This post was originally written for The Heart of Hillsborough magazine.

I’ve never been very good at New Years’ Resolutions, and I think I’m in good company.  Our resolutions often come from “should” – I should really exercise more, I should lose 5 or 10 pounds, I should eat better. 

The English root of the word “should” (or shall, which is the present-tense version) means to owe, to be under obligation.  The Germanic root of the word means debt or guilt.  When we act from a “should,” whether we realize it or not, we are acting in response to social pressure.

Several years ago, I started the practice of setting an intention for the energy I want to invite into my life over the next year or so (my current intention is going on 3 years!), and choosing a word or a few words to represent my intention.  Each morning, before I begin meditation, I’ll remind myself of my intention.  Within months, weeks, sometimes days, opportunities begin to turn up that are in harmony with my intention, and because I reminded myself just that morning what my intention was, I am prepared to see those opportunities and act.

How to set an intention?  It begins with something you want to change.  Take the overly common “I should lose 10 pounds.”  Ask yourself why.  The answer might be, “Because I ought to be healthier.”  Again, ask yourself why?  What do you gain from being healthier?  “I want to feel better and have more energy.”  Why?  “So I can do more of [whatever thing you love doing].” What’s one word or phrase that represents being able to do more of the things you love?  “Vitality.”

It’s very important that you keep asking the question, “Why?” until you reach the answer that makes you feel alive, or joyful, or energized.  When you have that response, you have connected to a core piece of yourself.  Whatever intention you have expressed, it comes from your desire to be fully alive and engaged in your life, rather than from social pressure. 

Notice, too, that we didn’t define what healthier looks like.  By not defining what it looks like, we leave open multiple possibilities.  Vitality might mean really learning what your body likes to eat so that you feel fabulous.  It might mean getting out weekly or daily for hikes or kayaking or long walks.  It might mean getting enough sleep.  It might end up having nothing to do with a number on a scale, and yet it lets you do more of whatever it is that you love. 

This process of defining your intention and a word or phrase to represent your intention can take quite some time.  It often requires finding some time and space to connect to your physical body, and let your mind settle.  It could be a few hours, or you might work on it over a few weeks.  It’s important, though, to be very clear in your intention.  In the example above, the word “joy” or “presence” or “expression” might have also been the word that you chose.  Each of those words represents a slightly different energy, and so what you choose matters. It’s worth taking the time to find the word or phrase that really resonates for you.

Once you have an intention that is clear to you, find a way to write or draw it, and put it some place you will see it at the beginning of your day each day.  You could put it in front of your alarm, on your coffee maker, on your bathroom mirror.  Anywhere that you can see it each morning (and not tune it out) will work.  Why?

Think about the last time you were researching buying a car.  All of a sudden, every time you drive somewhere, you notice how many people are already driving the car(s) you are researching.  How many people have that car hasn’t dramatically changed – you just weren’t paying attention to that car before.  This concept is of tuning in to a particular type of input called priming. 

So by remembering your intention each morning, you are priming your mind for the day to pay attention to information that is in line with your intention.  And because your intention came from your own desire, instead of from a debt or guilt, responding to that information feels good and affirming.  And that makes you want to do it again tomorrow.

Remember how we didn’t define what success had to look like?  Intentions don’t have timelines or endpoints.  You will know when you have fully explored your intention, and it is time to choose a new one.  Maybe that will be next New Year, or maybe not…

May you find clarity of heart and space of mind in your intention-setting,