In the United States, the New Year is traditionally a time to reflect upon aspects of self-improvement. Resolutions made as part of a commitment to a lifestyle change are often broken because they are not clearly defined and well-organized. According to a 2007 study, 88 % of those who set a New Year’s resolution fail. It’s not that we don’t want to change, but we often don’t take the time to reflect upon the most effective way to make the desired change a reality. This year, instead of making resolutions that would be broken by mid-January, I decided to set intentions. Intentions help us focus our dreams and take greater control of our lives. They involve having a plan to direct our actions and can be set on a daily basis. Intention setting consists of four simple steps. First, get a clear picture of what you want to accomplish. Second, share your intentions with a friend or loved one. They are best achieved when shared with others who support you and will hold you accountable for your actions. Then, demonstrate your commitment each day by taking a step toward making your intention a reality. Remember, even small steps count! Lastly, celebrate your successes daily.
To help me in this practice, I decided to use an intention setting reminder called “The Vowel Check” to help maintain my focus. It has been used for years in Twelve Step programs and has finally made its way into self-help culture via bestselling author Brene Brown.
A = Have I been ABSTINENT today? This can be defined however you choose—alcohol, food, work, etc. I have adapted the question to fit my needs: Have I ACHIEVED BALANCE today? This targets my perfectionism as well as encourages me to monitor my moods. Achieving balance is my ultimate goal.
E = Have I EXERCISED today? We all know the physical benefits of exercise, especially those of us on psychotropic meds—losing those extra pounds or maintaining a healthy weight, preventing cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and improved mood. When I’m depressed this is the most difficult intention of them all, but the most necessary for overall health and well-being.
I = What have I done for myself today? Take a moment for self-care or doing something you enjoy, like listening to your favorite song or playing with your puppy. It doesn’t have to be a spa day or vacation. Simple acts of self-compassion and kindness count!
O = What have I done for OTHERS today? This one is always easiest for me, because I’m sensitive and being a helper comes naturally. These acts are usually the ones I complete first and focus on, often while putting my own needs aside. This is also the area where much of my self-worth is measured. Although this area is essential, this year I intend to focus more on self-improvement that I’ve neglected.
U = Am I holding on to UNEXPRESSED emotions today? This question is one that is not asked enough. When I reflected upon this recently, I was surprised by how much unfinished business I found lingering in my life. That doesn’t mean that I plan to angrily confront those around me on a daily basis, but expressing emotion in a mature, healthy way is vital for successful long-term relationships.
Y = YEAH! What is something good that happened today? Life can be difficult and it’s easy to lose sight of the positive things that happen to us, especially for those of us who struggle with depression. Each year I resolve to keep a gratitude journal, but I’m not consistent about it and eventually quit. I like this idea because I can mentally review my day and note at least one bright spot in it to be thankful for or inspired by.
I’m pleased I made these intentions this year and look forward to seeing the results. I hope some of you decide to try them with me and let me know about your journey. A Happy and Healthy 2013 to all!