Set intentions, not resolutions

In this series of wellbeing columns Karen Beaven offers advice to others in HR

How are your New Year’s Resolutions going? Have you broken them already?

If you’ve broken them quickly they probably weren’t the right things for you to be focusing on right now. It’s never too late to push the reset button and try something else instead.

This year, instead of setting resolutions, I’m setting intentions. For example: it’s my intention to always show up as my best self, it’s my intention to be kinder to myself when things don’t work out the way I’d planned, and it’s my intention to hold my ambitions and dreams in open hands so that they have room to grow and manifest in ways I could never have predicted.

So why the change? 2019 taught me a lot of lessons, but none were greater than learning to loosen my grip on some of the things I felt I absolutely must do and on the exact way I felt things needed to be done.

It taught me how to let go, to release the need to control everything, and to step out of my own way and enjoy being who I am and where I am right now.

Let me give you an example of this. If you’ve been following me for a while you’ll know that for many years I battled with infertility. I’d had 10 cycles of IVF treatment, multiple miscarriages, and been told that it was very unlikely I’d ever be able to conceive a child naturally.

The stress and toll of this eventually pushed me to a breakdown in 2017. But even after that I couldn’t let the dream go, holding on to it so tightly that it felt like I could hardly breathe at times, while also slowly coming to the realisation that it wasn’t going to happen.

In 2019, I finally got to the point of letting go of the dream to have another child, we gave away all of the baby gear we’d been hoarding and started to focus on enjoying life just the way it was.

Then amazingly, just a couple of weeks after that, I found out I was pregnant – easily, naturally and against all the odds.

So there was my lesson: hold your dreams in open hands so they have the space they need to form in ways that you could never predict or control.

My challenge to you is to look at the goals or resolutions you have set and ask yourself these questions: how tightly are you holding onto them? How fixed are you on controlling every element of them? And how fixated are you on exactly what the end result should look like?

Does it feel like you’re holding these things like one of those resistance strength grips, squeezing it with all of your might to see how strong you are? Could you imagine instead holding them like a butterfly, gently and delicately, opening your fingers and letting these things fly?

This is one of the benefits of setting an intention over a prescribed resolution. Intentions enable you to have focus and direction but also create the space for something to evolve without pressure. Intentions give you a way of checking in with your decision-making to help keep you on track.

For example, if your intention is that you want to do ‘meaningful work that makes a difference’, at the end of each week look back and say ‘has the work I’ve done this week been meaningful? How has it made a difference?

Then shape your activity for the next week based on what you learn, and don’t get hung up on the definition of meaningful. This is your intention so it’s all about how it feels for you.

In all of this perhaps the most important thing is to learn to trust yourself, relax and give yourself time to see and enjoy the good stuff that’s happening all around you. It can be easy to forget all that if you’re so fixated on one situation, one resolution, one problem or one issue you think you need to fix.

So have a go. Try setting yourself a maximum of three intentions and just use them as a guide to help you check in at the end of each day or week. Take away the pressure and see what happens when you create a bit of space to welcome in the unexpected.

Karen Beaven is an HR director, strategist and author

This piece appeared in the January 2020 print issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk