As I started out on my run today enjoying the beauty of the frosty morning, a white feather floated slowly down from a tree to settle just in front of me on the path.
The soft feather caught my attention. At first I thought it was a large snowflake. Then as it got closer I saw the delicate feathered edges as it gently drifted downwards. Once on the ground it became invisible, merging into the snowy path.
This observation only took a few moments but it set off a train of thought about New Year Resolutions. Before you dismiss this as yet another post about how you ‘should’ set yourself some serious goals for 2021, hear me out. Although I completely agree that this is a time when the media goes to town with trite phrases and superficial advice on the New Year, New You theme, January is actually a great time to refresh your thinking.
There’s a natural energy arising and as human beings, more intricately linked to the seasonal cycles than we care to admit, we can harness that energy and momentum.
So although I get tired of the same old phraseology, I’m a fan of taking some time at the beginning of the year to refocus. After all, I only have so much time/money/energy and I like to use it well.
The problem for me with New Year’s Resolutions however is that, in making them, we design-in failure. We like the idea of making changes but the strategies we use to implement those changes aren’t effective.
The meditation app Calm had some great observations in the recent Daily Calm called Intentions. It suggested that we use the word Intention rather than Resolution. New Year Intentions. This really resonates with me. The energy of the two words is very different.
Resolutions are hard and fast. You need to be resolute to follow through. There’s an air of pass-fail, all-or-nothing about the word. Resolutions are fuelled by shoulds, oughts and musts and associated with undermining emotions of guilt and shame.
Intentions however have the energy of my soft white feather. It made its way slowly but surely, drifting a little on the breeze but reaching its destination all the same.
The ability to adapt to circumstances is one of the characteristics of personal resilience. As any metallurgist will know, rigidity doesn’t always bring strength. Many modern buildings are constructed to allow for expansion and flexion and are stronger for it.
In setting an Intention, you plant your flag in future ground and set your course. But along the way you’ll inevitably encounter unexpected setbacks. These may be external and beyond your control (we’re all living with a lot of this right now) or they may be internal factors such as the natural ebb and flow of your own energy.
When I’m out sea kayaking, the tides and wind often mean I can’t paddle in a straight line. On a crossing between an island and the mainland I use Transit points. I set my sights on a prominent feature on land and paddle towards it. Inevitably the force of the current or the wind is never quite as expected. I have to re-set the course several times. Yet slowly, surely, confidently and in control I arrive at my destination.
If I were resolute in my approach then I’d soon be exhausted. Battling against wind and tide brings a high risk of running out of steam and giving up altogether or more likely being overwhelmed and swept off somewhere I really don’t want to be!
With an intention, when things don’t go as planned, it isn’t a failure. It’s an opportunity to reflect, adjust and move on again.
As Sharon Salzberg, the Meditation teacher puts it – if you fall off the track you simply
“ Just start over”
Setting an Intention doesn’t mean you’re wishy-washy about your desire to change either; it actually gives you more scope for success.
So what else helps to ensure your success when you set out to change a habit or embark on personal growth?
Here are my seven key insights for setting New Year’s Intentions that you’ll want to keep –
- Set your Intentions (or Resolutions if you must) using both your head and your heart!
It’s easy to get guilt-tripped into wanting change. That’s where the shoulds, oughts and musts come in again by the way. You’re doing it to please or placate someone else. Or because you’re comparing yourself unfavourably to others. This is a serious design fault. Your heart isn’t in it. It will stop you before you even get started.
Make sure you are doing it because YOU want to. You know with both head and heart that it’s the right thing for you to be foccusing on right now.
Get crystal clear about why you want to make this change. Connect to your inner motivation. I’ve given you some questions below which will guide you to tune in to this.
Take your time to consider your answers. And because you want to tap into your heart here, not just your head, do this exercise when you’re relaxed, away from your desk out for a walk perhaps or sitting overlooking the garden in a comfy chair –
- What will this change/new habit mean for you?
- How will you benefit?
- Who else apart from you will benefit?
- What will you notice about yourself, your life when you’ve achieved it?
- What will others notice about you, your life?
- What will it lead to?
- What will it make possible?
- What else?
