How to Make Positive Change: The Power of Intentions

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Intentions vs. Resolutions: Goals in the New Year

This New Year’s, consider setting intentions rather than resolutions. While resolutions tend to be broken, intentions can support us in moving forward.

“Intentions set the mind’s stage for positive growth and change because we’re making a choice to pay attention to something we deem worthy,” says Kristin Wilson, MA, LPC, Newport Academy’s National Director of Clinical Outreach.

Moreover, intentions can help us take action with an attitude of self-compassion rather than the sense of pressure that resolutions create.

 

Motivation and Self-Compassion

According to research, we tend to think that being kind to ourselves will make us less motivated to succeed. However, Kristin Neff, author of Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, says the opposite is true. In fact, research has linked self-compassion with increased personal initiative—the desire to reach one’s full potential.

“While self-compassionate people have performance standards that are as high as those who are harshly self-critical, they don’t get as upset when they don’t reach their goals,” Neff writes. “As a result, self-compassionate people engage in fewer self-defeating behaviors, such as procrastination.”

Intentions for the New Year:  Self-Compassion 

Moreover, Neff says, “Not only are self-compassionate people less likely to fear failure, when they do fail they’re more likely to pick themselves up and try again.”

In other words, kindness is far more effective than willpower when it comes to fulfilling your goals and intentions. Therefore, that’s why resolutions based on willpower alone don’t work.

Intentions and Self-Care 

When we craft intentions it helps us zero in on what we want more of in our life.

“Intentions are so beneficial every day, but a new year always brings another level of excitement and hope,” says Chelsea Reeves, Director of Alumni Services at Newport Academy. This year, Chelsea plans to focus on “being mindful and protective of the energies and relationships that I allow in my life,” she says.

Specifically, Chelsea plans to incorporate more self-care modalities into her daily routine. These include yoga, meditation, journaling, and being in nature. It also means incorporating ceremony, creative activities like painting, and being of service to each day. Furthermore, her intentions include giving herself time to rest and disconnect from technology.

Letting Go

Sometimes, intentions can include what you need to move away from. For example, Chelsea plans to work on “becoming more comfortable with the ability to say no and to detach with love and grace.”

Newport Academy Restoring Families Resources New Years Resolutions Intentions Compassion

What Do You Want to Cultivate in Your Life?

Here are Kristin Wilson’s intentions for the coming year: “My desire is to focus on patience and being more present in my daily life. I will continue with my daily meditation and yoga practices, which help me feel centered. Also, I am going to add daily journaling to my routine. This helps me reflect on the moments and people in my life that I hold with gratitude.”

These are healthy and positive intentions that can benefit everyone. To set your own intentions, first ask yourself what you want to cultivate in your life. What experiences or qualities do you want to bring into each day? What routines do you want to establish?

“We can only take care of the future by taking care of the present, because the future is made out of only one substance: the present.”

—Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hahn

 Newport Academy Restoring Families Resources New Years Resolutions Intentions Goals

Turning Intentions Into Visions and Affirmations

Once you’ve clarified your intentions, phrase them not as goals, but as a positive statements. For example, instead of deciding that you will stop eating sugar, set an intention to create a healthier relationship with food.

As Kristin Neff points out, we are far more likely to carry through with our intentions when we act from a place of self-acceptance and self-compassion.

Visualize the Outcome

You might want to try visualizing your intention. Thus, imagine what a better relationship with food and your diet would feel and look like. How would you notice it in your everyday life?

The next step is to develop an affirmation to help realize that intention. Specifically, affirmations are clear, positive statements that encapsulate what you want to create in your life. Furthermore, they are typically stated in the present tense. Here are some examples:

Intention: Exercise more.

Affirmation: “I move my body to keep it strong and healthy.”

Intention: “I’d like to be more thankful for everything I have in my life.”

Affirmation: “I am full of gratitude.”

“Every new year is an opportunity to reflect upon who we are, what we experienced, and what we want to accomplish. Through reflection comes awareness, the foundation from which skillful action can arise.”

—Rolf Gates, yoga teacher

Making Resolutions Stick

British psychologist Richard Wiseman studied whether and why New Year’s resolutions fail. Therefore, he tracked 3,000 people after they made their annual resolutions. Subsequently, he discovered that only 12 percent of them managed to achieve the goals they had set for themselves.

However, Wiseman went further: He examined what the successful people were doing differently. Moreover, he created a list of tips based on their experience, designed to help others succeed.

Manifesting Intentions

These tips can help us realize intentions, as well as resolutions. Here’s an interpretation of Wiseman’s advice through the lens of intentions.

  • Channel your energy into one area of intention, such as self-care or relationships.
  • Take as much time as you need to reflect on your intentions and cultivate what you need.
  • If a particular intention has been difficult for you in the past, focus on a different area you want to change, or come at it from a different angle.
  • Rather than setting intentions based on what you think you should do, think about what you really want to bring into your life.
  • Once you set your intentions and affirmations, look at how they can be applied to daily routines or actions.
  • Share your intentions with people in your life who will support you.
  • Visualize the benefits of your positive actions, and notice and appreciate those benefits when you feel them in the moment.
  • Reward yourself for your progress in a way that feels healthy and productive, such as celebrating with a friend.
  • Keep a journal in which you reflect on your intentions and how they are taking shape in your life.
  • When you experience a temporary setback in your new routines, be compassionate and forgiving with yourself. Every new day, just like every new year, is a chance to start again.

“Your success and happiness lies in you. Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties.”

—Helen Keller

Sources

Self and Identity, 4 263–287, 2005.

Motiv Emot (2009) 33:88–97.

J Research Pers 41 (2007) 908–916.

Psych Psychotherapy (2011), 84, 239–255.