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3 Secrets for Setting New Year’s Intentions That Work

Here’s how to effectively focus your energy toward authentic transformation.

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Last year, I surveyed over 20,000 people who identify as “conscious” to see how these ever-evolving souls might be changing the way they approach the whole “New Year, New You” cycle.

The number one trend was clear—resolutions are out: Only 14% of respondents said they were setting New Year’s Resolutions.

And intentions are in: 72% of those surveyed said they were setting an intention for the coming year.

With all this intention-setting going on, the natural next question is obvious: How do you set intentions that actually work? How do you set intentions that have deep, personal meaning and that hold power to help you make the shifts they require to your thoughts, your actions and your emotions, so you can feel the delectable momentum of progress on the issues and projects that matter the most to you?

See also Live + Practice From the Heart: Identify True Intention

What Intentions Actually Are

Deepak Chopra said, “intentions are the starting point of every dream—the seed of creation.”

To get even more granular, intentions are statements and declarations of what you both desire and consciously intend to be, learn, do, have, feel or experience in a coming period of time, like the coming year.

A well-set intention is a statement of pure, clear, decisive focus that kickstarts the process of aligning your whole being and your whole life to your desire. When you are clear, firm and decisive about your intention for the year ahead, it’s a bit like you’ve placed a cosmic order for what you desire and intend. Your thoughts, beliefs and even the components of your relationships, your daily life and your environment that are inconsistent with your intention will start to chafe and get very, very uncomfortable until you execute what Author Henry Cloud describes as “necessary endings,” consciously or otherwise.

See also The 5 Stages of Detachment: Learning How to Let Go

Intentions contain more commitment than desires. And intentions are less specific—less rigid and, thus, less likely to trigger unhealthy attachment to outcomes—than goals. Setting meaningful, effective intentions involves both spiritual and practical strategies.

Here are five secrets for setting New Year’s Intentions that will kickstart a season of breakthroughs for you in 2021:

1. You can’t set a powerful intention from a powerless place.

You’ve probably heard this adage a million times, that what you focus on grows. So, if you start setting your 2021 intentions from the place of thinking about the desires or goals you didn’t reach in 2020, you’ll get more of that.

On the other hand, if you start setting your 2020 intentions after having celebrated and even reveled in the learnings, growth, wins, and wonderful experiences you’ve had in the last year…you’ll get more like that, too.

So, before you even get started setting vision or intention for 2021, metabolize the last year in the same way your body metabolizes food: Sit down with a journal, get still and quiet, then note, name and decide what you want to release, like waste. Since 2020 was such an unprecedented for everyone, you’ll probably have a lot of material.

After a few moments of that, take your own sweet time savoring, chewing on and digesting the events and experiences of the year you found nourishing and want to call in more of. This might be the beauty of our planet that you took in, every time you took a walk, or it can be the book you wrote this year. It can even be a time when things looked dark or grim, but everything worked out for you in the end.

Then, just revel in your wins. Text your friends who are always up to celebrate with you and do just that: Tell them what you’re celebrating and remind yourself how wonderfully your life is actually, already, working out.

See also Nicole Cardoza’s Meditation for Finding Abundance


2. Set intentions that are a stretch, not a struggle.

You want to let your Inner Guidance be the boss of the intentions you set. But, sometimes, it’s hard to clearly hear your Inner Guidance. That’s because we so often allow the voice of our Inner Guidance to be outvoted or overruled by the voices of our fearful Inner Critic, cultural norms like status and money, and even the perceived “shoulds” or judgments from the people in our lives.

When you set an intention based on fear, other people’s opinions, or trying to prove your worthiness, your emotional struggle switch will flip all the way on.

I love the picture Author Tara Mohr paints when she suggests that we set “gift goals”—a goal that feels like a true, gorgeous, exciting gift to yourself.

I ask my clients to use the same visual and felt sense when setting intentions for the year, using this equation:

  • Your intentions should feel like a stretch compared to where you currently are on the subject,
  • They should not feel like a big struggle switch flips on in your spirit, and
  • Both the overarching intention you set and the natural next steps toward it should feel like a “true, gorgeous, exciting gift” you are giving to yourself.

Well-crafted intentions give you more energy as you move toward them, even if that takes some work and effort on your part. If the intentions you set feel like they will deplete you or flip the struggle switch on, go back to the drawing board.

See also 6 Poses to Calibrate Your Inner Compass

Tara-Nicholle Nelson

3. Well-set intentions concern the “what” not the “how.”

The whole point of intention-setting is to kickstart alignment of all the components of your inner being and outer life with the desires you’re making a heart-level commitment to move toward. When you contort general, good-feeling intentions into super-specific, uber-logistical action plans, it’s easy to start the elements of your intention that might be hard, everything that could go wrong and everything you’re not quite ready for…yet.

And remember: What you focus on grows. Focus on your desires? That grows. Focus on the problems you might encounter? That grows, too.

Tara Mohr also points out that you know something is a calling because you are not yet the person you need to be to achieve it, and you don’t yet have everything you need to have in order to fully answer it.

You get where you need to be, and you become who you need to be to answer your callings by listening to the callings of your Inner Guidance and taking just the next step toward answering them, so don’t fall into the worldly way of action-planning all the energy out of them.

See also Learn to Listen to Your Inner Voice

When you set intentions based on your own Inner Guidance and don’t get too far ahead into action planning, you stay loose enough to see all the opportunities and beautiful, natural next steps toward your intention light up before you, step-by-step.

Here are a handful of well-crafted intentions you can just take and make your own: 

  • I will aim to get an average of 7 hours of sleep and 10,000 steps a day, to feel maximally alive and well in my body! And when I don’t get those, I’ll delight in the opportunity to start all over again the next day.
  • I will consciously increase my awareness of abundance, and that will result in a constantly increasing income–by grace, in a wonderful way.
  • I will give myself the gift of a Sacred Pause anytime I want or need it, to recalibrate, recharge and investigate whatever I’m feeling with kindness and compassion.
  • Every day and every week I will re evaluate my calendar and clear things that feel burdensome, trapped or constricting when it is in my power to do so.
  • I intend to see friends I love and who love me at least once a week for anactive or artist’s date.
  • I will move 10% slower, when I can this year. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be than where I am right now.

Grab your journal and get writing!

Tara-Nicholle Nelson is the Inner Critic Coach™, the author of The Transformational Consumer and the Founder of SoulTour’s School of Spiritual StrategyClick here to download Tara’s FREE Big List of 2020 Transformational Intentions and receive her weekly Transformation Tuesday newsletter.