When you’ve reflected, record your answers in any way you like. You can write, draw, create a diagram or a spider-map…
- Capture Your Intention
Write your Intention down. This takes it out of your head and makes it into something concrete. Phrase it in the present tense as if you were already happening now. For example
I eat a healthy lunch each work day rather than
I’m going to eat a healthy lunch at work
Then expand your Intention statement using the following formula:
I do (X) because I want (Y) and this is important to me because (Z)
I eat a healthy lunch each work day
because I want to have more energy and not go home so exhausted.
This is important to me because I want to feel good about myself and enjoy my leisure time more
I have 3 drink-free nights a week
because I want to sleep better and improve my mood
and this is important to me because it means I’m happier and more fun around my family.
Compare this to I’m going to try to have 3 drink free nights a week – the word ‘try’ is less than wholehearted!
- Resource it
Whether it’s money, time or energy, your new Intention will need proper resourcing. Buy the running shoes, schedule the time you will need to prepare healthy packed lunches, declutter your bedroom, enlist the support of others, before you start implementing the changes.
- Just do it!
When you make a decision to change something about your life, this is a change on a cognitive level as well as an emotional one. You need to embed this change through behaviours.
Change needs practice.
As you practise your Intention, you create new neural pathways in the brain. Like a fresh path that you make as you walk through long overgrown grass, the more often you tread it, the easier it becomes.
Make a list of the new behaviours that you need to do to fulfill your Intention.
Using the example
I eat a healthy lunch each work day because I want to have more energy and not feel so exhausted at the end of the day. This is important to me because I want to feel good about myself and enjoy time with my family.
the behaviours you need to introduce might include:
- add healthy lunch items to my weekly shopping list
- prepare lunch each night so it’s ready for the next day
- set a reminder so I eat lunch each day between the hours of 1 and 2pm.
- Start Small
You want to exercise at least 3 times a week? Lose half a stone? Have more family time? Go to bed before midnight? Ease yourself in. Start by exercising once a week just for 10 minutes. Have half a day a week where you cut out fattening foods. Clear one evening in the next week where you can be available for family. Move your bedtime in small increments, maybe fifteen minutes at a time.
By starting with something completely achievable, even too easy you might think, you create a solid foundation.
- Future-proof your motivation
This is one of my favourites and has kept me on track many times.
In the early stages of behaviour change, there’ll be many times when you’re sorely tempted to give up. When you’re out for that run and just want to turn around. Or you’ve just finished a long day at work and that bottle of wine in the fridge is singing out to you….we all have those moments! This is when this simple yet effective exercise comes into it’s own.
Before you even start on your new habit, write down a list of at least ten benefits that it will bring. Tap into your own personal motivators, whether that be health, financial, family, performance, community, spiritual.
I’m really interested in human biology so when I was starting to run regularly I wrote down a list of ten health benefits. Struggling to run uphill, in my head I’d recite my list of ways in which my body was benefiting. Stuff like my heart muscle was growing stronger, my immune system was getting a boost, my brain cells were enjoying fresh oxygen… It took my mind off my discomfort and got me through.
Write down your ten reasons for why you’re doing what you’re doing and in tough times, go through them at least once.
I once asked a professional athlete for his tips on staying motivated. To my surprise he admitted that he too found it a struggle to get off the sofa and into his running kit. But instead of focussing on how much he didn’t want to do it, he imagined himself returning from his run and all the benefits that he was experiencing. So being really clear about the benefits (connecting to your head and heart motivation) really is a powerful motivator
- Celebrate your success, however small!
It’s not easy to change established habits; it takes time, discipline and resilience. The least you can do is to give yourself a pat on the back every time you take a step forward. Don’t wait until you’ve achieved your Intention; celebrate the successes along the way, however small.
Just getting your running kit out the night before is a success (even if you didn’t even make a run that day!) Resisting a bar of chocolate is a success (even if you later had a couple of biscuits later on!) Questioning the necessity of an evening work phone call is a success (even if you had to go through with it after all!)
Notice what you do well and recognise each day’s successes.
All set? Let’s go!
Sleep Well 🙂
P.S By the way, you can make New Year’s Intentions at any time of year. Try birthdays, the first day of Spring or a significant anniversary.
P.P.S if you need any support around a New Year Intention for your sleep, just get in touch. I’ll show you how to get crystal clear about your personal motivation and also how it’s completely possible to regain healthy sleep in just five weeks.