Why Intentions over Resolutions by Alicia Barrett
In yoga, a “new you” isn’t the point, the “old you” isn’t the point either. Its the “you you” that is the most interesting and important point. I’m sure you know by now, most new years resolutions fail by the 3rd week of January so “Resolutions” as they traditionally have been talked about, don’t work. In fact, only 8 percent of people actually keep their New Year’s resolutions, according to one commonly cited statistic. Resolutions can often leave us feeling inadequate and unfulfilled. My point is not to discourage you around making improvements in your life, my point is to encourage you to really know why those improvements are important to you before making them and to ensure those improvements reflect who you really are. Yoga philosophy is based on the idea that you have everything you need to live your best, happiest life already inside you. Our work is to peel away anything that is getting in the way. Author Danielle Laporte, in her book The Desire Map, speaks to this similar topic. Are we making our goals based on what we think we should want, or are we making our goals based on how we really want to feel. She asserts that if we set goals around how we really want to feel, those intentions will become reality and not feel like “work” because those intentions are innate to us.
What is an intention?
What is an intention? The Oxford Living Dictionary defines intention as: A thing intended; an aim or plan. The action or fact of intending. The healing process of a wound. Conceptions formed by directing the mind towards an object. In Yoga, we set intentions before every yoga practice so that our intention will follow us off the mat and into our world. Yogi’s call an intention a Sankalpa. Rod Stryker, yogi and author, has a great explanation of a true Sankalpa. He says that to create the life we were born to live, we must enlist the mind and the spirit in our actions. The translation of Kalpa is vow, or “the rule to be followed above all other rules.” The word, San, refers to a connection with the highest truth. Sankalpa, then, is a commitment we make to support our highest truth. Stryker goes on to say, “by definition, a Sankalpa should honor the deeper meaning of our life. A Sankalpa speaks to the larger arc of our lives, our dharma — our overriding purpose for being here.”
In the context of Sankalpa, I think its interesting that the lessor known english definition is “the healing of a wound”. Often we set “resolutions” as a way to change ourselves because we think something is wrong or bad about ourselves or we think that this “thing” we want will bring us happiness, only to find out that we can’t “stick” to our change. Why? Maybe its because what we are tying to change won’t actually change our level of happiness. Maybe instead of changing ourselves, we need to focus on accepting ourselves.
For example, rather than saying, “I want to be more compassionate,” your sankalpa might be, “Compassion is my true nature” or “I am compassion itself.” Rather than setting the intention, “I will not eat meat,” your specific sankalpa might be, “With compassion for my body and for other beings, I eat a vegetarian diet.”
Here are some thoughts about setting a Sankalpa:
1. Spend time in quiet reflection. Reflect on topics like, What do you want to do and why? What types of activities make you feel truly satisfied in life and how often do you do them? What feelings do you want more of in your life. Your Sankalpa should be a true reflection of who you are and what makes you happy.
2. Declare your intention. Put your intention out to the universe so it can be returned to you! When you do that, try not to come from a place of “lacking”. Let your Sankalpa come from your true nature. For example, if you goal is to have more wealth, then instead of saying, “I’m going to stop spending so much money” maybe your intention would be “I feel a sense of abundance and security” or “I am spending more intentionally”. Rather than saying, “I want to be more compassionate,” your sankalpa might be, “Compassion is who I am”.
3. Once you have set your intention and declared it, figure out the “what”. The “what” is actually the small goals that support your intention. What do you need to actually do to make your intention reality? For example, If your intention is to have more abundance and security, your actions should reflect that! For example, is your daily latte really important?
4. This is a big one! Put the “what” on your calendar! We live in a busy fast paced life. There are a lot of distractions that can compete for our attention. The activities that will support your intention should be scheduled. Give yourself time on your calendar to check in with your progress and make any adjustments that feel right to you!
5. Research shows that people who have actionable, measurable goals are more likely to succeed than those who don’t. How do you want to measure your success? And does the measurement of that success make you feel good?
6. Most importantly, Be Patient! We often let go of our focus on our intention because it doesn’t happen fast enough. You are worth the work and wait. Don’t give up. There are obstacles everywhere and sometimes its the difficulty and discomfort with the process that is our true teacher. A wonderful quote by author Randy Pausch in The Last Lecture says, “The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out; the brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”
If you want support in setting your Sankalpa, join us on January 1st for a Yoga practice centered around setting a Sankalpa!
Danielle Laporte, The Desire Map
Rod Stryker, ParaYoga
Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture
Kelly McGonigal, Yoga International