Eat better, exercise more, spend less money. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that these were the three most popular resolutions for 2018, (closely followed by sleep better, read more books and get a new job!) January 1st shows up and suddenly there’s a desperate desire to sweep last year under the rug and wipe the slate clean. Over night, New Year’s celebrations evolve into ‘New Year New Me’ shame, inspiring impulsive urges to change and challenge ourselves. In this chaotic clean up we cling to commitments that WE WILL stick to this year because this is the year where everything changes.
Unfortunately, by the first week of February your resolutions- along with 90% of the population’s- have failed. So how can we take a fresh look at New Year’s Resolutions in order to avoid the 90% failure figure? By ditching resolutions all together. Instead of making- and inevitably breaking- a New Year’s resolution, why not give yourself the gift of a New Year, New Intention.
The word ‘resolution’ might itself, be the source of many-failed resolutions because it suggests that something needs to be fixed, that something needs to resolve. Consequently, we start from a place of “I’m not good enough” which serves to encourage negative self-talk, low self-belief and a sense of lacking. This is why resolutions don’t often inspire ‘New Year, same old, wonderful me’ thinking because the very concept insinuates that you- as you are- are broken and need to be fixed. They set you off full of self-doubt and dissatisfaction, tying the start of the year to a sense of never enough.
The word also evokes a sense of completion and closure. In a story, the resolution appears at the end and is where everything is wrapped up in a conclusion (which is quite often neat, tidy and full of ‘happy ever after’). However in life there is no resolution. It is an ongoing process, constantly changing and challenging us until we eventually reach resolution and conclusion at the end of our journey. When of course, New Year’s resolutions become completely irrelevant.
So at 4D we much prefer the word intention because it helps to invigorate and inspire us through life. Not simply because of the linguistic limitations mentioned above but because they encourage curious, honest and liberated living. Unlike resolutions, intentions aren’t something you do or don’t do: they are something you connect to. And when you connect to intention you are connecting to a force and an energy field that is so much bigger than yourself. This is why we find intention so exciting because it invites you to live a life without limits and opens up a world of opportunities!
You only have to consider Roger Bannister- the first man to run a mile in under 4 minutes- to appreciate the power of intention in action. Bannister was an ex-pupil of my secondary school and I remember at the age of 13 listening to him speak about how he connected to intention, visualising his goal for many months before finally making it his reality. History speaks for itself because the very next year, 4 other runners joined him in the sub-4 minute ranks. And the year after that, 57 had managed to meet the grade! Now this isn’t because they all suddenly got better at running. It’s because Roger Bannister made the impossible possible and showed them that it could be done. To use the words of Wayne Dyer, “Intentions shape your reality.”The question is: what intention do you want to take into 2018?
“Everything is energy and that’s all there is to it. Match the frequency of the reality you want and you cannot help but get that reality. It can be no other way. This is not philosophy. This is physics.”
What do you want to be?
Working out who you want to be is often much harder than working out what you want. But it will give you much more momentum and meaning than any material gain or goal. Between having a new puppy, living in the countryside and eating my body weight in Christmas pudding I was somewhat sluggish by the beginning of January. So I decided to start a yoga class. The alarm went off at 7:30 AM and I lay in bed mulling over whether or not I wanted to go. Maybe I’ll start yoga tomorrow. Then suddenly a thought popped into my head: I want to go to yoga because I want to be energised, balanced and calm. I was motivated out of bed and onto my mat not by the thought of doing: but by the thought of being.
You may have noticed from the list above, that New Year’s resolutions typically involve doing something. Or having something. Or giving something up. For example: I’m going to do more exercise. I want a new job. I want to stop smoking. They focus on the results or the doing. But we are not human-doings, we are human beings. Connecting to intention enables you to operate from this being state. Rather than resolving to do something, you stay present with who you are in the moment, moving with the ebbs and flows of life.
Instead of starting with what you want to HAVE or what you want to DO, flip the formula and start with what you want to BE. Suddenly you have the flexibility and freedom to be what you want to be, even when life gets in the way. For example, say you set yourself the goal of running a marathon this year (HAVE), so you resolve to run everyday (DO), in order to feel healthy (BE). What happens when a knee injury prevents you from training for several months? The whole formula falls apart and the idea of ‘being healthy’ feels hopeless. However, if we start with what we want to BE, we start to see many other ways we can serve this intention. So maybe I can’t run but I could definitely do some gentle yoga. And I could use the extra time to make home cooked meals. And the physio mentioned I should be able to cycle in 2 months. So maybe I’ll sign up for a cycling challenge instead… Intention not only offers you flexibility and freedom but it also opens you up to other opportunities that you may have never considered. Perhaps I’ll cycle in the 100-miler across London this summer…? Who knows where your intention will take you!
