Contributed by: Brittany Collins, LCSW, LCAS

What does it mean to be intentional or to live life with intention? This concept has grown more popular in recent years, though is still unclear to many. Let’s break that down and share why it can be helpful.

The new year always brings about reflection on the year that has come to an end, and most commonly, setting resolutions or goals for the next. However, for many of us, our energy towards those goals tends to dwindle as the months pass, for a variety of reasons. Instead of focusing on the goals, the DOING, the things we want to ACHIEVE, it is more sustainable and beneficial in the long run to put forth effort in our overall experience of BEING.

Intentions are about living more in alignment with your values or what is most important in your life, choosing actions that directly tie into your core values. Intentions assist us in staying focused on what matters most, allowing us to achieve a sense of fulfilment more meaningful than accomplishing a single goal. While we focus on these intentions more broadly, rather than the outcome of a goal, we allow space for being human – getting sick, exploring life, changing our minds, sustaining an injury – that may deviate us from our specified goal and cause us to feel a sense of failure, and negate any progress to that point. Intentions allow us space to learn, grow, and pivot if needed, while working towards living in sync with our values. Another benefit is that it supports us in feeling more present and capable in our lives and provides a broader sense of power and control. There is no pressure of a set deadline for completion, rather ongoing efforts set at our own pace.

Here are some examples to better explain the difference between a New Year’s resolution or goal, and an intention.

As parents, some goals you set for yourselves may be around the way you raise or spend time with your kids. Let’s say your goal or resolution is to “stop bringing work home and spend the evening with the kids”. This is all well and good until there is a crucial deadline at work, you’ve had other life circumstances get in the way of completing it, and you start hopping on your computer at home instead of being with the kids. The guilt sets in, the momentum slows down, and you feel defeated. However, turning this into an intention such as “be more mindful of time at home” or “prioritize quality time with the kids” or simply “balance”, leaves ample room for life to happen and offers the ability to easily pivot and get back on track.

Supporting your kids in identifying their intentions for the new year as well can be a meaningful experience for you both. This can teach them the importance of understanding and moving towards values, rather than focusing on a single change or habit to create. Our IOP group members recently participated in an activity to reflect on their experiences of grief, growth, and gratitude over the previous year, and identify intentions for the new year. They identified single words like “consistency”, “happiness”, “growth”, and “balance”, allowing for a range of actions to fall under these in various life domains.

As the words or phrases are identified, the most crucial step in the process is to actually start making the actions and decisions intentionally. No matter your age, as a social psychologist named Dan Gilbert once said, “Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished.”