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Starting the Year Right: 5 Tips for Setting Powerful Intentions

What is the difference between setting a goal and setting an intention?

Goals are a destination or specific achievement. Intentions are lived each day, independent of achieving the goal or destination. Goals are external achievements. Intentions are about your relationship with yourself and others.

When resolutions or goals seem overwhelming, try setting intentions. Intentions are based on our values and they can serve as an anchoring baseline, whereas a goal is more specific and measurable.

It’s up to you on if you want to make changes for the next year or just continue the good from this one. Here are some fun and peaceful ways to get clear on and set your intentions.

Take time to reflect and write

Reflection is easily something you can do alone and on your own time. Create a peaceful space with no distractions and take some quiet time. You could start by asking yourself questions about yourself and your values.

Conversations can help reveal a lot about ourselves, too. It may be fun to gather a virtual group and share the growth and struggles of this past year.

Either way, make sure to write down some thoughts. Writing expressively about thoughts and feelings can help with happiness and coping. It can also help us make sense of our thoughts—you might be surprised at some revelations that come up.

Start with the why

Intentions aren’t about the action plan—they’re the values and desires behind the plan. 

Intentions can work without goals; goals are much harder to achieve without intentions behind them. Without the why, resolutions and goals can feel empty or start out of guilt or comparison.

While intentions can serve as the foundation for goals and resolutions, they’re also free of any timelines, numbers, or measurable results. The goal might be to cook one new meal a week, but the intention or value behind it would sound like nurture creativity or take care of my health.

Make it feel doable

While we can’t control the unexpected, we know that we can give ourselves alternate options when our plans go sideways. Setting short-term intentions is one way to try it out. It gives you the chance to take stock after a short period (like a few months) and see if it might help to adjust your original intention for a new set of circumstances.

On the other hand, when the world turns into a shaken snow globe, it can also be anchoring to have one long-term intention that you can keep returning to. Committing to a singular theme, like connection or bravery, can be used as encouragement when experiencing obstacles.

But challenges are still important for mental health. Rather than choosing an intention that you already practice or one that’s easy, stretch a little and add on a way to grow. For example, if your intention is for more connection, include those connections that might not always be comfortable or easy to do—and use those as learning experiences.

Create physical space for clarity and peace

Studies have shown that home environments affect everything from our stress and energy levels to our eating habits. This is because our brains like order. A clear space frees up mental energy—a great place to start for setting intentions.

This could be a good time to take a quick assessment of your space. Ask yourself if it feels peaceful, and if there are any items to put away or give to others. Or, if you’re in the mood for a bigger project, a good refresh could also help create a peaceful space. Clearing out space also helps prepare for any downsizing you may need to do down the road (and it’s never too early to start).

Make it clear, memorable, and repeatable

Once you’ve gotten clear on how you want to live out this next year, it may help to have a short phrase, one word, or a few words to sum it up. Whether the words are centered around health, relationships, or personal growth, it’s important that they’re memorable and aspirational for you. One good rule of thumb could be that if it doesn’t fit on a sticky note, it won’t be easy to remember and repeat.

To help remind yourself of your intention, you could draw or write notes and put them around your home—and then make sure to move them around every so often to keep them noticeable.

Finding freedom in setting intentions can help to bring your focus to living in the moment and enjoying life instead of striving for the next thing. Goals have their place but if you are finding that you have been working toward the same goals and not feeling like you will ever get there, give setting an intention a try! You might find that you end up reaching that goal after all.

Kelly Sherman, MS, NC, CPT

Kelly Sherman, MS, NC, CGP, CPT, is a licensed nutritionist specializing in empowering women to reclaim their health by cutting through misinformation and ditching the diet culture. She has a master’s degree in nutrition and is degreed in exercise science as well as a certified personal trainer. With over 20 years of experience in the field, she combines the best of both nutrition and exercise sciences to best help her clients reach their potential. To nourish is to flourish!


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