I was motivated out of bed and onto my mat not by the thought of doing: but by the thought of being.
What is your WHY?
On many occasions I’ve worked out what I want to BE but I still haven’t managed to connect to intention. The so-called power of intention definitely isn’t driving me out of bed this morning. Why? Because we can’t live from intentions that are impersonal, generalised and not connected to our core: they need to come from within. So in this section we move away from broad-brush stroke intentions and consider ways in which we can make meaning for ourselves. I’m sure everyone on planet wants to BE happy. Yet I’m certain everyone has a different reason, a different WHY that motivates this intention.
If you know the work of Simon Sinek you will be familiar with his ‘What, How, Why’ model. Lots of organisations are focused on WHAT they’re doing and perhaps even HOW they’re doing it. But really successful organisations start with WHY: why do we do what we do? Yet this model doesn’t just apply to organisations: it also applies to individuals and is a great way of connecting to intention. As we just mentioned, intention doesn’t exist in the realm of ‘doing’ and therefore isn’t concerned with the WHAT and the HOW. With intention, we are connecting to our WHY. So rather than focusing on the WHAT: “I want to buy a flat.” Or the HOW, “so I’m going to apply for a mortgage.” Bring it back to the WHY: “Because I want to create a life with my fiancé.” This is a real example that comes from a friend who is struggling to get a mortgage. She found herself increasingly stressed and arguing with her partner. Yet, when she brought it back to the why her anger softened because she suddenly remembered why she was doing what she was doing. Whilst there are still difficulties around the mortgage, she no longer feels like she is struggling in vain because she is connected to her intention. As she said: “ it’s not about buying a house: it’s about the home I want to create.”
Therefore, it’s important to take the time to really connect to your WHY. Don’t just settle with the first WHY that comes to mind, as your core values can easily become confused with cultural ideals. So quiz your WHY. Become that annoying, questioning child in the backseat of the car that won’t stop asking “but, why?” ‘5 Whys’ is an iterative interrogative exercise that cultivates this same curiosity. You start with a problem, a situation or in our case, an intention and question it with ‘why?’ 5 times. Every answer forms the basis of the next question and therefore encourages deep digging. So question yourself. Really look in the mirror and ask yourself WHY in order to work out what really lies at the heart of you intention. Make sure you’re connecting to your core intention, not a cultural ideal.
Finally, in order to connect to intention we have to allow ourselves to trust. Even though intention may not take us down the road we planned, we must try not to judge or label events as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ because who knows where they will lead us. So many seemingly ‘bad’ or ‘unfortunate’ events in my life have brought me so much unexpected joy and surprise opportunity. So whilst intention offers expansiveness and opportunity, you too have to remain open and curious to it. This is by far the hardest piece of the puzzle but perhaps the most rewarding because it releases you from the fear and doubt that judgment brings. It’s not good or bad- it just is.
There is a wonderful notion in Buddhism about the two arrows. The first arrow is referring to an action or event. The second arrow is alluding to our attitude or opinion towards it. Sometimes we can’t do anything about the first arrow but we can do something about the second. So whilst we can’t stop ourselves feeling pain we can limit our suffering by consciously choosing our response. When you set an intention, set it lightly and try not to have an opinion about what the first arrow does because the power of intention comes into play when the second arrow strikes. This is why there is no such thing as failure in the world of intentions, only playful curiosity, exciting potential and an unshakeable sense of purpose.
As many of you know, Viktor Frankl was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist who survived the Holocaust, staying in several different concentration camps including Auschwitz. He is an astonishing example of someone who harnessed the power of intention and chose to live with gratitude and purpose in spite of his dire circumstances. Intention gave him a freedom that the concentration camps could never take away from him.
Living from intention each and everyday…
At 4D we often use an assertiveness tool called “can do.” The tool retrains the brain to focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t. Often when it comes to tasks and intentions the brain and body will default to the negative and to what’s not possible. For example, let’s say your intention is to ‘help others’ but you recently missed out on your dream job in the charity sector. How else might you live from your intention whilst you are applying for similar roles? It needn’t be a huge act of kindness. In fact I’d encourage you to think tiny because it needs to be compatible with the everyday. Perhaps its holding the door open for a stranger, or saying a few kind words to the exhausted waitress. Maybe you silently offer a homeless person a kind thought as you walk on by. Think of small, simple and powerful ways to live with intention, each and every day.
“By banishing doubt and trusting your intuitive feelings, you clear a space for the power of intention to flow through.”
When you live your life with intention, you give yourself the gift of meaning regardless of your external circumstances. Your life is in your hands, so make 2018 a year defined by endless possibility, potential and purpose.