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2024 Intentions: Bloom & Thrive

It’s no secret that I’m a dreamer. Since childhood my mother has often commented on my daydreaming nature, and I have no issue lazing around getting lost in thought. Deep down inside, I am also a planner. That may come as a surprise to many who are close to me, but also newer to my life, as after grad school planning went on hold while I focused on getting in touch with my deepest soul self and creating a life that was in alignment with her and no one else. In fact, the January after I graduated was the first time I set an intention for the year, and it was based on that. Vibrate higher. It was based on the concept of vibrational energy, which Rebecca Joy Stanborough explained in her 2020 Healthline article as a concept that “certain emotions and thought patterns, such as joy, peace and, acceptance, create high frequency vibrations…” What that meant for me was to continue turning inward and making decisions that felt good and brought me closer to myself. The more aligned I felt, the higher my soul seemed to soar.

 

Intention setting was something I learned in therapy, while in school, to manage my stress, anxiety, and mood, and to help me stay grounded and focused. I had never been one to set New Year’s resolutions, but I have always reflected on plans for the year to come as a source of hope. I remember in high school I would make extremely detailed academic plans for myself as a way to have something to look forward to. I think in a way I felt that if had detailed enough plans it would almost be like I was already at the goal, which for me at that time was college and freedom. The thing with rigid plans and resolutions though, is that they can set you up for failure, all or nothing thinking, anxiety, perfectionism, self-criticism, disappointment, frustration, and eventually apathy. While this isn’t the case for everyone, and many obviously thrive with plans and resolutions, I’ve often found that for my clients, too much reliance on them can lead to the challenges listed above.

 

When I first learned about intention setting in therapy, I didn’t quite understand why my therapist was having me do it. In hindsight, I now see what a brilliant intervention it is for a wide array of mental health challenges. Intentions keep us aligned with our truest selves, which helps combat anxiety and depression. They can also keep us anchored while our moods fluctuate, while we find ourselves obsessing and ruminating, or when we are feeling compelled to focus on the needs and attentions of others rather than ourselves. Intention setting also sets us up to be more prepared for adaptation as changes arise throughout the day. Instead of fretting about a plan being ruined when unexpected things come up, we can instead return to our intention and see how else we can apply it throughout the rest of the day.

 

In a world where we are constantly busy, rushed, overwhelmed, overworked, burnt out, and stressed for the foreseeable future, a regular practice of intention setting can be a powerful way of coming back to self. While there are many definitions of the word intention, including plans one intends to bring about (which pretty much sounds like a resolution to me), for the purposes of this article, we will focus more on the broader interpretations like the determination to act in a certain way, things of importance and significance, and concepts and ideas that drive action. Zooming out like this allows us to focus on the overarching themes we want to focus on for the course of the day or year and leave more concrete plans that our resolutions often resemble for smaller chunks of time that are easier to manage and adjust as we go along.

 

Putting this into context, the individual who would have had a resolution of going to the gym daily, can instead have an intention of health and/or fitness for the year. Those who want to travel more may consider focusing on the ideas of adventure or exploration. Someone who wants to reduce social media time can set an intention of being more present. Focusing on what the behavior will accomplish allows us to be more aligned with our own personal values and create many smaller and adjustable goals that fall in line with the intention and also honor the season we are in, rather than one big goal that can be hard to implement consistently when life inevitably complicates plans. Intention setting encourages more reflection, creativity, and flexibility while the average resolution is focused on one behavior, which creates pressure and often leads to rigidity and frustration.

 

So with the intention of health and fitness, we may start the year off hitting the gym hard, but then as schedules change or other circumstances give way to various barriers, switching to a morning run or a home based program still honors the intention of fitness. Alternatively, instead of hitting the gym so hard like many do come January 1st, we can honor the holiday hangover so many of us have, coupled with the cold weather and continued short days by easing into health and fitness through stretching, walks, and healthy food until we are ready to bloom into a more rigorous form of exercise. When an unexpected major expense thwarts all planned vacations for the year, one can still honor the spirit of exploration and adventure with day trips, visiting new places closer to home, hiking, and other activities. We can again embrace the changing seasons and visit a familiar place during a different time for a new experience, like walking near the beach on a cold and windy day or at night instead of just waiting for summer to take that tropical vacation abroad. Making an effort to be more present from day to day will release guilt and shame associated with lost time scrolling if a resolution of getting off social media altogether didn’t end up feeling doable.

 

Taking the time to reflect on the values that motivate any sort of change, decision, behavior, or attitude help us to be more aligned with our most authentic selves. Once we become aware of our values, we can prioritize and set intentions accordingly. After intentions are set, we can then make smaller goals that fit within the ever-changing rhythms of lives. Maintaining flexibility and creativity around how to honor our intentions throughout the course of the year helps life feel fresh, exciting, and challenging in a healthy way. Being more consistently aligned with your most authentic self supports confidence, self-esteem, and mood management. For me, 2024 is my year to bloom and thrive, what do you want to get out of it?

 

Happy intention setting.




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