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Setting intentions

As we start a new year, we get bombarded with 'New Year, New You' messages. Friends want you to try the diet they now swear by, your local gym wants you to join them, social media screams about how you get a six-pack in six weeks. It's easy to get sucked into it and it's easy to make promises to ourselves that we may - or may not - keep. And this is the problem: We may or may not stick to them. For some, Dry January is a great way to kick an unhealthy habit and lower overall alcohol consumption in coming months. For others, a sober month is celebrated with a big wine order to see them through February. For some, a slow jog around the block on New Years Day turns into training for a 10K run in the Summer. For others, that jog is a reminder that 'I'm not a runner' and the trainers aren't seen again. So before you jump on the bandwagon, think about how new year resolutions differ from setting realistic goals and positive intentions for the year ahead.

Resolutions vs intentions

When we set resolutions, we come from a place of negativity. We feel there is something that needs to be fixed (I'm too heavy, I drink too much, I don't exercise enough), putting the spotlight on negative feelings about ourselves and our behaviours. Add to that that resolutions are usually BIG statements: I want to lose 20kilos. I'm going to go to the gym 5 times per week. I'm going to do 100 squats every day. Heck, we may even have all three resolutions at the same time! Expectations that come with these big statements are often sky high; we want our lives to transform in a matter of weeks. You can see how resolutions can easily set you up for disappointment when things don't go according to plan, right?

There is often limited consideration as to how realistic our resolutions are - there is no thought given to where we are currently (never been a member of the gym), how much time we actually have (is there really time for 5 gym visits every week?) and there is no room for error. A resolution is black and white - you either make it or fail miserably and give up. This is why commercial gyms are packed in January, but visitor numbers trails off into February.

Intentions however, are positively charged and evoke a feel-good emotional response. They add something valuable to our life that we truly know we will benefit from and it is an immediate change towards a growth mindset (in short - 'I can improve through effort and I learn from mistakes'). Intentions are focused on how we can become a better version of ourselves, on a journey of discovery towards a longer term goal. Think of goals and intentions walking side by side, both aligned with one another.

Goals and intentions

For instance with weight loss, we can set a SMART goal of losing 10 kg by June (or better, X kg fat loss). SMART goals are proven to be effective if you pay attention to having a realistic time frame. Your intentions attached to that goal will be something like: I intend to increase my daily activity levels by walking more, discovering high veg/high protein recipes and enjoying a weekly glass of wine.

When we set our overarching goal, which guide our intention-setting, we need to dig deep and fully understand our motivation behind that particular goal. Why lose 10kg specifically? When we build muscle mass, we tone up and feel better, though the scales don't necessarily shift. So it's worth considering if you would you be happier losing 10kg vs. losing 4-5kg but feeling stronger, having more energy and looking more toned. If we attach our goals to emotional benefits that is truly important to us, we find a strong sense of purpose in reaching our goal. For instance - if losing weight is required to eliminate a high genetic risk of diabetes for instance, the emotional benefit would be that we can live a longer, more fulfilled life with our family.

Intentions allow for flexibility on the journey towards our goal, which eliminate the fear of failing. Intentions can change and adapt over time, whilst still being aligned with your overarching goal. This acceptance that setbacks are part of the process, and that we can learn from these to do better next time, encourages self-compassion.

How to set intentions

  1. Define your long-term goal in a SMART way

  2. Understand your motivations behind this goal - why do you want to achieve this goal?

  3. Align your intentions with your goal. If your goal is to deadlift your bodyweight, you should incorporate strength training in your intentions for your workout: 'Today I will focus on getting confident in my deadlifting technique' is a good starting point

  4. What actionable intentions can help you reach this goal? Rather than coming up with a list of 20 intentions (hello, overwhelm)!, break them down into realistic weekly or daily intentions, which allows for flexibility. For instance: Today I will do a 30-minute workout to feel stronger. This week I will cycle to work twice to boost my energy

  5. Keep your intentions positive! Instead of: 'I will not eat cake at the party as it'll make me fat', think: 'I choose to skip dessert at dinner and instead savour a bite-sized piece of cake to celebrate'

  6. Align your intentions with what you genuinely enjoy. If you can't stand running, set intentions around cycling, swimming or another means of exercise you like doing

  7. Intentions should evoke positive feelings about yourself: 'Feel confident', 'Boost energy', 'Feel stronger', 'Savour a treat' are examples used above

  8. Last but not least: Write your goal and intentions down and keep track. Journalling is a very powerful tool that helps you overcome the challenges you meet along the way and helps you hone in on which intentions feel truly in line with your values


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