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How To Set Intentions For The New Year

If you want to improve your life and live into your full potential in 2020, without setting unrealistic expectations for yourself and allowing zero room for error, you must avoid New Year’s resolutions and make the shift to setting an intention for the New Year. This article is your ultimate guide to setting New Year’s Intentions (not resolutions) and seeing more happiness, success, and fulfillment in 2020.


With 2020 lurking right around the corner, most personal growth lovers are itching to set goals for the new year.

I remember when I was at the beginning of my personal growth journey, I LOVED setting New Year’s resolutions. I felt like there was so much untapped potential in a new calendar year, and I could mold and shape it into whatever I needed it to look like.

I could just FEEL how much happier and more successful I would be in the next 365 days.

I had yet to realize that 99% of my New Year’s resolutions would be unsuccessful, that the start of a new calendar year was no different than the day before it, and that there was a much more effective way to change my life than a Pinterest post of resolution ideas written down in a notebook.

Related post: The Ultimate Guide To Setting Goals And Achieving Personal Growth

At the beginning of December I wrote a post outlining why New Year’s resolutions never work and what you should do instead. If you are still in the habit of relying on New Year’s resolutions and not seeing the results you want in your life, dive into that post to understand why it’s not your fault, but it is your responsibility to change.

In it, I mention setting a ‘theme’ or an ‘intention’ for the year: one word to guide your decisions and prioritize your actions against so that a few months from now you are living into a better version of yourself.

Why should I set intentions instead of a New Year’s Resolutions?

Intentions serve as our guiding stars as we live our lives.

They remind us of the kind of person we want to be and the kind of life we want to live.

They allow us to be mindful of our full potential without demanding perfection and leaving no room for error.

They give us space to focus on the journey instead of judging us only by the outcome.

Intentions take human nature into account and hold space for our mistakes while showing us the way forward regardless of how many times we fall down.

It’s important to set an intention instead of holding yourself hostage to resolutions because intentions allow you to give it your best and pivot as needed, without feeling like you’ve failed yet again.

How do you set intentions for the New Year instead of resolutions?

I’ve had a lot of people reach out and ask ‘how do you set an intention for the year?’ ‘how do I switch from setting New Year’s Resolutions to setting Intentions?’ ‘What does it look like to set an intention? How exactly do I do it?’

I figured this topic needed more explanation because it is easier said than done. So if you are looking to set a New Year’s intention for 2020 instead of a resolution, here is your ultimate guide to setting intentions and improving your life.

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ONE: Define your deepest values

The reason we set intentions is because we want to live in closer alignment with our values.

Maybe we value health and well being, but we’ve made a habit of unhealthy food choices that we’d like to change.

Maybe we value calm and mindfulness, but we’ve over committed ourselves in different areas of our life and want to change how we spend our time.

Maybe we value connection and positive relationships, but we haven’t found our tribe and want to spend more time with like minded people.

You need to understand your values before you can achieve personal growth.

It sounds like a cheesy quote, but I promise you it’s not.

If you don’t know what you stand for, you will run in circles without ever feeling fulfilled.

Most of us have some idea of what our values are, but taking the extra time to get crystal clear on your top 5 priorities makes the difference between accidentally living a good life and intentionally designing an amazing life.

Related post: How To Shake Up A Monotonous Life

For those of us who don’t know where to start when it comes to clarifying our values, I like to do the following

  1. Write out ‘an ingredient list of joy and meaning’: ask yourself “when things are going really well, what does it look like?”

    This is a Brene Brown concept that I love. It gives you an idea of the 20 things that bring you joy, both little and big.
  2. Categorize the things that came up in your list into different groups of values.

    For example, if your list had things like “I make time to read, I take a new course, I watch documentaries” then Learning & Growth may be one of your values.

    If your list has things like “I get out for a walk, I have energy to play with my kids, I do yoga” then Physical Health may be one of your values.
  3. Make a final list of the 5-7 values that you hold, and write out things you do that bring you TOWARD your values, and things you do that take you AWAY FROM your values.

