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Get the Life You Want. Set Intentions, Not Resolutions

Updated: Dec 28, 2019

The first time I heard about New Years Resolutions, I was nine. One of my teachers asked me what my new years resolution was. “What was that?” I asked. She told me that it was something people wanted to accomplish for the new year. Being a thoughtful little kid and not wanting to commit myself to something I wasn’t sure about, I told her that I would think about it. And I did. But I didn’t just think about it. I also watched what other people did with their resolutions. The adults around me wanted to lose weight, get into shape, eat better, get a better job, all sorts of things. Then I watched as the year passed by. I watched as 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 you know what? It actually works!

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

It’s all about mindset. 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. According to the dictionary, a resolution is “a strong will, determination.”

But what about intentions? Well, according to the dictionary, an intention is “a course of action that someone intends to follow”. Meaning, 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. There’s this thing called sankalpa. It’s an intention, ardent desire, or solemn vow; and 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.

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. On one of my volunteer days at the hospital, I met a burn victim who had recently completed surgery. The doctors grafted skin from one part of his body to his face. It covered up burns, but even more impactful for him. It give him lips. The nurses told me that he hadn't been able to talk until after that surgery.

After that, I wanted to be a reconstructive surgeon. I wanted to be able to take the injuries and disfigurement that people had and transform it into something that would help them be comfortable living in their own skin.

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 years. 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.

Your why is something that motivates you on a deep level. I love being a catalyst for transformation. I love helping people reconnect with their bodies and their deeper sense of Self. When you focus on your why, things that might seem like failures to others (like not becoming a doctor) are not really failures at all. They can actually bring you closer to what you actually want.

So if you’re one of those people who had a New Years Resolution to exercise more, your why is the reason why you want to exercise more. And I’ll give you a hint, it’s not to lose weight or build more muscle. It’s deeper than that. Why do you want to lose weight or build muscle? Take some time to figure it out. Maybe even journal about it.

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 start coming up with possibilities of what to do, decide if it’s the right thing to do, and then do it. 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.

As you may have noticed, I started my 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. By putting your intention in the present tense, it starts that chain reaction thinking that primes the mind to find solutions.

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 be 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, 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. Live live them. Share your intentions in the comments below.

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