The custom of starting the New Year with a resolution has good intentions behind it. With a little self-reflection, we all see areas of our life we’d like to improve and bad habits we’d like to break. But for most people, perhaps as many as 90 percent, good intentions don’t get very far. They forget their New Year’s resolution as the force of habit and conditioning take hold again.
There is a better way, and it’s based on a simple yet powerful kind of reinforcement. By offering the universe an intention and repeating it every day, you can accomplish two things. First, you will train your brain to adapt to a new way of thinking. Second, you will begin to identify with a higher vision of your life. A spiritual life should contain skills that lead to practical changes, and using the power of intention is one of the most valuable skills you can master.
There are countless things a person can want, but being consistent for a whole year with four basic intentions gives you a greater chance for success, because these intentions don’t run into inner obstacles—they fit every lifestyle, belief system, personality, and individual situation.
The Four Intentions
- I want a joyful, energetic body.
- I want a loving, compassionate heart.
- I want a restful, alert mind.
- I want lightness of being.
As you can see, these intentions move from body, emotions, and mind to spirit. These are the domains of consciousness where pure awareness takes form as sensations, images, feelings, and thoughts. There is a flow that is natural to everyone’s life, and what you are intending here is to replace resistance, disorder, effort, and struggle with an easier way of living.
To use the power of intention requires a new way of approaching body, emotions, mind, and spirit as a single stream of being. This is easily accomplished by a small shift in your daily routine.
Step 1: Take a few moments in the morning to sit quietly before moving into the day’s activity. This is your time for setting the inner agenda for the day, in a state of quiet attention. If you already meditate or pursue your own inner practice, you can add the four intentions at the end of your session.
Step 2: When your mind is settled, follow your breath, easily and effortlessly, for five minutes. At the end of the time (or at the end of your regular meditation), place your attention on your heart.
Step 3: Repeat the four intentions, taking a pause between each one to let the intention find its place inside you. The mind-body connection is fluid, so intentions go to different places every day, giving rise to a new response. Be easy with any response that comes, and return your attention to your heart before saying the next intention.
For example, silently say the first intention: I want a joyful, energetic body. Wait a moment to let your attention go to any sensation, image, feeling, or thought that arises. Notice the response, then put your attention back on your heart and silently say the second intention: I want a loving, compassionate heart.
Don’t judge your response or try to change it. It’s fine to have any response, even if you might label it negative. The purpose here is to get your attention to loosen up and go where the mind naturally wants to go. If you find that any response feels too strong or causes distress, open your eyes, take a few deep breaths until you feel centered again, then go back to the next intention. Don’t force anything.
Step 4: When you have finished the four intentions, sit quietly in a settled state for a few minutes. Then get up and go about your day.
Following Up on the 4 Intentions
Simply by stating your intentions and allowing them to enter the inner domain, you are affecting more change than you could through a resolution that you try to enforce with willpower. The first step is always the most important. There is also a follow-up program that will greatly enhance your intentions. Feel free to adapt any or all of the following practices:
1. Reminders: If you find yourself in a situation where you don’t know what to do or how to feel, take a moment and remind yourself of the intention that is most appropriate. For example, if you are tempted by a rich dessert even though you are already feeling full at lunch, repeat to yourself, “I want a joyful, energetic body.” That’s all. Go ahead and make any choice you want, whether to order dessert or not, without judgment. Reminding yourself of your intention is a value-neutral step that over time aligns you with your highest intention without stress or strain.
2. Stress: The opposite of flow is stress. If you find yourself being stressed, the first thing to do is to get out of the stressful situation as quickly as you reasonably can. Find a quiet place, center yourself, and repeat your intentions, especially “I want lightness of being.” You are telling your higher self that you don’t want to align yourself with stress but with peace and calm.
3. Reinforcement: The best reinforcement is being aware of your path, day by day. In the late afternoon or evening, when you have a quiet moment, write down the positive things that happened during the day in regards to any intention that is starting to come true. It can be something as simple as enjoying a walk, appreciating natural beauty, feeling grateful for your children, or being inspired by a poem or scriptural passage. These are moments where flow replaced struggle. Acknowledge them and they will increase.
4. Regrouping: You do many things during a single day, and your attention has many demands placed upon it. Once you have expended your energy for the day, going to sleep allows your brain to reset for the coming day. As you lie in bed, in those moments before sleep comes, be aware of the four intentions. Review body, emotions, mind, and spirit. You can repeat the intentions or simply let your attention go to these four areas in a positive, optimistic mood.
What I’ve outlined is a simple, practical program that will serve you much better than making a resolution. Aligning yourself with the flow of life is a supreme goal, because it unites body, mind, and spirit seamlessly. This state of unity is what every aspect of the self deeply desires.