‘New year, new start.’ These are the conversations being had right now. What can we do to make this year better? I do enjoy using the new year as a reason to reflect, and I enjoy an element of planning, but only loosely. This is a time of year people tend to apply a lot of pressure – to themselves their lives, their expectations. It’s great to plan and set goals, but they need to be realistic, and in line with our values, which requires self-knowledge and some internal reflection or enquiry, rather than pressurised ‘inspo’ from other people’s facebook/Instagram posts, or worse still, targeted advertising designed to make you feel bad unless you’re working out, finding your zen, studying and building up your side hustle simultaneously.
So firstly, what is an intention? Unlike goals, which tend to be more action-based, intentions are more about what you want to achieve inside through your actions, and tend to be more about how you feel about something, or how you want to feel or be. Whilst not vague, they tend not to have the same level of measurability as goals because they are less tangible, but when they materialise, oh can you feel it! Intentions are about moving in a direction – what happens to be at the end of the path taken may not be quite what was expected when you first set off, because it’s about the journey itself and the shift in you along the way.
Setting an intention is about focusing on it, rather than just having an idea. It’s taking the time to quiet, settle and find clarity with what the intention really means to you, what it would look like once you’re on the path, and declaring your commitment to it. To set the intention, you need to be present, It doesn’t work to be distracted or overly driven, as you’ll miss the subtleties of the process. Awareness is key. Often intentions are in the present tense and start with ‘I am…’ or ‘I feel…’ which can be linked to a longer sentence such as ‘I have an exciting project that is rewarding and energising.’ Note that the type of project and other practical specifics you may find in a goal are absent; intentions focus on specific feelings and attributions – exciting, rewarding, energising. This way we are receptive (in this example) to projects that may meet these criteria, which we wouldn’t otherwise have considered had we already decided what type of project it would be. Likewise, rather than just wanting more money, or money to buy something specific, an intention might be ‘I have enough financial abundance to make choices easily and to invest in my home.’ Equally an intention can be short and about the inner experience, such as ‘I am calm.’
All these things make the intention more likely to be realised. Intention setting turns us into active participants in our lives, rather than passive recipients where life happens to us and drags us along.
How do I find my intentions? If you are lost for ideas on what intentions you would like to set, there are different techniques that could help you to find and focus these. Some examples:
So what does this look like in practice? To set an intention, most people will follow a routine or ritual of some kind. This is a dedicated time and space for the process. Some people might light a candle or incense to set the scene and as part of the dedication and commitment to the process. Some may meditate to clear their head and focus their mind on the task at hand. The intention will be a positive affirmation (I am calm, rather than ‘I’m not angry’), it will link to their values and probably a wider goal. The intention will be held in regular awareness, checking in on progress and alignment, and reviewing whether the intention is still relevant or has come to fruition. If you’re really stuck, or you’ve never done anything like this before, there is a step-by-step guide to start you off at the bottom of this post.
I’m going to end with a verse from the Tao Te Ching, ‘The Importance of What is Not’, because at this time of year, we have a tendency to focus on solid things; money, possessions, muscles, tummies, jobs, hobbies and a ‘need’ for ourselves to be active; doing, having, getting, achieving. In this verse, Lao Tsu focuses on the exact opposite - what is not; that is to say emptiness and space, which could link to the human experience as rest, reflection and freedom. Not to say this is better, or more important, but to bring into balance the active and solid (yang), with the passive and receptive (yin). We all need both to experience harmony. Take the pressure off #newyearsresolution and allow some emptiness and space to creep in too – they’ll make it easier, and more fulfilling.
Step-by-step guide to intention setting
Author - Zoe Copeland, MFHT
With a background in education, sports coaching and mental health, Zoe began to explore more holistic avenues of helping people with a particular focus on where the mind and body meet. Zoe began her bodywork training in Sports Massage and has since studied other massage theories and techniques, as well as Reiki, to provide a holistic approach to each treatment. With specific training in women's health, trauma and scars, she has developed an intuitive practice which leaves you feeling a positive change in your body and mind after every appointment.