5 Tips for Setting and Keeping Mindful Intentions for the New Year

As the pandemic continues to drag on, I’ve been trying to stay optimistic at the beginning of another year and have been trying to reflect, set goals and make new plans for a hopefully better year. But so often, I find myself making a laundry list of things I want to do and ending up on the other end of the year thinking—where did the time go? How did I not achieve what I wanted?

However, by adjusting your approach to New Years resolutions, you can use the new year to establish meaningful intentions, feel more inspired, and become more empowered. Here’s how.

1. Set Intentions not Resolutions

“Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

 The difference between an intention and a resolution may seem arbitrary but it can make a big difference in your attitude.

A resolution is, more or less, a statement to change something you want to fix about yourself or your lifestyle. As a result, resolutions tend to inspire negative thoughts about your current situation. When you decide you need to lose 30 pounds and call it a resolution, there is an expectation, rigidity and often negative energy without an actual plan—I ate too much last year and now I’m fat and need to lose weight.

On the other hand, an intention is more focused on creating abundance in your life. An intention does not imply that you’re faulty or need to fix something about the way you live, but instead, it motivates you to live even better. When you set mindful intentions for yourself, you shift the focus from the outcome to the actions you are willing to take to make your dreams and desires come true. An intention is a positive call to action about something you want to do, rather than something you don’t want to do but feel that you “should.”

Here are some examples of intentions:

  • I want to live in the moment without worrying about the past or future.
  • I intend to live with more compassion for myself and others.
  • I want to cultivate relaxation more in my daily life.

“Setting an intention is about giving direction or meaning to our lives. It also could mean changing an attitude about something as a way to transform or change. The nice thing about setting intentions is that you can set them daily, weekly or monthly. Unlike New Year’s resolutions, it’s not necessary to initiate changes to be kept all year long. When setting an intention, our attitudes are very important.”

Diana Raab Ph.D.

2. Take time for self-discovery

“You are what your deepest desire is. As your desire is, so is your intention. As your intention is, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny.”

Upanishads, Vedic Textt

During this time of year, our social media feeds are full of people proclaiming their new year’s goals or resolutions which can either be inspiring or overwhelming— I find that it’s often the latter. Sometimes I feel like I should do something because everyone else seems to be doing it and not spending enough time discovering what I really want. Instead of doing something just because your favorite blogger is doing it, dig deep and discover what you want and why. One of the most important things you can do to make sure your goals come to fruition is to make sure your intentions are personal and come from a deep inner desire to grow in one way or another. Why do I want to do this anyway? and How strong is my commitment to this process?

In his book Emotional Rescue, Dzogchen Ponlop provides a writing exercise that you can adapt to help you set a mindful intention this year.

What do I want to get out of this?

Contemplate the following questions briefly, and then choose one to write about for five or ten minutes:

  1. What is it about my life that I most want to change?
  2. Why is this change so important—what has happened that makes it urgent?
  3. What would I like to see happen? (What is your best outcome?)
  4. If I could make a wish for myself that would come true—what would it be?

Be as specific in your answers as you can be. General responses like, “I want to be happy,” or “I wish I were a nicer person,” need deeper exploration. You could start generally, and then add further details as they occur to you. Also, start with yourself and your personal goals before thinking of how you could improve the lives of others. (That will come soon enough.)

If writing exercises aren’t for you, you can also contemplate your intentions through a guided meditation.

3. Adopt a Systems Approach -Create a Schedule instead of a deadline

So you’ve done some self-reflection and set an intention that feels really good to you— but how are you going to actually do it? Prevalent knowledge claims that the best way to achieve our desires in life—becoming more present, getting into better shape, worrying less—is to set specific, actionable goals. However, James Clear, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller, Atomic Habits, has found that “goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress. A handful of problems arise when you spend too much time thinking about your goals and not enough time designing your systems.”Instead of setting a deadline for yourself to achieve a particular intention, focus on setting a schedule to work towards it consistently.

Let’s say you have an intention of “living in the moment more.” Instead of giving yourself an exaggerated deadline of becoming a monk by the beginning of 2022, set a schedule to do a 15-minute meditation every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Schedule in practices that overtime will lead to great progress without obsessing over the performance or a deadline.

“Productive and successful people practice the things that are important to them on a consistent basis. The best weightlifters are in the gym at the same time every week. The best writers are sitting down at the keyboard every day. And this same principle applies to the best leaders, parents, managers, musicians, and doctors. The strange thing is that for top performers, it’s not about the performance, it’s about the continual practice.”

– James Clear

For more great ideas on how to make your new intentions stick, check out James Clears’ book, Atomic Habits.

4. Give yourself visual reminders

With New Years intentions, sometimes we fall into the trap of “out of sight, out of mind.” In order to keep your intentions at the forefront of your awareness, try writing them on post it notes and placing them in spots you look at everyday. Is your intention to eat healthier so you can feel more energized? Try putting a nice post-it near your fridge with a positive affirmation like “I am capable of leading a healthy lifestyle.” Want to meditate more? Set an alarm on your phone with a positive affirmation.

Something I’ve also adopted is making a list of the attitudes I want to cultivate on a daily basis and posting it on my calendar. Just visually seeing the words joy, gentleness, presence, patience, confidence reminds me of my intentions behind the practices I’m adopting and the attitudes and behaviors that I will continue to nurture in doing so.

5. Cultivate Self-Compassion when life happens

Sometimes life happens and we just can’t do our 30-minute yoga session that we intended to do. If you fall off the train, meet yourself with self-compassion and gentleness and start again. When you practice compassion toward life’s obstacles or slip-ups, you actually strengthen your ability to succeed.

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