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Goals, Intentions, & Why It's OK to Not Make New Year Resolutions

Hello, friends. Today is December 21, and for those of us living in the Northern Hemisphere, it's also the Winter Solstice, the first day of winter and the shortest amount of sunlight of all of the days of each year. We're also in the midst of the winter holiday season, which means celebrations, school holidays, and for some, traveling. I've noticed that just about anywhere I spend time visiting with other people, like at the nail or hair salon, the conversation takes a turn at some point to the theme of darkness, having trouble getting out of bed in the morning, and "not getting as much done." These conversations are mostly laments, or maybe it's more fair to say venting frustration, about a lack of productivity.

A couple of years ago, I saw an Instagram post from Sophie Lucido Johnson, which succinctly summarizes a few truths about this season. On December 1, she posted it again:

A drawing of a fox, who says, "This is your yearly reminder that you are an animal and every day it's getting darker."

The fox is resting, and a squirrel is in a tree.  It says, "Other animals have to sleep more in winter and they move less.  They have to eat more, and they have to rest.  Be gentle with your animal body."

Drawing of lots of people on a busy street.  The text says, "Humans, in contrast, amp things WAY UP this time of year."  There are lots of speech bubbles, which say, "Buy Stuff!  Consume Sugar! Cook and bake for many guests!  Drink alcohol!  Go to crowded places!  Prepare to diet!  Manufacture merriment!  Finals!  Finish end-of-year projects!  Travel!"

Drawing of a woman, holding the fox, which says, "When you are confronted with someone unkind, remember: They are also an animal living through a dark time that the human world insists is bright."

The caption reads:

Time to post this one again! It’s a yearly tradition. A note that this is really for folks living in the Northern Hemisphere — if that’s not you, save it for six months from now! /// I’ve said it once and I’ll say it a thousand times: it’s hard to be a good animal when you are a human living inside capitalist systems of oppression. We have confusing inventions like electricity and Red Bull that make it seem like winter is NOT a time where our bodies need to sleep more and eat more and socialize less. And don’t get me started on the ludicrous idea that self-betterment should begin on January 1, when the northern hemisphere is at its darkest and coldest. January 1 should be when everyone reaches peak hibernation. Businesses should shorten their days so workers can go to bed at 6:30. Instead we get “holiday hours” that stretch into the depths of night. Since we can’t flip a switch and change the way the capitalist world works, let me instead invite you to be especially gentle with yourself for the next three months. If you are doing less, congratulate yourself. If you need more, practice asking for it. And if you look around and see everyone else appearing happy and merry and familial, but you’re feeling the opposite of those things, know that you’re not alone. Your emotions make sense. Cut yourself some slack. And if you have the capacity, cut other people some slack, too. Winter ought to be the gentlest season.

Sophie is wise, and I always learn something from her drawings and words. I follow her on Instagram and also subscribe to her newsletter on Substack. If any of this is landing for you, I invite you to check out her work and support it.

Goals & Intentions

As Sophie mentioned, January 1 brings with it a "ludicrous idea of self-betterment" during the darkest and coldest time of the year, when the vast majority of our more-than-human kin are resting in preparation for growing in spring and summer. Setting aside the fact that this marketing/propaganda is based in the idea that there's something wrong with us that needs to be fixed, along with the notion that whatever program/potion/item can quickly and easily fix said problem, there is something about turning the calendar from December 31 to January 1 that makes it feel, even if only for a moment, that the time to start something new is NOW. If you're in the mood to begin making a change, I'd like to offer you some supports.

The first is the idea of goals as opposed to intentions. This is an idea that I continue to explore and refine, so as always, this is how I understand both, at this moment in time. Also, there is nothing inherently good or bad about goals or intentions, so please understand the ideas I offer are more about how working with either or both might support you in making change.

When I discussed this blog post with a friend this morning, her eyes got wide, and she told me she'd just been discussing goals and intentions with her supervisor yesterday. I'd clearly found a topic that brought a lot of energy with it because she said, "Goals are just another thing to do on the hamster wheel of my life, something to check off the To Do List. Intentions drive transformation." Dear Reader, I felt that in my GUTS.

A goal, in my experience, often has to do with achieving something, while intention has to do with how I show up and spend my time and energy. So, maybe I have a goal of finding two more clients in the next 30 days. This is helpful to me because I write it down, keep it in my mind, look at the calendar and make a plan of action steps to take in the next 30 days, and then work that plan. The thing is, though, no matter how much I do-- creating content, posting to social media, setting meetings, following up, presenting at conferences, etc.-- ultimately, quite a bit of me meeting or not meeting the goal rests squarely in the agency of other people. Of course, there are always lessons to learn in "failure," so I'm not suggesting that setting goals is something to avoid or that failing to meet goals doesn't teach me something. What I am saying, though, is that goals don't always feel like the most supportive tool to me when I'm trying to make a change.

On the other hand, an intention is a statement of how I intend to be or show up. For instance, I have set an overall intention to show up and engage with others in a way that will attract two new clients in the next 30 days. I intend to do that by writing and talking about the work I do, asking for what I need, and staying focused on taking care of myself so that I can show up as the best version of myself in order to be of service to others, all discreet intentions. I make a plan by laying out the overall intention, the more discreet intentions, and the actions I intend to take to support the discreet intentions, which support my overall intention.

And then, in the midst of working the plan, I notice that my awareness has wandered away from the intention I set, and I begin again. (Questions about beginning again and how it's available to you in each moment? Check out Kitchen Essentials, where there's a whole lesson on beginning again.)

For me, setting an intention is a present moment awareness practice in that it is an anchor to come back to when I notice my awareness has wandered off.  It’s a way for me to get reconnected when I notice I’ve become disconnected from what I meant to be doing. Unlike goals, staying aligned with my intention is dependent only on me because how I intend to be and show up is completely within my purview.

Why It's OK to Not Make New Year Resolutions

I have no plans to make any New Year resolutions, so if you decide not to make any, you're not alone! Also, it's cold and dark here in the Northern Hemisphere, so if that's where you live, take a cue from Nature and don't start something new during a season of rest and renewal. If you'd like some data, statistics suggest that a majority of New Year resolutions last less than three months.

If you'd like some support in making smaller shifts, which are more likely to support lasting change, I invite you to take a look at our educational offerings, especially the Saying No course. I also invite you to consider joining us on a Wednesday morning at a Weekly Sangha Sit or for January's #SharedDelightsGrow practice.

My deepest wish for you this holiday season is that you find some ease, in the midst of this.

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