It’s safe to say we’re all happy it’s a new year and that 2020 is behind us. But when we start thinking about our goals for 2021, that’s where things get a little tricky. With the restrictions of COVID-19 and so much uncertainty, how can we plan ahead for the future?
This is where intention setting comes in. Rather than coming up with a list of intentions, we recommend sticking with one big intention this year – one that’s realistic, simple and straightforward.
“Multiple small, scattered goals seem more productive than one big goal, because our brain often doesn’t think in the gestalt of things. But this strategy focuses entirely too much on short-term gains,” says Psychologist Raghav Suri. “The only way to successful goals, however, is to work in small steps that build-up upon one another towards a big goal — one singular goal that becomes your focus. Whatever steps you take, or sub-goals you set, should fit into the plan towards that one big goal.”
After speaking with mental health experts, we compiled a few guidelines to help you choose one word or intention. Let’s make your vision for 2021 a reality!
Keep it inside
J.A Plosker, licensed social worker and mindfulness coach, recommends looking within. Oftentimes, we pick intentions that will make our outside world better such as traveling more or reaching out to friends more often. However, “these kinds of intentions can scatter us because they require a person or action in the outer world,” Plosker explains.
This year, he suggests trying a new approach. “Try picking an intention that's internal to you, and under your control.”
In other words, choose something that doesn't depend on other people (such as your partner) or a place (like the gym). Plosker shares a three-step approach:
- Examine your inner world and find something you want to enhance or change...for example, set an intention to have a calmer mind
- Assess strengths and tools in that area that you already possess ("I already know how to meditate," "I already journal about my day," or "I know about mindfulness")
- Set a concrete goal ("I'll practice mindful breathing for five minutes a day" or "I'll schedule in quiet time in my day")
The takeaway: Making an intention personal and internal can strengthen our resolve to stick to it and succeed.
Have clarity about your motivation
Reflect on why you want to set this goal. Suri suggests asking yourself: Why does it matter to you? What difference will it make in your life? When 2022 rolls around and you have achieved this goal, what will be different in your life?
Next, write this why down somewhere that you'll see this daily — like on your fridge or bedroom door — for that daily motivation.
Try a mindfulness practice
Mindfulness Trainer Joy Rains shares an effective intention-setting exercise:
- Sit in a comfortable posture with your head and your neck aligned with your spinal column. Without changing the position of your head or your neck, gently lower your eyelids to a soft gaze or a full close.
- Once you’re settled, bring your awareness to your breath moving in and out of your body. Notice your breath, and become aware of the pace of your breathing without changing it. Just notice your breathing as it is. Notice your belly expanding and filling with air as you inhale. Allow your belly to release with your exhale. You can even rest your hand on your belly to feel it rise and fall with each inhale and exhale.
- Next, take a few moments or longer to notice the points where you make contact with your seat and the ground beneath you. Try to allow your body to relax into these points of contact. Allow the seat and the ground beneath you to support you, and allow your spine to support you. Try to release any muscle that is not being used to support you, and allow gravity to help you release towards the earth. You don’t need to hold on to anything; simply allow your muscles to let go. Try to keep your body relaxed but your mind alert.
- Now bring your attention to your breath once again. If you become distracted, simply notice the distraction, allow it to pass, and gently bring your attention back to your breath.
- Next, silently ask yourself, “What is my intention for the new year?” Invite a short word or phrase to come into your awareness — a word or phrase that represents your intention. Don’t try to make anything happen. See if you can allow a word or phrase to arise freely.
Don’t worry if nothing comes to mind at first. Simply shift your attention back to your breath and ask the question once again when you’re ready.
Pro tip: Many people find the best time for clarity is first thing in the morning before they get busy with the day’s activities.
Ask yourself a few questions
The "choosing" process, when it comes to identifying a specific intention, should include significant reflection about what is most important to us for the coming year, says Psychotherapist Gina Handley Schmitt.
She recommends asking yourself these questions, followed by examples of one-word intentions:
Are we most passionate about self-improvement? Perhaps our word could be GROWTH.
Are we most passionate about social activism? Perhaps our word could be CHANGE.
Are we most passionate about cultivating deeper, more meaningful relationships? Perhaps our word could be CONNECTION.
Are we most passionate about finding more work-life balance? Perhaps our word could simply be BALANCE.
Are we most passionate about healing from a difficult 2020 and finding a meaningful path forward? Perhaps our word could be HEALING.
“If you are unsure about what is most important to you for this year, take some time to make a list of the things that you would most like to see manifested in your life in the coming year and see if you notice a theme,” Schmitt recommends. Remember, energy flows where intention goes!
What's your word or intention of the year? Let us know in the comments. And while you're at it, make sure to subscribe to Silk + Sonder today.