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There is a big difference between intention and resolutions.
Make lasting change by setting your intention with attention this year . Photo Credit: Dayne Topkin/Unsplash

I was easing gently into 2021 poised for adventures with the blank canvas of my passion planner and sparkly thoughts. And then rioters stormed the Capital Building on January 6. What a sad day. It’s hard to stay positive with so much negativity. No matter what side of the aisle you sit, politics has become a painful topic. I want change for all of us. Although creating change is possible, positivity is one of the big differences between resolutions and intentions. Intention will guide us to lasting change in the new year.

As a psychologist and an overall goal oriented person, I do like New Years resolutions. But in the past few years I have found my best start in January is to begin with a word for the year. I believe you can set your intention with attention this year to make an impact from the inside out. This word becomes your focus, a way to direct your attention towards all of the challenges ahead. And challenges are inevitable.

The Fatal Flaw of Resolutions

Goals are necessary for us to make progress and reduce the likelihood that we stay stuck in bad habits. The tradition of goal setting resolutions is primed in January because it is the beginning. We all love fresh starts. Our motivation is high, the possibilities seem limitless. Much like our bare calendar. Motivation for change is also high on Mondays, but goals without a plan are doomed. Psychologically speaking, it seems we need to change our insides before we can change our outsides.

Resolutions do not take into account the embarrassing truth that even when we want to change, there is a wistful part of us that expects magic. We have an instinctual resistance to change. We wish to accomplish the goal simply by wanting it, without effort or obstacles. When you mess up a resolution, as everyone does at some point, the tendency is to be berate yourself and stop pursuing the goal. Intentions are more gently powerful. They guide our daily thoughts. And our daily thoughts guide our behavior. When you set your intention with attention for the new year your word becomes a mantra.

Intention: A Super Power

Intentions are more abstract, on purpose. They cue us to direct our attention in the moment. So if I am thinking about my health I might set an intention to “Move” rather than a resolution to exercise every day. When I don’t feel well, I can make modifications without blowing it. Some days “Move” will be choosing the stairs instead of the elevator, or parking further away, while other days will be going to the gym or walking outside. By the end of the year I will be “Move”-ing more without the angst of forced daily exercise that is unlikely anyway. This is the big difference between resolutions and intentions. Your attention remains steady, even when your motivation tanks.

The most effective intention is a word or phrase that you can reflect on as a routine habit. I like to put my intention in my passion planner, remind myself each morning, and then refresh my commitment to my word whenever I see it in the world. It is fascinating how often you will find your word once you have claimed it.

Finding Your Intention

Whereas a resolution is often triggered by something outside of you that might bring you happiness, intentions come from deep inside. Your guts know about it before you do. It might be helpful to set aside some reflection time to ponder what word or phrase would be a meaningful guide for you this year. Sit quietly with the question of what you need (not want) in the new year. Notice what bubbles up from your own internal wisdom.

If you are having trouble being quiet, or tapping into your own wisdom, maybe you can be inspired by others. Here are five words I have heard from friends and family for their new years intentions:

My Intention for 2021. Photo Credit: Sal Marotta

My word found me this year. I know that sounds weird. But it seemed to be glowing at me from many sources, and it felt right. Hope resonated. My last live presentation of 2020 was about hope to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (Nami). Hope was the topic of my June blog post. Hope was referenced in several books I read, finding hope was an assignment during advent, and hope is one of my favorite sculptures in New York City. In the challenges of the pandemic experience I often thought about how we needed hope. When I was ready to set my intention, it was a no brainer. Considering the trauma and drama of last year, I look forward to spending the next 365 finding HOPE. What word will you choose?

Intention and Positive Change

Yay you (!) for thinking of ways to make this year special. The bar is set pretty low, so we all have a good chance. I HOPE you will find a way to turn your resolutions into intentions, so you can begin each day with a positive focus for yourself. Be kind and compassionate when facing obstacles and reflect on whether your intention can gently guide you throughout 2021.

One of my creative passions, aside from writing, is making cookies. I thought Lavender might make a peaceful flavor for comfort and calm during hard times. This is a twist on my husband’s favorite recipe using essential oils. Next time in my “test kitchen” I might add a dash of purple food coloring.

I HOPE you enjoy it.

Health & Happiness,

Dr. Lisa Marotta