“The simple act of “thinking we can” changes the way we “do”

It’s 2023! Another year, and another opportunity to set goals, resolutions, and give ourselves some sort of direction. Sounds easy, right? Are we all still maintaining the resolutions we have set for the new year?

Achieving our goals or meeting resolutions can be easy if we can stay motivated. But for many of us, this is not an easy task. It is why I set “intentions”, rather than “resolutions”. A resolution is concrete in nature, inflexible and not adaptable to the rigors and challenges of everyday life. Intentions are less concrete, adaptable, and encourage us to continue to move in a positive and meaningful direction based on our wishes.

In short, an intention is not so much about setting goals and achieving a result. An intention is simply setting an ongoing direction for one’s life. For example:

Resolution:

“I resolve to lose 15 pounds by spring break”.

Intention:

“I set my purpose to eat healthier, exercise, nurture and care for myself”.

While the resolution may get results, it sets us up for failure if we don’t hit the mark. The intention, however, moves us in the direction of the desired result by accepting, and embracing, a mindful journey to overall better living. Clearly, a kinder, gentler, path toward success.

To benefit from setting “good intentions” we need to use one of our favorite DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) skills, mindfulness. Before we start, remember, skills like mindfulness and intention setting require practice to see good results. Let’s be kind with ourselves as we set out on the course of improving our lives with the positive power of intention.

Often, when we set a goal or resolution and give up by the third week of January, we feel guilt, shame, self-criticism, remorse, anger, a whole host of negative, and unhealthy, emotions. When we set an intention, we are not bound by a rigid, black and white, make it or break it, line in the sand. We are simply stating, “I would like to do X, more”. This allows us the flexibility to recognize that some movement or action is better than nothing at all. It removes the self-criticism that often comes with complete failure and replaces it with the ability to continually adapt to the environment to move toward our desired intention. This process allows us to be a “human being” as well as a “human doing”.

I’m sure we’ve all had those moments when we feel we are running as fast as we can to keep up with the world and can’t even catch our breath, or catch a break. This is where mindfulness allows us the pause to stop doing and just be. To take a deep breath, or many deep breaths, and focus on the intentions we have set for ourselves. This is us taking a moment of “self-compassion” to recenter and just “be” before we get back to the business of “doing”, with intention.

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Ferris Bueller, 1986

Life is dynamic and ever changing. If we want to live life to the fullest, we need to be able to navigate life changes and make adjustments. Intentions allow us the flexibility and self-compassion to modify and adapt our goals. We may find that what, and how much, we want to change needs to be re-evaluated continually as the world changes around us. Our expectations of ourselves need to change accordingly. Positive self-talk and support is an important tool reminding us to discard thoughts of “I can’t” and replace them with positive affirmations of “I can try”.

By setting our intention to do something differently, we not only change how we do it but we change ourselves. The simple act of “thinking we can” changes the way we “do”.

We just need to remain “mindful” of the fact that our intention has been set and to move toward that end. Yes, mindfulness is most often considered a thinking process but thinking I can is essential in getting up and doing what I can.

Here are some basic steps to help benefit from positive intentions (ICAN):

1) Identify Our Intention

Find a quiet time in the day, hopefully when we’re not exhausted from work, or the kids – or whatever, close our eyes, breath calmly, and envision our deepest intention. For many of us, this may be a whole different me! But, keeping it simple, we need to focus on something we are passionate about and, when we think of it, brings lightness and ease to us. This could be anything from having more compassion toward our self or others to running, and finishing, a triathlon. Once we have found our intention, sit with it so that it becomes familiar, and comfortable, in our mind.

2) Create Our Intention

We humans are forgetful beasts especially when the busy-ness of the day jerks us out of bed and demands we be “on” from the moment our eyes open. Resist this urge and ease into our day and, before we get out of bed, envision our intention. Bathe in the glow of the comfort of this vision and manifest it into reality by stating, “May I… (insert our intention here)”. In our previous example it would be something like;

“May I eat healthier, exercise, nurture and care for myself, today.”

This is so much more positive than;

“May I lose 15 pounds before spring break.”

This simple exercise before we get going in the day crystalizes our intention firmly in our mind before there is time to displace it with the craziness of the day. For the best results, do this every day before you leave your bed.

3) Am I on Track?

Life is full of challenges especially where good intentions are concerned. It is where we get the proverb, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”. Meaning, “I really meant to eat healthier but this is the third office birthday party this month and I just couldn’t resist another piece of cake”!

This is where mindfulness is used to save us from ourselves and return to our core intention.

We ask ourselves, before the pieces of cake are passed around, “How does this (piece of cake) align with my intention”? Will this piece of cake bring me closer to my intention or closer to the guilt of straying from my path? We need to be gentle with ourselves and identify, honestly, the feelings we have at this moment and then ask, “how do I respond from my true intention?”.

We need to trust our intuition here. If we’re feeling pangs of guilt at the thought of eating the piece of cake, our body is telling us that the piece of cake probably isn’t in alignment with our intention. And let’s not confuse hunger pangs with pangs of guilt. One is a wholly subconscious, physiologic, stimulus and the other, a conscious manifestation of an imbalance in our true intention.

This exercise is not to deprive us of the joy of the celebration of life (a birthday party) but embracing the celebration of our own life and that which we authentically desire for ourselves.

4) Needing Change?

When we realize we have lost focus and are not behaving as we would like (not eating healthier, exercising, nurturing, and caring for ourselves) we will need to make some changes. Again, be gentle with ourselves with reminders that everyone loses their way at times.

The quickest way back on course is to return to that quiet, mindful, place and see if our intention still resonates warmly with our self. Does my vision of my life course still bring a sense of light and joy or is it dark and cold? Returning to this point of connection can realign us with our intention and provide motivation to re-engage in our chosen life path.

So, if we’ve already failed at our “New Year’s Resolutions”, perhaps it’s time we get quiet, find our inner voice and be mindful of the intention it wishes for us.

Intentions, rather than resolutions, allow us to be mindful of our goal, and our world, and able to adapt to changes. Setting intentions allow us to forgive ourselves if we stray from our course and mindfulness allows us to nurture ourselves to our next success.

Here’s to a happy, and healthy, 2023 and let’s set some great intentions!

If you want to know more about setting positive intentions, contact us at Barrington Behavioral Health & Wellness

Phone: 1-888-261-2178
Email: help@barringtonbhw.com

Brittany Salvador

MA, LCPC

Brittany Salvador is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who has been in the field since 2009 in a variety of settings including community, private practice, institutions, and hospitals.

Utilizing mindfulness and acceptance strategies, as well as cognitive behavioral therapy, Brittany strives to help clients develop the self-awareness and coping skills to manage problems as they arise.

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