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Get the Life You Want. Set Intentions, Not Resolutions

Updated: Jan 12

The first time I heard about New Years Resolutions, I was nine. My teacher told my class they were something people wanted to accomplish for the year and asked us if we had any.

I'm pretty sure I made something up so I could answer the school question.

Then I watched what the adults around me did with their resolutions: lose weight, get into shape, eat better, get a better job, all sorts of things. As the year passed by, everything seemed to stay the same.

So the next year, when someone asked me what my New Years Resolution was, I defiantly said, “Oh, I don’t do New Years Resolutions. I think they’re silly. No one ever actually keeps their resolutions. Why would I waste my time making one?”

And you know what?

I still don’t make resolutions. Instead, I set intentions. I set intentions all year long.

And those actually work!

Jessica Lucey with hands in prayer over her heart.

What’s the difference between an intention and a resolution?

It’s all about mindset.

According to the dictionary, a resolution is “a strong will, determination.”

When people make a resolution, there’s this sense of

  • not good enough,

  • needing to be better,

  • needing to do something they know they should do, or

  • having to do something a certain way.

But what about intentions?

Well, according to the dictionary, an intention is “a course of action that someone intends to follow”.

In other words, you already want to do it. It’s not something you feel you should do, and that’s a HUGE difference.

In yoga, it can go even deeper.

The Sanskrit word sankalpa means "heartfelt desire, ardent desire, or solemn vow." It’s aligned with what you truly want… not some superficial thing society tells you you need to do.

Honestly, which would you rather do? What sounds more fun? What sounds more free and open to possibilities and the inevitable changes of life?

Focus on your why.

Your why is something that motivates you on a deep level.  

If you had a New Years Resolution to exercise more, your why is the reason why you want to exercise more. And while you might think you're motivated by losing weight or building more muscle, I challenge you to go deeper than that. Why do you want to lose weight or build muscle?

When you focus on your why, things that might seem like failures to others are not really failures at all. They can actually bring you closer to what you actually want.

When things don't go as planned

When I was in college, I wanted to be a doctor. I earnestly wanted to have a positive impact on people’s lives and bring them health and healing.

However, as circumstances had it, becoming a doctor right out of college was not an option. I kept trying; but, as time went on, plans changed.

What didn't change was my desire to bring a positive impact to people's lives in whatever I did.

Now, I’m a yoga teacher.

  • I’ve helped people regain movements they hadn’t been able to do in years.

  • After working with me, people have been able to do everyday tasks that were lost to them, like squatting down onto the floor to play with their grand kids and get back up again without help.

  • My adventurous students improved their balance and have more confidence crossing over log bridges or hiking on gravel by the edge of the mountain.

  • Students have told me how the practice has brought them more awareness into how they’re living their lives, and a deeper connection to themselves and God.

If that isn’t a positive impact, health, and being comfortable in your own skin; I don’t know what is.

Try this practice: The 5 Whys

While this was invented by Sakichi Toyoda, the Japanese industrialist, inventor, and founder of Toyota Industries as a way to solve the root cause of a problem, it can be adapted to your intentions and resolutions to help you discover your why.

  1. Start with your resolution, intention, or sankalpa and ask yourself, "why?"

  2. Take that answer and ask yourself, "Why?" again. Remember to be radically honest in answering this simple question, even if the answer is uncomfortable.

  3. Repeat it until you've gone 5 "whys" deep.

  4. Take that answer and ask yourself: "Does this resolution, intention, action, etc. serve my why? Will doing this actually fulfill my deep why?"

right handed person writing in a blank journal with a black pen

Make your intention positive

After getting grounded into what you really want, what motivates you, and what’s going to have the most meaningful impact on your life (your why); it’s time to set those desires into action.

Make this a positive action.

It’s easier for the mind to figure out a “do” than a “don’t”.

With a “don’t”, you have to

  1. start coming up with possibilities of what to do,

  2. go through the possibilities and decide if it’s the right thing to do, and

  3. then do the right thing.

With a “do”, you’ve already cut out steps one and two. All there’s left to do is to do it.

For example, if you really care about community and connecting with people, instead of saying, “I will spend less time on my phone,” try “I am present with others" or "I put my phone away when I am talking with other people.”

Set your intention in the present tense.

Start your intention with “I am...” or "I (action verb)..."

Saying “I will” or “I’m going to” is like writing a to-do list. And we all know what happens all too often with to to-do lists. (Hint: they don't get done.)

Make your intention a short statement set it in the present tense… as if you’ve already achieved it.

According to Jennice Vilhauer, PhD:

because of how information is stored in the brain, you can never just have one thought about something without activating a series of related thoughts.

In other words, your brain works for you. It wants to bridge the gap between where you are now and where you say you are now. It starts that chain reaction thinking that primes your mind to find solutions.

two hands loosely holding a ball of glowing twinkle lights

A note on goal setting

After putting your intention in the present tense, you might find that you come up with different ways to experience your intention or sankalpa. Definitely use these as goals or little stepping stones to help get you closer to your desire.

However, remember that these goals might not end up how you expect them to turn out. My goal was to become a doctor, and now I’m a yoga teacher. Life might have a different plan than you that brings you closer to your intention, your desire, and your why in ways that you may have never imagined.

Be open to the possibilities.

It’s time to make all those ardent desires in your heart a reality.

  • Think about why you want what you want.

  • Write down your intentions.

  • Go over them to make sure they're aligned with what you truly desire.

  • Live live them.

Share your intentions in the comments below.


If you're looking to start and maintain a yoga practice, I can help you uncover your deeper why and tailor a practice to you that is aligned to your why and your goals. This'll give your practice more staying power and sustainability.

Jessica Lucey standing on a yoga mat with a block in her hand.

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