Intentions Rather Than Resolutions For 2021? The Science Behind Intention-Setting.

2020 passed in a flash; a strange kind of prolonged flash of time that is only akin to amnesia in my opinion. Despite being in my late twenties, I feel like 2020 has aged me about 70 years. 

Just last week at the start of December, I found myself emailing colleagues if I could speak to them next week, instead of listing a December date, I kept writing in May. (I do not know the exact reason, but I’ve concluded it is probably because I am now a 90 year old woman suffering from memory loss.) For days, I casually emailed people asking if we could meet in 7 days, on May 14, instead of December 14. 

See, I clearly remember January and February of 2020, but they feel like a mirage from years long ago—and when I say years, I mean light-years, maybe even another lifetime away. March feels like it went on for too long, probably the longest month of my short life. Then April 1 until today blurred into one long day, in which the weather changed, but nothing else happened (maybe this year is just about the longest April Fool’s joke known to man). 

To be honest, since April, I’ve had no idea which month it is. For most of this year, I’ve thought it was June, but now I am apparently time-traveling even further into the past. I am convinced this is my mind’s way of making sense of a year lost. 

In these morphless months, I slowly burned myself out like the wick of a candle, and now my brain cannot comprehend that the world has completed another cycle around the sun, and once more it is December. My conscious mind wants to know what goals I’ve accomplished, so I can check them off that list I had for things I wanted to get done in 2020, but my subconscious mind knows it needs more time, so it keeps sending a secret informant to trick my brain into believing we have more time. The informants misleadingly tips briefly through me off track, but reality settles in as I watch the leaves fall and the air around me begins to smell like snow.

Another year is upon me, and you, and the world, and all the 2020 resolutions I wrote in my journal 12 months ago are screaming from the page that they feel distraught, and left behind, tired, and slightly bitter that I ignored them. 

Like you probably did, I started 2020 with grand resolutions, but slowly they morphed into gentler intentions. Instead of building a brand, and launching a new product by the summer, I found myself slowing down, focusing on my health, and simply trying to take care of myself. I learned to balance working from home with not being able to leave my home—it was like karmic purgatory for the opportunity to be a remote worker who worked all over the world in 2020. I let go of my big goals, and shifted towards adapting. 

I learned that even in this abnormal freakstorm of a society, I needed to focus on the basics more than ever: eating well, exercising, sleeping, hydrating, etc. My shiny resolutions faded away, and new daily intentions took form. 

At first 2020 felt like a year of lost time, of failure, of not being good enough, but instead it became the year of cultivating the ability to listen to my needs, to prioritize my body and health, and to relax my societally-infused sense of restlessness to restfulness.

2020 turned into my year of intention-setting, and for 2021 I plan to continue this new tradition. 

What is an intention?

In the research, studies make it clear that intentions are different from goals. Oftentimes resolutions are a lot like self-set goals, they list out specific and concrete things we would like to accomplish in the new year, such as: getting a graduate school degree, writing a book, becoming a yoga teacher. Though these goals are great because they increase levels of internal motivational skills and autonomy, they often fall short. 

Other things get in the way, like a new relationship, financial troubles, or a busy schedule at work, and our goals fall to the backburner. Life gets in the way of those lofty resolutions or goals. 

Instead of a set achievable goal, like something you can check off of your life to-do list, intentions help to inform your principles and processes as you work towards a set goal. For example, an intention could be: 

– I intend to spend 20 minutes every week researching graduate school programs (to eventually reach your goal of graduating from graduate school)

– I intend to wake up earlier so I can set aside half an hour to write every morning  (to work towards your goal of writing your novel)

– I intend to take care of my body by stretching every evening (to work towards your goal of becoming a yoga teacher)

Intentions are a gentle push in the direction of your desired goal. 

Why choose intentions over resolutions?

Like 2020, 2021 may be a year better suited for setting intentions rather than goal setting. Despite all of our secret wishes that come 2021 the world will return back to normal at the simple swish and flick of a magician’s wand, the reality is there is still quite a bit of uncertainty. Just like 2020, we are in new territory—we are all still living in a highly globalized, yet politically fractured world—with a new disease that’s threatened our collective health, sense of personal safety, and the economy at large. 

No one knows what 2021 will look like, but that’s no reason to be afraid, or hopeless, or goalless. Just because we don’t know what may be ahead, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t dream and continue to move forward (even if it does still seem like May to some of us). 

Intentions are about inching ourselves forward, step by step, moment by moment, choice by choice. Achieving an intention comes from the average sum of our own daily efforts as we work towards becoming the best versions of ourselves. Sure some days we can get a lot done, and other days we just want to lay in bed and do nothing. The truth is, that’s life, even without a pandemic. These shifts may feel more heightened at the moment, and our changes in mood and energy levels are more noticeable because we have less distractions as we find ourselves stuck at home, torn from our favorite hobbies, and fragmented from our circle of friends and our families. 

That is exactly why intentions are the new resolutions. Resolutions can feel daunting in this world that feels so unfamiliar, but intentions are just an average sum of our daily efforts. So as long as you spend more days in 2021 out of your pyjamas, rather than in them, then you will be off to a good start. 

One of my intentions will be: I intend to be gentle to my body, and always take time to rest and do nothing without feeling guilty about it. 

What will your intentions for 2021 be?

See you all in May! (I’m unclear on if I am in May 2020 or 2021, so be sure to go to the past and back to the future to find me… so I’ll just wait for you here and schedule another appointment with my doctor in the meantime.)

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