Updated: Jan 12, 2020
If you’re like me, the mere thought of making a New Year’s resolution causes you to cringe. And yet it is a question that is ubiquitous, parleyed by friends and strangers alike.
For years, I would feel myself become extremely uncomfortable when asked this, albeit well-meaning, question. And as people bonded over their similar goals, to get in shape, to travel more, to make time, I would inwardly feel defeat and panic. Out of sheer pressure, I would find myself settling on a resolution. Because that’s what one’s supposed to do. You have to set goals, right? And so, I would choose something, anything. Inevitably, I would either forget, as I hadn’t really given it much forethought or planning. Or more likely than not I would enter the cycle of a misstep, procrastination, avoidance, blame, shame and overriding guilt at not sticking to what I had set out. I had let myself down. I would reproach myself for lacking will power, self control, discipline.
“enter the cycle of a misstep, procrastination, avoidance, blame, shame and an overriding guilt at not sticking to what I had set out”
And yet, a part of me knew that this wasn’t entirely true. For I have accomplished much in my life, as I’m sure we all have. They just rarely happen to begin as new year’s resolutions. And when I do look back on all my wins and successes, I see they have something in common. Not only do they involve small incremental steps but there is an overarching the attitude of kindness. I refuse to put too much pressure on myself. When I freed myself from my dependence on processed sugar and even harder yet chocolate I didn’t set out any explicit goals. I just remembered how awful they made me feel. The sugar crashes, the jitters from overindulgence, the upset stomach and terrible mouth sores. I had taken it moment by moment, step by step. And when I failed I didn’t beat myself up, I didn’t devolve into the black and white thinking that so often left me feeling terrible about myself. I adopted an attitude of kindness towards myself, not self-flagellation or punishment.
"I adopted an attitude of kindness towards myself"
So, I had to ask myself what’s my aversion to New Year’s resolutions? Is it merely that a resolution feels artificial, something I’m supposed to do, and I inwardly rail against such a ‘should’?
"Intentions ask us to ponder things on a deeper level. To get to the root of what we desire. Leaving space for how that might unfold."
As a Yoga teacher, I am a strong advocate of intentions. They have an open-ended quality that seems less confining and result-based. They give you a sense of the bigger picture and remind you of what truly matters. They prompt one to ask themselves what’s important to them. And by doing so gives one direction in their lives, so you don’t fall prey to other people’s and society’s shoulds and obligations. I recently stumbled upon an article that posited replacing new year’s resolutions with intentions. I gravitated towards this. Like vision boards, which I’d done in the past, an intention captures the spirit of what one hopes to accomplish. Instead of “I want to lose 15lbs”, one might say “I want to have health and well-being in my life”. Unlike goals, intentions ask us to ponder things on a deeper level. To get to the root of what we desire. Leaving space for how that might unfold.
"By asking questions, we open ourselves up to a whole host of possibilities and opportunities for transformation."
And then a few days ago, a dear friend showed me photo of quote he’d seen on a car during his recent travels to Asia. It said “if you want a great life, ask great questions”. Immediately, it struck a chord. I was flooded with questions like “What do I want?” “What matters to me?” “What is my purpose?” And then, I thought what if our intentions were framed as questions? For instance, if you want to be more kind this year – ask the question “how can I be more kind?” Leave it open ended. Let that question guide and direct your interactions with others and yourself. In each situation, you might ask yourself “is this the kind thing to do?” “Would this be showing kindness to myself and the other person/s involved?” If you are seeking more patience, you might inquire “How can I move through the world more slowly?” “How can I feel a sense of abundance about my time?” “Does this activity make me feel more rushed or hurried?”
So perhaps like me, at the beginning of this new year and decade, you’d like to start it off not with resolutions but intentions. Not goals but questions. Become a better question asker. See what questioning opens up inside of you, and what life has to reveal and show you.