to achieve an end result has the goal founded in avoidance, even in the name of self-improvement. These behavior changes are rooted in fear, whether from our conditioned pasts or the unknown future. Not fertile ground for real and lasting growth to occur!
Setting intentions, Sankalpa in Sanskrit, are made from the heart, not the mind, and focus on the growth of our souls. So, if the reason we set resolutions at this time of year is to improve our lives in the new year, I offer you the following ideas on why setting an intention might serve you, and the world, better:
- To Bring More Meaning. I’d be willing to wager a bet that most of us would feel better if we knew what we did impacted someone in a positive way. Our human existence depends on our deepening understanding of our interconnectedness, which is why we feel good when we are able to help others. Therefore, setting an intention is more of a call out to the universe for assistance in manifesting something you desire or dream that will bring more purpose or meaning to our lives and the lives of others.
- To Change Attitudes. My work helping others find more inner peace in their hearts and minds has reinforced a universal human need for acceptance, of self and others. Yet, peace will be elusive if we don’t start with accepting ourselves first. Just sit for a moment and imagine what you would feel like if you accepted yourself fully, without conditions such as “I’ll be happy if I just lose 10 lbs” or “I’ll be happy if I get that new job”. Truly connecting to that place inside that KNOWS we are enough just as we are, a perfectly imperfect human wanting to be acknowledged for our intrinsic value simply by being present on this earth, brings a felt sense of inclusion, that we all are part of the larger human experience.
- To Broaden Instead of Limit. I find resolutions to be restrictive, limiting the definition of, and thus the opportunity for success. Maybe the need for S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-based) goals has permeated our culture so much that our ability to trust that there might be an even better outcome, one that our minds are not even able to comprehend, is available and in ‘divine’ time, not in a forced, linear timeline. If you might need a little inspiration in this area, to spark your creativity and break loose from the grips of this culture, I highly recommend going to see the new movie Arrival, based on the 1998 short story “Story of Your Life” by Ted. Chiang.
- To Accept Change. A common statement I hear is “I don’t like change” yet I think most of us would agree with the Greek Philosopher Heraclitus that “the only constant in life is change”, putting us in a bit of a dilemma. And when we set resolutions using the S.M.A.R.T. goal approach, it introduces the space for judgment around our success or failure of following through, forever attaching us to the outcome or result, and not creating room for change. No wonder we hate change as it comes with judgment! Intention-setting instead recognizes that you are on a journey of practice, honoring that life is not a destination but an ever-renewing process.
- To Expand Opportunities for Change. Yes, the new year coming does bring with it sense of starting fresh, thus supporting the tradition of setting New Year resolutions. However, intentions don’t happen just once a year – they can be set monthly, weekly, and even daily! For some of my more lofty intentions like “Love myself unconditionally”, I like to plant the seeds of my intentions at the new moon and then check back in at the full moon for any growth, just like the Farmer’s Almanac suggests when gardening. For a more daily Sankalpa, such as “Self-compassion flows through me now”, I like to check in at the end of the day when I might feel a bit overwhelmed by my growing “to do” list to remind me that there is always tomorrow.