New year, new you? How to rethink intentions in 2021

Which one are you:

New year, new you?
New year, same you?
New year, same you with slight modifications on the previous years’ model?

As I’m writing these words, I have to smile a bit. I think there are so many tropes when it comes to the new year, so many ways of thinking about this blank slate we’ve been given. In 2020, it really hit me how we put so much pressure on single days to be revolutionary when in reality, most of the time life doesn’t work like that. Slow evolutions are much more effective than impulsive decisions to change overnight. Progress builds on itself.

The new year does come with a certain freshness about it … a certain hope that things can be different than they were before. Especially after a year like 2020. But expecting ourselves to make drastic shifts in our day to day lives often leads to disappointment – it’s hard to keep that up. If we ‘fail’ to live up to our new standards one day, we often have the inclination to just give up and throw it all away because what is the point anyway?

Why set intentions anyway?

What is the point? Any time you decide to embark on a new adventure, it’s important to know why you’re going. At some point or another, the journey is bound to have a few bumps in the road, and if we don’t know our why, it’s hard to keep ourselves moving. This applies to goals and intentions just as much as it does anything else.

I’m not gonna lie, this past year was a pretty bumpy ride, and a lot of plans got derailed – so if you’re having a hard time setting your intentions for 2021, you’re not alone. After a year like 2020, it can be easy to slide into apathy or hopelessness about the future and feel somewhat helpless. Or we can have extremely high expectations for the year to come, seeing it like some knight in shining armor here to save us. Neither of these perspectives is particularly useful, but if we can find a middle ground between them, we may find ourselves moving forwards with more ease.

Lessen the pressure

When I was a teenager, I was super into setting my goals and intentions for the year to come. I would create a vision board, write out elaborate goals, and generally think about the kind of person I wanted to become. My intentions were tangled up in my goals, essentially making a mess of the energetic and external realms which often led to disappointment. I wasn’t great at being realistic about the goals I was setting because they came from my head – I was writing down what I thought I wanted to accomplish without checking in how those goals felt.

This year, I’ve come to think about goal setting differently. For a long time, I’ve been interested in both psychology and spirituality or manifestation, so I’ve done a lot of reading about this sort of thing. There are a multitude of different ways you can go about setting both goals and intentions, but I’m finding it helps to separate the two. I know that may seem a little confusing – aren’t they just the same thing? Here, I’ll explain.

The difference between goals and intentions

For me, intentions exist on an energetic level. They are subtle, overarching themes you intend to work with over the course of a year. If you had a word for your year, like clarity or joy, I would see this as more of an intention. It’s not necessarily something you see manifest externally so much as it’s something you feel, an internal state of being. Intentions can act as an anchor point, a reminder of how you’d like to feel or show up in your relationships, your work, your everyday life. Intentions can also last longer because a word like empathy or well-being is a quality you can continue to work with even as you change and grow.

Manifestations of this could be: working with a mantra, choosing a word for your year, imagining how you would like to feel as you go through your day, discerning the areas you’d like to grow in in the coming year, how you’d like to show up in your relationships.

On the other hand, goals exist in the external world. They have real-life, tangible implications. A goal is something you do or achieve, less a state of being and more something you can see. Goals can change as we grow with or without necessarily being accomplished, and they are much more easily derailed by external circumstances. At the beginning of 2020, I had ideas for projects (goals) that I wanted to create, but almost all of them fell away once the world was disrupted by the pandemic.

Examples of goals could be: a project, achieving a certain level of fitness, eating a certain way, making a certain amount of money, cultivating a new relationship, writing a certain number of words each day, going for a walk outside three times per week, being promoted at work.

There is an infinite number of ways both of these can apply to your everyday life, but I think it’s important to work with both of them. I think of intentions as the deeper layer to anything we want to accomplish in life.

Why you need both

Here is how they interact: you may have an intention to prioritize your well-being this year, and in order to move towards the intention of well-being, you can create goals for yourself. This is very individual. Maybe for you, an important part of well-being is getting seven to eight hours of sleep per night, as well as going for a walk after work to destress and taking a yoga class three times per week. The intention is something you can return to regardless of how your progress is going with your external goals. If you find yourself in a place where you need to make a decision, you can ask yourself if it aligns with your deeper intention.

You can also look at it the other way – say you would like to be promoted at the place you work. This is an external goal. How would you need to grow in order to be ready to receive that promotion? Why would you like to receive the promotion? What qualities would your boss be looking for in someone to fulfill that position? If you take the time to answer these questions honestly and objectively, you might come up with a quality or skill you’d like to develop.

Maybe this new position requires you to be more organized, or to lead a team in meetings. What qualities do you embody in order to be a better leader? Choose one, and as a deeper intention, it can begin to lead you down the path towards your desired outcome. Even if you don’t accomplish your goal of receiving the promotion, you might find opportunities to lead in other places, and you will grow into a fuller version of yourself either way.

I like to think of goals in shorter increments of time in order to give them a little more flexibility. If you have a massive goal you’d like to accomplish, like finding love or publishing a book, begin to break it down into smaller steps that you can take in order to get there. This can be done very intuitively – what feels like the next best step? It doesn’t have to be overly complicated and you don’t have to do everything all at once. Just take things one step at a time.

Questions to get you started

SO, as we head into this new year, I encourage you to think about it this way – what is the undercurrent of what you’d like to create this year? What is the overall feeling? This is your deeper intention for the places you’d like to grow and expand into yourself. From there, you can begin to think of what practical steps you’d like to take in the physical world in order to move closer to that feeling. What adventures are you longing to create?

Here are a few questions to get you started:

What did I enjoy about last year?
What did I feel like I was missing?
Where would I like to grow this year?
What do I feel ready to let go of?
What is one thing that excites me + lights me up?
What makes me feel expansive + free?
What am I curious about right now?
Which skills would I like to develop further?
How would I like to show up in my relationships?
When challenges come, how would I like to respond?
What is one habit I’d like to implement in my daily life?
What is one project I am excited to create?
Where would I like to see more abundance in my life?

Remember, there are no right or wrong answers here, only the world you want to create.

I am sending you so much love and good vibes as we step more fully into everything 2021 has to offer – may your journey be a good one, and don’t forget to laugh along the way xx

If you’re looking for a little more guidance as we step into this new year, I work with people to help them reconnect to their sense of purpose and gain clarity on their path moving forwards. You can find out more about my sessions here or send me a message to see if we’re a good fit to work together.