How To Set Heartfelt Intentions All Year Long — Without Causing Anxiety

“All that we are is the result of all that we have thought.”

– Buddha

Are you ever disheartened by the daunting task of mindful morning rituals and general age-old/new-age self-care practices? Do you ever feel bamboozled by the sound of the belligerent countdown on New Year’s Eve, let alone your morning alarm?

Even as a wellness professional, I see-saw between these self-inflicted stressful scenarios. I sometimes miss the boat on vision-boarding and intention-setting for the coming year, I do not wake up glowing and greeting the morning like Snow White (well, unless I’m somewhere like Costa Rica), and I do not always have time for every single one of my beloved morning practices.

As the wellness industry continues to promote and research the benefits of self-care habits based on ancient rituals and teachings, I believe our work is to adopt them in ways that can be infused into and sustained by modern day lifestyles, whether our goals around self-betterment are sparked by ringing in the new year or simply by greeting a new day.

In January of 2018, I had just returned from Christmas in California and an incredible visit to Peru, yet I immediately frowned at myself for being ill-prepared in my intention-setting. I was disappointed in myself for not making the time to accurately reflect on 2017, or what I hoped to instill for 2018.

During this destructive thought process, I realized how I could easily dig myself into these holes of comparing myself to others, especially in the dense wellness industry of NYC. I put myself in an unnecessary position of what I “should” or “should not” be doing in order to achieve my desires — and I was frustrated that, at the moment, it was challenging for me to focus on them in the first place.

I encouraged myself —as I encourage us all now — to remember that everyone operates at their own speed and on their own time. Just because I did not have exact personal intentions or insight to share with others for the new year, even though I was not surrounded by crystals or candles or champaign at the stroke of midnight, did not mean I would not achieve anything, or that I would not feel the way I want to feel in the upcoming year.

This is not limited to the transition from one year to another — we are all constantly working on honoring the path we are on, whether or not our New Year’s Day is a sparkling kickstart into the 365 days to follow. I remind myself often to recognize that every single day is an opportunity to continue on my unique journey.

The moment we wake up, for example, is a stellar place to begin. When we start the morning with at least one positive intention, it acts like a roadmap for the remainder of the day, or a North Star to return to when we get distracted by the brain instead of living from the heart. Think for a moment of how powerful it can be just to start a day like that, let alone a year.

Intentions create a space of possibility in place of judgement or anxiety, and remind us that we are the creators of our experience. Even in undesirable situations, we can choose to bring our attention back to our intention and, in turn, cultivate that feeling as often as possible.

That being said, it does make it a bit more clear to have a word or a few words to redirect our attention when things go awry. It is powerful to have intentions to ignite the flame within us, to support us in moving forward in line with our values and desires.

When our intentions are to relinquish something, we may get anxious about achieving such an arduous task. If we start off trying to push out undesirable habits or pressure ourselves to come up with purposeful resolutions, we may wind up quitting before we even begin. If we tell ourselves sternly, “No more sugar,” do we not immediately crave a pile of sweets?

Divya Alter’s mentor, Ayurvedic practitioner Vaidya Mishra, asks us, “What’s the best way of not becoming the slave to your needs… [and] desires? Is eliminating desires the answer? That would be fighting against your own nature – we all desire greater bliss and balance. It is not desire that is wrong! It is desiring the wrong things … How do you desire what is right for you? How do you ‘desire what you deserve?’”

He continues to share how a few simple practices help to support “healthy happiness and longevity.” For example, “first proper food … then sufficient timely sleep … this will support ALL your actions … rooted in peace, life-supporting and evolutionary, bringing you balance and bliss … when you are well fed and well rested – your mind operates optimally in sync with your heart and you can be the boss of your own life!”

So how do we start our morning – let alone our year – in this inspirational light, if and when we feel quite the opposite?

Here are a few easy intention-based practices I love to pick and choose from, whether for the day or the coming year:

Take a nice breath or several upon waking. Bring to mind something you are thankful for, set an intention for how you want to feel that day, and put your feet on the ground. All in that order. I borrowed this from a psychologist I heard speak on a podcast and have loved this quick yet intentional moment, all before getting out of bed.

Meditate. I take a non-negotiable 10 minutes to be quiet with myself so that – throughout the day – I can remind myself to return to myself and/or my intention.

Have a nourishing breakfast. This does not require slaving in the kitchen – it can be as simple as Alter’s Ayurvedic boiled apple. (She says, “Single foods eaten at the right time can have the most profound effect on our health.”) It could also include my overnight oats. When I have time, I love making a warm matcha latte. If we are fueled well, we are more likely to be productive and clear about our desires – including the necessary actions to actualize them.

Write it down. Nothing sets an intention like transcribing our thoughts – whether painful or painless – and desires. Putting pen to paper helps to set in motion heartfelt hopes. When we see a written intention, they not only become more tangible, but can can also help us get clearer on what we desire and why.

Vision board. Draw, paint, “upcycle” magazines. Enjoy envisioning and creating your desires into an artistic symbol of your intentions that you can revisit throughout the year.

Explore the arts. Read. Bake. Sing. Draw your friend a card. Watch your favorite movie. Break the “rules.” Whether or not it’s related to self-betterment, do whatever inspires you.

Just live. Have fun. Cry if you’re sad. Be good and do a great job. Mess up. Whether literally or figuratively: write it down/speak it out loud and then burn it/let it be. As The Bhagavad Gita says: relinquish the fruits of action/labor. The ego clinging to the outcome will only stress us out. Envision the best possible scenario, pray for guidance if and when necessary, and then I hereby give us all permission to go out and be a human in the world.

As we approach 2019, I encourage us all to free ourselves from whatever is holding us back from being our most nourished and optimal selves – imperfections and mistakes included – and to be softer on ourselves when things might not go exactly as we planned.

Reach out to me or find a friend or group for mutual support throughout this process. Enjoy the simple miracles that happen every day – we do not  have to watch the infamous NYE ball drop or be at one of the Seven Wonders of the World to witness greatness.

Do you have any intentions for the upcoming year, and how can you free yourself from the unnecessary conditions of sticking with your resolutions? More importantly – what can you do today to set an intention for how you desire to feel, or how you would like the rest of your day to unfold (whether or not it unfolds as such)?

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