New Years resolutions never work.
Intentions always do.
It all comes down to the difference between an intention and a resolution.
We all make New Years resolutions and then, when we don’t keep them, we use those same well-meaning resolutions to beat up on ourselves. Same old, same old story.
You start the new year looking for the new you, and you end up fed up with your old self.
The dictionary tells us that resolution is a “firm decision to do or not to do something.” This gives us our first clue as to why resolutions never work: A firm decision to do or not to do something goes against the inherent flow of life itself.
The moment we make a resolution to get outside and walk every day, temperatures drop, wind chills rise and just walking to the car is a polar excursion. We valiantly try to keep our resolution, but we’re so miserable doing it that eventually we have to give it up.
So we set another firm resolution: In the spring, I will get outside and walk everyday. Which ultimately gives us the excuse to sit on the couch for another three months. If our aim was to do something we thought could make us feel better about ourselves, failing the resolution compounds the issue. Not only have we not gotten outside or gotten more exercise, we now hate ourselves for having failed.
We all know this resolution cycle: We start each year with high hopes. 365 days later, we usually find ourselves writing down the same list and firmly resolving to make those same changes the next new year that we failed at the year before.
So why do resolutions always fail? The answer lies in the second definition for resolution: A resolution is also the “action of solving a problem, dispute, or contentious matter.”
Resolutions don’t work because they are firm (and not fluid) actions taken to solve something we perceive as a problem in our lives. Eat less, eat better, spend less, make a budget, be more social, be less social, get back to that creative project, stop some “bad” habit. A resolution tries to solve a problem we believe we have.
Why doesn’t this work? Because we begin what is supposedly a holistic process of self-initiated change by seeing ourselves as the problem.
If we think we’re the problem, how the heck are we also supposed to be the solution?
That’s why I’ve come to believe that setting intentions is so much more holistic and hopeful than making resolutions.
The word intention comes from the Latin word for stretching. To stretch means to extend your reach. Instead of seeing yourself as the problem and then trying to fix yourself, you simply ask yourself to stretch yourself a bit more. From this place, there is room for flow and freedom. From this place, we are on our own side instead of against ourselves. From this place, there can be no failure, because the goal is simply to keep stretching.
Another word for an intention is an aim. To aim is to point in the direction of someplace we wish to go and then seek to get there. I love this definition because it is the antidote to the word sin.
I don’t know about you, but growing up going to church I HATED the word sin. People were always throwing it around, and it made me feel like, well, a sinner. Someone so hopelessly wrong that I was damned if I did and damned if I didn’t. That’s how resolutions usually make us feel -- damned if we do, damned if we don’t. Because, let’s face it, there will come a time with every resolution when one day we just won‘t keep it. We will eat the whole bag of chocolate chip cookies, we will buy the shoes we don’t need, we will stay on the couch instead of getting up and going outside. And then we feel damned cuz we did or didn't. And when we feel damned, when we feel like sinners, eventually we just give up and sin.
Then I discovered that sin was an archery term. To sin doesn't mean you're a bad person. To sin simply means “to miss the mark”. So what is the mark? The mark is always Love.
We are here to love — one another, ourselves, the planet, We are here to love ourselves and one another whole. When we judge ourselves or someone else, when we feel like we have failed ourselves or someone else, when we know we could have done better but just didn‘t, we aren‘t sinners. We aren’t wrong or bad. We have simply missed the mark of Love. The solution then is simple. We have to aim to keep loving. That‘s all. Just keep loving.
A resolution begins from the premise that we are wrong. This puts us outside of Love. Year after year after year of trying and failing to fix this problem of ourselves, we only feel more wrong, more bad, and ultimately more hopeless.
To set an intention is to begin in Love and just keep aiming for love.
Why do we want to exercise more? Because we know we feel better when we do. When we feel better, it is easier to love more. Why do we want to make healthier choices? Because we know we feel better when we do. When we feel better, it is easier to love more. The same is true for every potential resolution. All we ever want is to love and be loved.
To make a resolution is to begin outside of Love and hope one day, by doing everything right, to get there. To set an intention is to begin in love and aim to stay in love.
When we do this, we never miss the mark, because an intention is all about hope and healing and holding ourselves in our highest light. In these dark times, treating ourselves with kindness and giving ourselves the greatest chance to show up to our own lives in the ways we imagined we could, is not just a wish for a better new year. It is essential if we hope to continue to contribute to the healing of the planet. We cannot save the world if we do not intend to save ourselves first.
Instead of making your usual list of resolutions this year, why not try setting some intentions instead?
Instead of resolving to do or be better, begin by writing down everything you feel good about from this past year. In order to set an intention, you have to begin from the place of Love. Don‘t worry if it‘s not a long list or if some of the things seem silly. If you feel good about the fact that you ate more mindfully or tried to be kinder to strangers, take that as your starting place -- and then stretch a bit more, aim a bit higher.
Anything can be an intention — from the loftiest ideas to the simplest things. Could you reach out to friends more often? Could you get up from your desk and walk around the building a few times a day? Could you check social media less and smile at strangers more? Could you eat three cookies instead of the whole box? Could you look yourself in the mirror and try to like what you see instead of wishing it were better, different, less or more something?
Remember: If you begin in Love and keep aiming for Love, you will love. It's that simple.
Here are some tips for setting your intentions this year:
Try not to use the words no or not, less or fewer. These just set up you up to fail, which sets you up to hate yourself, which takes you out of Love.
If you are afraid you will fail, it is not an intention. Every choice we make in life comes down to love or fear. Resolutions are fear-based. Intentions come from and keep moving toward Love.
If you are motivated by feeling bad about something you are doing or not doing, it is not an intention. Begin by acknowledging the good in yourself. Start from Love, and then stretch a bit more, aim a bit higher. Love always begets love — and in your intention to love more, you always will.
Finally, and most importantly, remember and keep reminding yourself that you cannot fail in this. If you get through a day and find that you weren‘t as kind as you had hoped you would be, you sat more than stood, and couldn‘t resist that extra cookie, renew your intention the next day by shifting from no to yes, from fear to love, from hatred to kindness. Life is not a contest of willpower. Go with the flow of forgiveness, instead of beating yourself up for not being better. And then, hit the reset button and aim higher, stretch further. Rinse and repeat.
As the wonderful Wayne Dyer taught us, "Our intentions create our reality."
This year, instead of making resolutions you are afraid you can't keep, try setting intentions you love. Let love not fear guide you in the coming year.
Let us all love ourselves through the start to this new year, and so let us all love one another whole.
Wishing all of you a joy-filled, loving, hopeful and healing 2018.