The start of a new year is always a time of good intentions. Just in my last post, I talked about making 2021 the year of engagement. The thing is, good intentions may be fun, easy, and feel good. But they rarely survive contact with reality.
I would argue, though, that good intentions in themselves are not the problem. We are right to have good intentions that inspire us. The real problem lies in how we set these intentions.
Let me know if any of these intentions, or variations of them, sound familiar: “This year, I’ll get fit.” “From now on, I’ll get up early”. “I’ll finish a book a week” – and so on. Tragically, the only thing that tends to come out of these good intentions is that we drag ourselves down by watching us fail at them every day.
This is why I like to call these types of intentions “grand gestures”. Because they are ultimately just false pretenses, ultimately without substance or meaning. And they are insidious, exactly because they appear so great and amazing in our head. Sounds harsh, I know. But if we want to act on our intentions, we need to be honest with ourselves first.
Being honest with ourselves means making intentions that are more than happy soundbites. It is important to realize that to act on our intentions, what we really need to do is to change our habits. You know, the things we do mostly unconsciously every day, but that ultimately determine who we are.
To change habits, however, we need the opposite of grand gestures. We need small but sustainable action that eases us out of our entrenched behavioral patterns, step by step, day by day.
How can we do this? By turning our intentions into something concrete, easy, and repeatable.
For example, instead of trying to “get fit this year” and going on a three-hour run you will never repeat, why not make an intention to leave the house in running clothes every day? This is an easy and concrete goal that you can repeat every day – and chances are that while you’re out there, you will go and run for a bit, too.
The trick is that now, even if you stop after running for 5 minutes, your intention was a success. You can go home knowing that you did what you set out to do. And you will do it again, because who wouldn’t want to build on success? Before you know it, you may even look forward to getting out of the house every day.
How have you been faring with your intentions so far?