Resolutions vs Intentions: Forget Resolutions and Set a Sankalpa

list of resolutionsLast Update August 8th, 2016

As years pass us by, for many of us, comes the inclination to set some solid resolutions for the upcoming months. Looking back at months preceding, so often what stands out is areas in which we could have been “better” versions of ourselves.

Whether it is in our careers, relationships or just all the excess over the holidays, what we tend to focus on are specific things we “shouldn’t” do. So when the clock passes midnight on December 31st, and we are rejuvenated with a sense of renewal and fresh starts, resolutions are born. We resolve to take out all the things that have been creating suffering in our lives.

To do without, go without and let go of anything that has made a negative impact on our life. Whether it’s to stop drinking, cut out sugars, quit smoking, quit over spending, or to diet; we resolve to mold a “better” version of ourselves by letting go of vice.

And it usually works for a time. But then the negative habits creep back in slowly, and before we know it, we are back where we started.

So why don’t resolutions work?

In the context of yoga, and other reputable disciplines, there are a few fundamental flaws with new year’s resolutions. First and foremost, resolutions are mostly set in the negative.

We tell ourselves what we WON’T do, eat, smoke, or say get angry, and in this way we are actually still subconsciously focusing on the aspects of our lives we wanted to let go of.

We are negating an aspect of our self, and essentially trying to stave it off by sheer will power. Willfulness may work temporarily, but there is no power in will if you can’t see yourself doing it.

And you can’t conceptualize, visualize or even imagine yourself NOT smoking, NOT drinking, NOT eating cookies. It is impossible.

Which leads us to another fundamental resolution flaw: we brought all our focus onto a goal, an end result, that we can’t clearly see ourselves achieving.

This is the place where intention comes into play. An intention means that we decide on the course of action we want to follow in the future.

When we intend something, we are setting ourselves on a journey that ends up in a better version of ourselves. In yoga, the practice and power of intention has been around for thousands of years.

It is known as sankalpa.  To set sankalpa means to invite and embody a more positive aspect of ourselves into our lives. Specifically. If you want to stop over eating, set an intention to eat smaller meals.

Invite in healthy eating habits, and see yourself eating that way. If you want to stop over spending, set an intention to save money. Invite in savings, and see yourself living in abundance.

When we focus on the positive, we can conceptualize ourselves there. We can see it, feel it and believe it.

When an intention is properly set, it becomes not about the end product, but about THE PATH towards bringing out more of what is already there for us.

And that is the beauty of sankalpa, we invite something in clearly and definitively, and here is the key: we let go of the outcome. Because on the path towards a more positive you, there is no ultimate destination, each small step forward along the way is an opportunity and a blessing.

Many yogic texts, such as The Vedas, say that the whole universe is evolved through Sankalpa (the yogic version of intention); that everything we perceive is constantly shifting, changing and moving with the conceptions and ideas created in our minds and hearts.

The Vedas are some of the world’s oldest sacred texts, dated some 1500-1000 BCE; well before new age culture and movies such as “The Secret” popularized the idea that we can shape our own reality.  From the yogic perspective, positive thought patterns have always been paramount to seeing through the illusions of our fleeting emotions and fickle minds.

In practice, setting an effective Sankalpa is relatively easy and can be summarized in the following three steps:

  1. Sit quietly, breathe and perhaps journal your way into one main, realistic and positive intention. Focus on the course of action you intend to follow, rather than what you DON’T want, using wording that is in the present tense; wording that can become your motto or mantra. For example: “I am living a happy, healthy lifestyle”.
  2. See yourself in that state you wish to embody and invite. Sit in it, feel it, write about it and examine what it looks like until you believe it is possible for you, and your sankalpa becomes something tangible. Do this for a short time each day.
  3. Let go of the outcome, and especially let go of the “how”. Just by setting a positive intention, and spending a little time with it each day, you are already helping to shift negative thought patterns in the mind. Remember that you are embarking upon a journey, if you hit some bumps along your  path, accept them for what they are: challenges to learn from.

Yogis have known for thousands of years that the universe will support us in whatever path we choose, whether positive or negative. To shift the negative to the positive, all that we need do is consciously choose a direction, and focus on it lightheartedly and with diligence. Inevitably, our eyes will open to what the world has on offer.


Resources for Further Reading

Photo by:Colleen Galvin