I’m not a New Years resolution person. Maybe it’s because to me January 1 is just the day after December 31. Maybe it’s because 80% of people break their resolutions within two months. But I think it’s mainly because resolutions are based on a false premise. They imply that there’s something wrong with us. That’s a depressing way to start a new year.
You know what we don’t need more of in 2021? Sadness. Criticism. Disappointment.
So what’s the alternative? Try setting an intention. The biggest difference is you’ll have to look deeper than a resolution, which often focuses on external change. You can set goals related to your intention, but don’t think of it as something to accomplish. In fact, if you choose the right intention, you’ll work on it in many ways for many years.
Intentions are about uncovering simple ways to find purpose in every day. Most people haven’t thought much about their purpose. It’s a big question that can feel intimidating. But people much wiser than me have been exploring it for centuries. Hindus and Buddhists aspire to live their dharma. The Japanese are driven by ikigai.
So how, exactly, do you find your purpose and then set an intention with it in mind? It begins with self-reflection. Instead of starting with self-improvement, consider your gifts and strengths. Notice what brings you a sense of pride and accomplishment.
In her book, Living with Intent, Mallika Chopra suggests asking yourself:
- Who am I?
- What do I want?
- How can I serve?
- What does the universe want from me?
Take time to sit with these questions. Meditate on them, journal about them, talk them out with friends and family. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t know the answers. It takes time to figure out what brings meaning to your life and what could in the future. And it’ll likely change over time.
If you’re reading this post, you probably find purpose in creative expression. Exactly what kind and why is for you to explore. But instead of focusing on the goal (e.g. write the book), focus on what lights you up. For me, it’s meeting incredible people and sharing their stories, helping others find creative inspiration, and exploring new ideas.
Your purpose doesn’t have to be grand. It can be nurturing your family. It can be volunteering. It can be giving your all to a passion project. It’s in the small stuff that intention setting begins.
Once you’ve identified a few things that bring you purpose, Chopra suggests mapping them out and drawing connections between them. For example, if you find purpose in parenting and creative expression, you could set an intention to spend time nurturing your kids’ creativity or working on projects together. If you find the right intention, you’ll have a word or phrase that sets your course, a beacon when you’ve lost your way.
Our intentions aren’t just about us. Consider how yours could ripple out to all the layers of your life — physically, mentally, and even externally in your relationships. Chopra’s question about selfless service is essential to but often overlooked in intention setting. We feel full when we share our passions without need for reciprocation. Share, not just with the people you love, but with your larger community.
Change your mind about how you want to live and you suddenly see there are opportunities all around you. “When we consciously set an intent, we put in motion a process to make it happen. We become more aware of people who can help us, and we take advantage of encounters and opportunities. We notice coincidences and attract teachers, allies, and guides. We start behaving as if what we want will really happen, and often it actually occurs,” says Chopra.
Let’s be clear, you can’t think your intent into existence. There’s work involved, but often the mental shift is the hardest part. There’s no perfect time to start this work. The world around us may look bleak right now, but it may just be the perfect time to start living with intention.
“We all go through phases of feeling adrift, shaky, and unsure of ourselves — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Change doesn’t happen when we feel confident, strong, and rooted. The blessing of uncertainty is that it gives us the nudge we need to dig deep — to incubate and reflect on what we want — and to find the courage to carve out a different path,” says Chopra.
The new year marks time passed and a chance to start new. While I don’t usually care too much about New Years, I don’t think I’ve ever been so ready for a year to be over. So, I’ll start 2021 with intention and I hope you will, too. To stay on course, write out your intention and put it someplace you’ll see it daily, like on the wall of your home office or the background of your phone. Tell a friend or post it on social media to build accountability. If you meditate, make it your mantra. Repeat it aloud or in your thoughts while you sit.
An intentional life is one full of purpose and meaning. The work of living intentionally makes hard times a little easier to navigate. It won’t be simple but it will be worth it.
Michelle Regan is a writer and yoga teacher who's passionate about sharing all the ways in which yoga and creativity can be transformative forces in our lives. In her free time, she enjoys reading, hiking, and petting all the dogs.