HOW TO START 2020 INTENTIONALLY
With successful and meaningful new year’s resolutions
“When a person really desires something, all the universe conspires to help that person to realize his dream”. ~ Paulo Coelho
Throughout my adult life, I’ve set resolutions or intentions for the year ahead.
Here you’ll find tips to getting intentional with the new year, and decade, ahead.
Making new year’s resolutions
My new year’s resolutions historically consisted of a page or two of my journal, filled with goals I wanted to reach by the following December — like “learn to drive,” “visit a new country,” “start meditating,” or “read three books a month.” I would write them down, and stumble back upon the list every few months.
Remarkably, by the end of the year, most of my goals could be checked off. The level of clarity and visualisation required to transform intentions from intangible thoughts into written words is something that seems to support their achievement. Studies have shown that we are significantly more likely to achieve our goals by writing them down. This could be down to the “generation effect” — humans are thought to be better at recalling content they generate themselves (like by writing or drawing), than if we simply see or hear something second hand.
Choosing a word of intention for the year
“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice.” ― T.S. Eliot
For the last few years, instead of a prescriptive list of tasks, I have instead thought about the main goal (like “move city,” “give back more,” “understand myself better,” “be in a happy romantic relationship,” etc) I would like to achieve over the next year, and then of a word that encourages me to respond to life in ways that will help me prioritise and achieve that goal. Words of the year have included “heal” (after a significant break-up), “bold” (to switch careers) and, for 2020, “grounding” (for setting up a new home base).
Whether it’s a list of resolutions or a “word of the year,” being intentional can help you stay on track towards consciously living the life you want. After all, a way to better predict the future is by consciously setting out to create it. It’s also worth remembering that we can set goals for any time period; the new year can just feel like the first page of a crisp new notebook to get started with positive new changes.
Here’s how I set my intentions, to give them the best chance of success:
1. Work out what you actually want
The first step is to work out what you would like to have more of in your life by the end of the year. These can be practical skills or goals, or achievements that instinctively feel like they could boost your sense of well-being, fulfillment, or purpose (such as “find a meaningful volunteering opportunity” or “meet more like-minded people”).
There may be goals that are obvious to you, or the exercise could require spending time in deeper thought. Here are a few ways to help dig up your intentions:
Meditate on it — spend 5–15 minutes sitting comfortably and quietly with your eyes closed, without distractions (you can find a free and easy 10-step guide to meditating by signing up here). Think back over the previous year, what have you struggled with? What would you most like to change over the year ahead? Visualise yourself feeling happy and fulfilled in a year’s time -- what have you achieved to get there? What could be holding you back? Don’t limit yourself, think as big or small as you like and then, when you come out of your meditation, write down what came up for you and work out what you feel you could realistically make happen. You may be surprised what you can come up with when you quieten your monkey mind chatter and go deeper towards your subconscious desires.
You can also try journalling or freewriting — where you sit for a set period of time (like 10 minutes) or until you’ve filled a predetermined number of journal pages, and jot down what you would like to achieve without any structure or stopping. To think of improvements, it can also help to systematically summarise the year gone by, month by month, thinking about what went well or not so well and how it made you feel.
For other ways to get past your mind and tap into your intuition, you can check out my StartUp magazine article “Making Intuition Your Superpower” on Medium here.
We can also take inspiration from others, like this “achievable” New Year’s Resolutions list, discussing intentions and resolutions with friends, and thinking about the people you know — personally or in the public eye — with positive aspects of their character or life that you look up to. After all, we all have the same 365 days in a year, and if someone else has achieved something, it is humanly possible!
Tools like Tony Robbins’ Wheel of Life assessment can help you evaluate where you are at, versus where you would like to be, for different areas of life (like your physical health, finances, career, romantic relationships, family, giving back).
Habit building expert James Clear suggests, rather than focusing on goals or outcomes, it can be helpful to “fall in love with systems” or processes. This can mean making our intentions or resolutions into small, regular habits which build up to practically help us reach larger goals.
Maybe you would love more joy, disposable income, travel, a romantic relationship, friendship, health or purpose. You can then drill down and think of ways to achieve them — to meet more like-minded friends for example, you might commit to trying a new hobby each month, joining meet-up groups or a new club, or hosting dinner parties. You can also think of a word of intention, as discussed above, that will help guide your decisions and motivate you towards the changes you’d like to make.
2. Ways to make your intentions happen
Once you have a clear idea of what you would like to be, have or do more (or less) of, here are some ways that can help you achieve your intentions:
Present your aims in a way that appeals to you — as a physical or digital list or, if you’re a visual person, a vision board for 2020. The main goal is to create a summary that you can regularly refer back to, of the changes and achievements you would most like to make over the next 12 months.
Keep your word of intention or resolutions for the year in a place that regularly reminds you of them. Stick them on your fridge, desk, or your phone’s wallpaper. You can also set reminders on your phone to check progress against your list every week, month or quarter.
It can help to repeat your word(s) of intention out loud every morning, for example — “I am fearless, I am creative, I am loving,” to remind yourself to respond to life from that place.
Regularly visualising yourself achieving your goals during a quick meditation has also been shown by studies to boost our performance. It can help to feel the gratitude you will feel once you make those changes in advance of achieving them.
It’s also powerful to share your intentions or main goals with friends, as a way to visualise them clearly and fully. What’s more, accountability buddies boost success rates — a recent study found that ⅔ of people are likely to meet a goal after committing it to someone, increasing to 95% with regular check in meetings to monitor their progress.
As mentioned previously, James Clear’s book Atomic Habits is a great read on integrating new positive habits (and letting go of existing negative ones) if you intend to start something new this year. He even has a habit tracker journal available to help you stay on track. Allen Carr’s “Easyway to Stop…” books, most famously The Easyway to Stop Smoking are also seriously helpful for giving up harmful addictions for the new year.
Over the years, I’ve found setting new year’s resolutions and words of intention have helped me live more consciously, and move towards the people, places and career that feel right to me. It also means I keep moving forward and improving (check out this interesting article on having a growth mindset) — looking back, it’s interesting to see how planning ahead can change the course of your life.
So, no matter what scale you resolve to make changes on this year, getting intentional about what you want to be and do can be highly rewarding and effective for improving your life.
Wishing you a very happy (and intentional) 2020!
Jessica is Co-Founder of Mind: Unlocked. To keep up with mental well-being events and free resources, sign up to their three-bullet weekly emails. Or, if you're ready to meditate to transform your life, check out Mind: Unlocked's 21-day online course.
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