As all of the holiday festivities and traditions of 2015 come to a close and we prepare for the opening of 2016, another tradition is waiting for us….resolutions for the new year. We want to hit the reset button, start fresh, and improve upon ourselves. Now that doesn’t sound that bad right? This tradition has the best of intentions; however in practice, it is often something that is used to bring punishment, restriction, and negative motivation upon our bodies. This act of resolving to do something for an entire year can actually be anxiety producing, stressful, and honestly…most of the time, we simply don’t keep these promises- not because we aren’t good people, or don’t really believe in what we are promising, but most of the time because they aren’t realistic or really good for us in the long term. Quite often these resolutions are characterized by marginalization and modification of our bodies. We make resolutions about exercise, diet, and pushing our bodies into what we consider the ideal form. These kinds of resolutions are usually coming from a place of fear that we aren’t good enough just as we are, right now. When we aren’t able to keep these goals or resolutions we have set, we might hear a critical judging voice in our heads asking us if we have any self-discipline, questioning our capabilities, or any number of statements that are self-abusive and punishing. When judgmental statements fill our heads, we don’t have room for creativity, passion pursuits, and deeper connections with self and others.

The past few months my blogs have focused on turning inward and having a conversation with our hearts about the things that really matter. We’ve explored the themes of love, disconnection and reconnection, and courageously living from the heart. In the final part of this blog series, it seems fitting that as we end one year and begin the next, we take the time to envision our 2016 through the lens of the heart. It is important that we consider the desires of the heart, listen to what it has to say, and more deeply understand our values and intentions.

I would like to suggest that in place of “resolutions” which are hardly ever kept…and hardly ever compassionate toward one’s body and soul…that we instead think about setting some intentions that will allow self-compassion and love to be the themes of our life. Intentions are usually not coming from a place of fear or belief that we are not good enough. Instead they are about opening up space for our values and creativity and planting seeds from our heart that can be watered throughout the year to bring us healing, hope, recovery, or whatever it is we are seeking. These are things that come from the heart and open up our hearts. Intention setting from a love-based place, from an open compassionate heart, will greatly change the kind of goals we are setting for ourselves in the upcoming new year. It is a wonderful thing to have goals, dreams, and aspirations when they are guided by love and self-compassion instead of by fear and judgment.

You might be wondering where to even start….the answer is to start with your heart. Ask yourself what matters to you. What are your values? Happiness? Spirituality? Loving Kindness? Compassion? World Peace?

Deepak Chopra has some good ideas that we can consider to get us started in this intention setting process. He suggests considering four intentions to guide us throughout the year in the decisions we make. These things are universal concepts of spirituality and love for ourselves. He suggests these four intentions or desires for a new year that are related to a desire for oneself, a personal inward intention setting that begins with the physical body and moves to the emotional to the mental and then to the soul or spirit and are considered to be four concepts that transcend any particular religion or belief system.

Deepak Chopra’s Four Intentions:

  • I want a joyful, energetic body.
  • I want a loving, compassionate heart.
  • I want a restful, alert mind.
  • I want lightness of being.

(See more at: http://www.chopra.com/ccl/for-the-new-year-do-something-better-than-a-resolution#sthash.l084kqbI.dpuf)

Using this as a springboard, we might also consider how to create intentions that are relational in nature. While the above are directed inward, what might arise if we look into our hearts and think about those we love, those who love us, and those who might need love. Here are some ideas for intentions from the heart that include the “other” in our lives and in the world:

  • I want to extend loving kindness toward those I am closest to and/or those whom it is hard to love
  • I want to speak from my heart in times of conflict
  • I want to engage in mutual creative activities with others
  • I want to have an open heart toward others who are in need

Oftentimes resolutions are set for the whole year. I think the important thing about intentions and goals in general is to start small. Break it down into reasonable and achievable steps or parts you can focus on, meditate or pray about, and make come alive in your life. For example, maybe for the month of January you would focus on extending loving compassion toward those whom it is hard to love. This might become a daily journaling activity, exploring what is hard about this, ways you have practiced, and extending grace toward yourself for your efforts no matter what the outcome. Then at the end of January, you can decide if this is an intention you want to continue focusing on for February, or perhaps you want to choose another to come alive in your life.

The point here is to open your heart toward yourself, allowing love, compassion, and grace to radiate into the spaces where judgment, self-criticism, and self-punishing behavior usually reside. The practice is about doing something right now, rather than setting a resolution to lose a certain amount of weight, or go to the gym a certain number or times, or whatever it might be. Intention setting allows you to sit with your values, contemplate them, and then see how they might creatively be lived out in your life, not from a place of fitting yourself into a mold or expectation, but rather from the place of an open heart full of possibilities for generating freedom, peace, and love.

Happy New Year!