Intentions over Resolutions

© 1StunningArt –

This is a guest post by Kristen Riordan (Schneider), grad intern, White Picket Fence Counseling Center.

Did you make a New Year’s resolution? If not this year, in years prior? How’s it going? How’d it go in years past?

More often than not, I find resolutions are born of:

  • Exhaustion: the fatigue that’s a consequence of a particular bad habit and the desire to quit something,
  • Optimism: a heightened sense of gusto and will to create a positive habit and the catalyst to start something, or
  • Obligation: “Well, it’s the New Year, guess I better try to improve on something – everyone else is.” Obligation is usually preceded by a muted effort to quit or start said thing.

Resolutions tend to be stated in one of two ways: vague and general, “I want to take better care of myself,” or incredibly specific, “I will meditate 20 minutes a day, in the morning, every day.” The first approach is abstract and unsupported by a strategy or plan. And the second approach is planned so rigidly that it leaves little room for the flexibility that life requires. Neither approach set us up for success.

You might be an exception. You may have set a resolution that feels authentic to you, one that aligns with your values and supports the highest version of yourself. You may have already crafted a strategy that is specific, while allowing for the wiggle room real life requires. That’s ideal! Congratulations. Enjoy yourself. You can stop reading now.

If you’re struggling to find the sweet spot with New Year’s resolutions, let me offer you this: Ditch the New Year’s resolution! Instead, set an intention. Ancient yogic philosophy refers to an intention as a Sankalpa (Sanskrit: सङ्कल्प): an intention formed by the heart and mind – a solemn vow, determination, or will.

I translate an intention to mean: an energy or quality you want to generate, attract and experience in your life. For example, my intention this year is ADAPTABILITY. This means I want to show up for life as someone who can be flexible, resourceful and centered even when – especially when – things don’t go as planned. My strategy is specific “I will respond to changes with grace,” yet flexible, “every situation will be different. I aim to stay calm as I navigate the unexpected.”

An intention differs from a resolution in that a resolution is all or nothing (stop that/start this). An intention is multidimensional; it’s a tone that colors and informs numerous life choices and experiences. To clarify, here’s one of my other intentions: To NOURISH. With this intention in mind, I’m more likely to choose foods, relationships and activities that add value and fill my cup. There are no hard and fast rules. My Sankalpa or intention is my guiding light. It inspires me and guides my choices.

The added benefit of a Sankalpa or intention is that it’s one word. It’s simple. It’s easy to write, recite and remember. You can even turn it into a mantra, such as “I am PATIENT” or “I am TRUTHFUL.”

The critical components for formulating and living your intention are:

  1. Choose an intention that resonates with you.
  2. Take the time to reflect on the many ways the intention can translate into your life experiences.
  3. Remind yourself of your intention and return to it often.

The beauty of an intention is that it is expansive rather than limiting. It is supportive rather than authoritative, and it is loyal. You can temporarily forget your intention or even abandon it for a longer period of time – yet the moment you recall it, your intention will be there waiting for you. You can return to your intention anytime! Your intention exists to support you and the highest version of yourself.

Happy New Year!