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The Power of Intention-Setting: Starting the New Year with Purpose

By Jennifer Barzey, LCSW

While December has become associated with the hustle and bustle of the holidays, a more instinctual pull during winter suggests it is a time to slow down and go inward. We see this in the non-human animal world where creatures hunker down to conserve energy. Even many plants become dormant and rest before the growth season of spring. As the days shorten, we may feel this pull towards conserving internal reserves or becoming quieter and more introspective. However, for many of us, societal pressures and expectations interfere, and we continue to push forward. 

Although I am unable to hibernate or withdraw from all responsibilities, there is definitely a part of me that craves peace and solitude, especially during the winter. In order to nourish this part of myself, I seek to intentionally create space in my life and incorporate moments of restful practice. One of the practices I use involves reflection and intention setting for the upcoming year. Rather than making New Year's Resolutions, I identify intentions that provide a flexible framework for the upcoming year. There is a distinct difference between resolutions and intentions. Resolutions are firm decisions to do or not do something. Intentions are something you intend to do or bring about. I have found that intentions can provide direction and purpose, bringing meaning into everyday tasks while not contributing to guilt as resolutions often do.

My intention setting practice begins with creating a space where I can sit quietly and listen to what my mind and body has to say. I begin by considering the key domains that represent significant aspects of my life. For me these are personal/health, relationships, work, environment and spirit. Then I reflect on these questions:


“How do I feel within each of these areas currently?”

“Are there any areas that are needing more attention than others?”

“How would I like to feel about each of these areas by the end of the year?”

“In the version of my best-self, how would each of these areas be the same or different than they are now?”

After reflecting on each life domain, I then set one or two intentions for each. These are the action items that will take me in the direction of the feeling I want to increase. For example, perhaps I want to feel more connected to my community. The intention could be to volunteer in some capacity at least once per month. Or perhaps I want to be more proactive with my health. An intention could be setting and following through with preventive health care appointments. The sky's the limit on the possible range of intentions!

The third component is to connect the intentions with a timeframe to provide structure and keep me on track. When deciding the timeframe, consider the intention and activity. Listen to what your intuition says makes sense. If you are looking to establish a healthy habit or routine, you will probably want actions to occur more frequently. For other intentions, the time frame could last the whole year.

If you are a visual learner, this exercise can also be done as a vision board. When creating a vision board you use images, photos, phrases, etc. to create a visual representation of your intentions. The key difference in how I approach a vision board is to look for images that reflect how I want to feel, not just items I hope to possess. Another helpful tip is to place the vision board somewhere you will regularly see it so that you will be reminded of your intentions and what you are seeking to bring into your life. 

For me, the reflection part of the process occurs the following winter when I look back on which of my intentions came to pass and which did not. If I did not complete an intention, I reflect on what got in the way. I also reflect on life events and shifts that occurred which were not on the list. Sometimes I choose to place an incomplete intention on the next year’s intentions while other times I recognize it is no longer in alignment and let it go. While reflecting on the previous year's intentions, stay in the quality of self-compassionate inquiry. The fact that it did not happen does not mean it was a failure.

As the year winds down, the temperature drops and the days shorten, find moments to pause and connect with your mind, body and intuition. The wise inner voice within you won’t yell and compete with the noise and activity of the holiday season. It will wait patiently for you to be quiet and create a space in which you can listen. 

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