12/20/2013 01:11 pm ET Updated Feb 19, 2014

'Tis the Season of Intention

"Make a wish," my son urged as I prepared to blow out the glimmering candles on my birthday cake last week. And as I have every other year of my life, I went ahead and made one -- silently sending it out into the ether, careful not to say it aloud for fear it might not come true. Lying in bed that night, I replayed the familiar scene in my head: little boy tells mom to make closes her eyes and blows out candles...everyone hopes wish will magically be granted...candles are removed from cake...everyone eats cake.

From little on, we grow up making wishes. With every shiny coin tossed into a pond and every wishbone broken and every shooting star seen and every birthday candle blown out, we catapult a hope/desire/want/longing out into the universe and hope for the best. As a little kid, I remember wishing that everyone I loved could live and be healthy forever. As a teenager, wishes shifted to winning the 800m race and boy du jour asking me to the prom. And now I find myself wishing for abstract, yet essential things like the well-being of my kids and health of my parents and the happiness of my husband.

There is a beautiful magic about wishes. They can encapsulate both dreams and fears. They have a sparkle and a mystique and a hopefulness that many of us desperately need to punctuate our daily lives. They let us escape reality for a short moment, transporting our minds to whatever utopia we're striving for. They let us feel like kids, opening our minds and our hearts beyond what is today to what could be tomorrow.

But there is also a challenge with wishes that struck me as I thought about my own birthday wish. Simply making a wish doesn't guarantee that anything will change. Wishes are passive, not active. They're nice-to-haves, not need-to-dos. They're hopes, not intentions.

Intentions, on the other hand, are behavioral (Merriam-Webster defines intention as "a determination to act in a certain way; what one intends to do or bring about"). Intentions are active, empowering, concrete commitments to a different, better future. For the first time last year, after I made a wish and blew out my candles, I made a birthday intention -- to write every single weekday. The wish version might have sounded something like "I wish I could become a writer someday." But the intention version was about the real work it takes to manifest a deep hope. And it drove me to action in a way a wish never could have.

We're deep in the season of wishing right now. I don't want to take away from that, but I want to add to it. This can also be the season of intention. I will call my sister twice a week this year. I will cook more at home. I will bike to work. I will keep my phone out of sight when I'm with my children. These are examples of active changes to the way we live day-to-day. They're not lofty wishes or massive unimaginable goals. They're about living with purpose and clarity and being the change you want to see in the world, not just hoping it appears before your eyes.

So my invitation this holiday season -- and during all of our wishing moments -- is this: soak up the magic, and get real about the work. And then eat cake.