Often, at this time of year, many of us are reflecting on perhaps how we’d like the next year of our lives to be different from the last-especially just now! That can lead us to make resolutions of things we would like to change, things we would like to stop. The problem, with resolutions, is that they are often based on the type of person that we are tired of being, rather than the person we look forward to becoming. The difference between the two is important. When we make decisions based on the type of person we’re tired of being, that comes from a place of judgment or harsh self-criticism. That in turn can feed a sense of low motivation for doing the long-term actions that might need to happen for change.
The resolutions and rules that we tend to set ourselves (often at the beginning of the New Year) can be detrimental for particular personality types (and I include myself in this), where things can be very black-and-white. The resolutions or rules can be broken. We’re either getting it ‘right or wrong’. Once we’ve got something supposedly ‘wrong’, the inner critic can go on high alert and start offering up unhelpful comments such as ‘I knew you wouldn’t be able to do this’ understandably really affecting ongoing motivation.
It’s a really natural thing to want to be the best version of ourselves, fulfil potential, and enjoy life more. There are many strategies within sport and performance psychology that I coach people on to support ongoing long term motivation. But I’d like to offer up a simple alternative to resolutions and rules and can come before goal setting at this time of year. And that is one of working with intention.
Living with intention is a way of really being present in our lives and consciously dropping out of the autopilot we often live our lives in, to follow through on something.
Living life with intention means that we live it actively rather than passively letting life live us. Intentions have a broad range. We can have a small intention, like the intention we make at the beginning of meditation practice to focus our attention on the breath. Or we can have larger intentions, to be a more supportive family member, friend, be more trusting with others or courageous in life.
The wonderful thing about intention is that we can use our intention at any moment. We don’t need a perfect set of circumstances, time of day, or certain people around-it can be used in any situation.
There also isn’t a direct success or failure, like there often is with resolutions, where we’re on track and doing well, or we’ve slipped up.
When we’re working with intention, the outcome or result of that intention is more on a spectrum. How much, you were more or less able to follow through on what you set out to do. And this spectrum can really help us to think in a less concrete way about either doing well, or not doing well, a trap that so many of us can fall into.
So the activity that I’m going to share with you at the start of this year is one of choosing a word for the year. A word that is going to embody your intention for change, and allow you to work with this spectrum: Moving towards what you would like, but doing so in a way that more often fills you up, rather than depletes your motivation.
These are the steps that I personally use for creating my word of the year. This process sometimes takes a few days to find the word that resonates. But, start with a word, see how it fits, and then adapt it to choose a word that can carry through the year. Feel free to take time to reflect on the questions that I’m asking. It may be useful to do this in a meditation form or simply with a pen and paper in front of you.
- Start by thinking about the type of person you already are. What qualities are you grateful to yourself for having? Being patient, trusting, vulnerable, open, friendly, caring. Your inner critic might well surface but continue as best you can. What characteristics and positive aspects of yourself do you feel you display. Making a note of these things can be a powerful exercise to see on paper, acknowledging what you currently do rather than always thinking about the things that you want to change.
- Think of an aspect that holds you back from being your most authentic, and fulfilled. This might include things you want yourself to do less of in the coming year. Something that holds you back. These are often the aspects that could benefit from some attention.
- What are the alternatives or opposites of these words for yourself? Take some time to reflect on what is behind those things? Thinking of qualities you want more of in your life, a quality that you are in control of acting on. This moves beyond things like being healthier, fitter, and wealthier. Instead focus on the quality that helps those things to happen. For example to be healthier the word might be ‘focus’ or ‘planning’. So you’re choosing the quality that would aid this change. Ideas for words could be ‘Ease’ ‘Strength’ ‘Confidence’ ‘Balance’ ‘Gratitude’ ‘Vulnerability’ or ‘Courage’.
- There might be a lot of words that emerge. Continue to list them. So you’re choosing words that if you think ahead to the end of this year and had more of this quality in your life you would feel significantly better in some way.
- Circle just one word that is going to be your word for the year after sitting back, looking at the words, and having a think about which one resonates most for you.
This word will be used to sift certain thoughts and actions through so it goes beyond one particular scenario. This word can be used at any time to remind you of what is important. It might be that you’re making a decision about something and you drop your word into the process and it might influence your intentions, and the actions you then take.
When you’re thinking about choosing your word ask yourself if your just ‘interested’ in having more of this in your life or if you’re ‘committed’ to having more of this thing.
Using the word can sometimes feel a bit awkward at the beginning-it’s natural to feel resistance to this change. From my own experience, it really is worth persevering and continuing to use the word as often as possible. It can be interesting to notice the different ways that it can influence situations.
Feel free to get in touch and tell me the word that you’ve chosen. It’s often helpful to share the word with someone else, as uncomfortable as that can sometimes be. This shares the importance of the word, and can also be used by them to remind and support you moving forward.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like a free 15-minute initial consultation on any part of performance psychology, mental skills training, or coaching.