THE BLOG
01/08/2016 09:49 am ET Updated Jan 07, 2017

Setting New Years' Intentions

I confess that for more than fifty years I've been making New Years' Resolutions. Every year I ponder what I want for the upcoming year and swear to commit to my resolutions. Who am I fooling? Without fail, within a month I don't keep the promised to myself and/or I completely forget what my resolution is. The fact that they were meant to be broken is almost a cliché.

One of the reasons resolutions get broken is that it's real tough to be accountable to oneself. So maybe we all need a new strategy. How about we ditch the idea of setting a resolution, and instead set intentions. For some reason, this approach may seem less daunting. Setting intentions encourages a sense of self-awareness and alignment with who you are and what you truly want.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, an intention is something you plan to bring about, achieve, or manifest. It's not about resolving any issue, as the word resolution alludes to. When setting intentions, you're manifesting a dream or trying to direct your thoughts in a particular way. Intentions don't have to be set for the year, but can be set on a daily basis, and are best made first thing in the morning. Setting intentions can also be a way to navigate through difficult times. They're a way to break down the task of handling difficult situations, encounters, or events that might arise in your life.

In the Buddhist tradition, an intention is not oriented toward any future outcome, but rather, is a path you follow for either the present day or another designated time period. Setting an intention is one way to begin to think about changing a pattern of behavior, such as an addiction or some other stress response.

As Daniel J. Siegel says in his powerful book, The Mindful Brain, "Intentions create an integrated state of priming, a gearing up of our neural system to be in the mode of that specific intention: we can be readying to receive, to sense, to focus, to behave in a certain manner."

In addition to sharing your intentions with loved ones, one way to cement your intention in your mind is to write it down over and over again in your journal, like you did in grade school when you were naughty. Remember when you had to write, "I will be good" fifty times? Repetition can be empowering and facilitate change or transformation.

There are different ways to set intentions. You can simply create an intention for yourself because of something you need or want to focus on. For example, let's say you're going to have dinner with a family member who irritates you. In the past, you may have had a pattern of being reactive to his or her hurtful comments--so much so that it was almost like a verbal explosion. On the morning of your dinner, you might decide to set an intention that you will not be reactive, and instead will take a different stance--that is, you will become an observer.

Beginning your day or year by declaring an intention is also a good way to set the tone. Remember that in life we have a lot of choices. For the most part, anything we do is a choice. In his book, Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl talks about how one choice can affect the trajectory of the rest of our lives. Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, made the choice to remain behind and care for the patients in the concentration camp he was in. He made this choice based on his intention, and what he saw as his life purpose.

When setting an intention, avoid using the word should, which implies that you think of yourself as a victim. Another word to avoid is want. Using this word implies a passive role in achieving your intention. As an alternative, use the word choose. For example, "I choose to express gratitude on a more regular basis." Also, try to avoid the phrases "I want" or "I will," which puts your intentions into the future. Instead, consider setting your intentions in the present tense, as if they're already happening.

Setting intentions is highly individualized, but here are some that my writing students have formulated in the past:
         
         
As an alternative, use the word choose. For example, "I choose to express gratitude on a more regular basis." Also, try to avoid the phrase "I want." Instead, consider replacing it with "I will."

Setting intentions is highly individualized, but here are some that my writing students have formulated in the past:


I experience inner peace.
          I heal an inner wound.
          I am gentle with myself.
          I celebrate life.
          I am able to relax
          I learn something new about myself every day.
          I experience clarity.
          I am fully present.
          I connect to my higher power.
          I am mindful of my breath.

As an alternative, use the word choose. For example, "I choose to express gratitude on a more regular basis." Also, try to avoid the phrase "I want." Instead, consider replacing it with "I will."

Setting intentions is highly individualized, but here are some that my writing students have formulated in the past:

I experience inner peace.
I heal an inner wound.
I am gentle with myself.
I celebrate life.
I am able to relax.
I learn something new about myself.
I experience clarity.
I am fully present.
I connect to my higher power.
I am mindful of my breath.

References

Frankl, V. (2006). Man's Search for Meaning. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
Siegel, B. (2007). The Mindful Brain. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Co.
Statistic Brain Institute. http://www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-resolution-statistics/.