Beginning a New Year: Crafting Intentions for a Dynamic Journey

For the last couple of years I have started each year with setting an intention. These intentions are quite different from a New Year’s resolution. They have helped me greatly to make each year feel special, no matter whether I judge a year to be a successful one or not. In this article I want to go into another way of approaching a New Year – an approach that is also the foundation for my Spring ritual “In the Rhythm of Growing”.

New Year, Same Story

Many New Year’s resolutions sound like this: Earn more money. Make more sport. Quit smoking. Eat healthier. Lose weight. I am not here to judge whether those are good or bad ambitions, but what I find rather striking is that all of these are focused on a more or less specific goal one wants to achieve. In this way they appear static – either you achieve the goal or you don’t. They also become means in themselves – as if earning more money or losing weight carries any meaning on its own.

On top of that, New Year’s resolutions set a clear expectation, and expectations are a tricky thing. On one hand, they can be a powerful motivator to push you out of your comfort zone. On the other hand, though, each expectation can easily become a source of frustration, guilt, and shame. If you don’t meet them, you have failed. You were too weak. You were not committed enough. You should have tried harder… you probably know the spiral that follows. And as you find yourself at the end of a year, you realise that you have – once again – failed to uphold your resolution. Maybe you will be stronger with a fresh new start?

While I don’t mind if people want to play this game of succeeding or failing with themselves, I personally find it little inspiring. It becomes the same story every year, a story of chasing goals. Wouldn’t it be nice if each year had a different story to tell? A different story that you embark on at the beginning of the New Year? A story that can unfold in any given moment of the year that is waiting for you?

Intentions as Reminders

The way I formulate my intentions for the year is that they should guide my direction. The word ‘intention’ comes from the Latin verb intendere which literally means ‘stretching out’, also ‘to put one’s attention to something’. I imagine a plant or a seed stretching out in a certain direction (probably the sun) for it wants to grow. Maybe it is a straight line up, maybe there are other obstacles in the path and it needs to find another way. The general direction is there, but it needs to stay flexible in how it will get there. And how the plant will come out by the end of the year, is more a result of that process.

This is the way I formulate my intentions. They summarise a general direction that I want to put my attention to. And, more importantly, they do not expect a certain outcome for me, but rather remind me how I would like to go about things. I have highlighted the word ‘remind’ here because this has become the main function of my yearly intentions: reminding me of a way to do things when I have felt overwhelmed, confused, or lost.

Let me give you an example. My intention from last year was “One step at a time”. It’s a simple sentence (linguistically speaking it is not even a full sentence since it is missing a verb) and easy to remember. At the time I was fully stepping into a commitment and I noticed that there were so many things to do (or that I could do). I needed a way to not feel overwhelmed, not to feel crushed by the sheer amount of possibilities,  and so I chose this intention to be my guide. It worked like a charm. Whenever I felt overburdened, lost, and didn’t know where to continue and with what, I repeated this sentence to myself. I do not have to do it all at once. I just need to take one step at a time. Rather do a small step now than none at all.

Writing it down like that, it almost sounds banal. But the point is that whenever I am under stress, it can be difficult to see the bigger picture and get a clear view.  Remembering my intention through this sentence allowed me to calm down and reconnect to where I wanted to go. That’s why I also like to call these sentences spells. They magically break me out of inner blockages and prisons in moments where I need it most.

Prepare for the Journey, not the Goal

Of course, my spell “One step at a time” does not include a more concrete direction. In my Spring ritual, I do take time to think about and formulate wishes and desires for the upcoming year. And I still suggest that you do that as well. But for me it has become less about achieving these dreams (and there are many things that can happen in your life that will make it difficult to achieve them exactly as planned), rather than being clear about the way of going about them.

The spell allows me to check-in with myself throughout the entire year, and also helps me see the story of this year unfolding for me in a clearer way. In the end, the goals are not so important. You will spend more time on the journey leading up to them, than celebrating them. Make sure you are well equipped for that journey.