Resolutions vs. Intentions: A New Ritual For the New Year

New Year's is often a time to create resolutions. To “fix,” change, or improve ourselves, to become better and happier. However, in resolution setting, we tend to disregard the essential wisdom that the journey of yoga is not one of “fixing” ourselves, but rather one of reconnecting with our inherently exquisite selves—our wholeness. Thus, I have long approached New Year's resolution setting more as an intention-setting opportunity.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines intention as “a determination to act in a certain way: resolve. What one intends to do or bring about.” But also as “a process or manner of healing of wounds.”

Many spiritual traditions offer rituals to help us create conditions for this level of clarity and healing. These rituals often begin with practices that ask us to reflect on behavior and choices made over the year—to review any regrets, mistakes, or challenges. A process intended to be a learning opportunity, so wounds can be healed and old habits and unhelpful behaviors are less likely to be repeated.

As we stop living life as a series of habitual reactions or from old storylines, we can become more deliberate about how we want to approach or participate in whatever each moment presents. We can choose more thoughtful and caring responses. This ups the odds that we will experience our wholeness and well-being.

I love creating rituals, especially for the message it sends: Slow down. Pay attention. I practice an Intention-Setting Ritual every New Year’s. It involves some meditation, deep relaxation, journaling, and, of course, candles and sage. But setting intentions doesn’t require a big ritual. In fact, I set intentions for myself regularly—and few of them involve candles and sage. I celebrate most holidays, the turn of each season, and my birthday by reminding myself how I want to walk into my future, what choices I want to make.

In fact, I begin my personal practice each day with an intention: "May I recognize when I need to pause and start again." Okay, truth be told, I regularly pause throughout my day, and set an intention to remind myself that I can choose how I want to respond or participate in particular moment, and that, when I get lost, I can always come back to start again. This is essential for me because, like most of us, I can be hijacked at any moment by disappointment or fear, or get sucked up into busyness, routine, or my iPhone.

And, after years of yoga, meditation, and regular intention-setting, what’s happened in my life is this: I still have tough days. I still feel anger and jealousy, confusion and disappointment. But all those feelings now have a much shorter shelf life. It’s easier for me to recognize them before they take hold. It’s easier to move through them and back into a state of openness and care.

With regular intention setting, I'm only days, hours, or minutes away from being reminded to pause and reconnect, so I am less overwhelmed or controlled by these harder experiences and feelings.

This is at the heart of yoga and meditation practices; we are learning that we always have a choice about how we step into the moment. This is one of the significant gifts of our practice. Because the stress in our lives may not go away, it may not change. But how we respond to it—and more important, how it affects us—can change. The more often we pause and set an intention, the easier it becomes to make wise choices. And then the easier it is to do it again.

Thich Nhat Hahn teaches, "We can only take care of the future by taking care of the present, because the future is made out of only one substance: the present."

As you we approach New Year’s, may you take some time to set your personal intentions. May you pause to connect with yourself and remember you are already whole. And then, may you do it again and again…all year round.

Find out about upcoming programs with Jillian Pransky at Kripalu.

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