    For example, one of my big values is Being Present. Any time I focus on my breath, go for a walk, put away my cell phone, practice gratitude, notice and appreciate something, listen when someone talks, and accept what is, I am moving TOWARD being present. Any time I, scroll through social media, worry about my to do list, interrupt someone who is talking, tune out my kids, multitask, I am moving AWAY FROM my values.

    Knowing the specific actions that give you more of, and less of, what you want in your life creates a clear blueprint for how you can improve.

Once your values feel authentic and right, you are ready to move on to the next step in setting your intentions for the year.

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TWO: Identify the biggest gap

You can’t improve everything all at once.

The key to seeing growth in any area of your life is picking ONE thing to focus on and giving it your all.

As you reflect on your values and the different areas of your life, think about which one needs the most improvement.

Is it your health? Is it your mindfulness? Is it your commitment to your goals? Is it your career?

Here is a template with the most common areas of life that people care about. Use it as is or modify it as you need to. Rank on a scale of 1-5, how happy you are with each area (that will give you insight into where your intention for 2020 may fall).

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Sometimes, it won’t be one clear category, it may be a general lack of satisfaction across all categories in one specific way.

For example, in 2019 I felt like I was not living in the present moment and was reacting to everything instead of proactively managing my time, my energy, my health, my money. I wanted to be intentional with who I surrounded myself with, what I devoted my time to, where I focused my thoughts, and what I put in my body. Those areas of discrepancy and feelings of lack informed me where I needed to focus on most in 2020.

PS – As you think about where you’ll focus in 2020, grab our free goal setting template and success checklist by joining our community!

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You will get thoughtful motivation and practical strategies for how to create a purpose driven life exploding with joy, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

THREE: Define an inspiring intention for the year

Feelings dictate many of the actions in our lives.

If you want to inspire yourself to change, you must define the intention that feels the most authentic to you.

If you’ve chosen physical health as the area that needs the most focus in the New Year, then your intention cannot be ‘to lose 10 pounds’. It could be ‘to fuel my body’, ‘to challenge my limits’, ‘to optimize my performance.’

You must tie your WHY into your intention so that the case for change is captivating.

In 2019, my theme was to live intentionally. When I read those two words I pictured a calm, centered, and deeply content version of myself that was focused on what mattered and proactive in infusing her days with joy.

Thinking of those two words throughout my day helped guide my choices and reminded me of the way I wanted to show up.

This year, my intention is to explode out of my comfort zone. I’ve realized that I’ve been playing it safe in different areas of my life, and I want to focus on breaking through my safety net and redefining what’s possible for me. When I think of these words, I picture a girl who feels fear and acts anyway, can say ‘I’ve done that and here is what I learned’, and has accomplished the unfathomable.

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FOUR: Create a clear picture of your vision

The final step of creating a solid intention for the year is to tie it to a vision that you can see every day.

You can capture your intention on sticky notes throughout your house. You can write your word out in calligraphy and frame it. You can create a background of your word on your phone. Or you can go all out and create a vision board of a life lived in alignment with your values.

Regardless of the format you choose, make sure you’ve got a daily reminder of your intention for the year.

This is my vision board for 2020. It captures my purpose driven life exploding with joy. I look at it every morning while I exercise and it starts my day off with purpose and focus.

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I know I’m not the only one who feels the pressure to set New Year’s resolutions every time the year comes to an end. Your friends, your colleagues, your social media feed may constantly be asking ‘what are you doing differently in 2020?’

And that’s a great question to ask.

Good questions are the key to unlocking personal breakthroughs.

Related post: Finding Your Purpose With 10 Questions

But the answer doesn’t have to be a New Year’s resolution. The answer can be the simple way in which you’re showing up as a more authentic version of yourself.

Related post: Building A Meaningful Life

A New Year is absolutely a great chance to review who you are and what you want out of life. But so is today. And so was yesterday.

You don’t need to wait for permission to create a life you love.

ANA MCRAE

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What is your intention for 2020? Let me know in the comments below!

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