I’m gonna be honest, 2018 was a tough year. And I think when I came into 2019, I thought to myself, “Okay, last year was tough, but this year will be better. This will be the year that I finally get my life together and start living a holistically healthy, and overall more impactful life. I’m finally going to do all the things, and do them better than I’ve done them in the past”
And so — the irony of it being only 2 weeks into the year and already being knocked-out sick in bed after taking care of my husband (and cat) who were knocked-out sick for the 2 weeks prior is nearly comical…it hasn’t been quite the ambitious start to a healthy and productive new year that I’d initially envisioned. It’s not like I had nutritional, exercise-related, professional, interpersonal, and writing benchmarks I’d made for myself to have met at this point in the month or anything…(cue sarcastic tone). Hopefully I’m not alone in this.
And I’d be lying if I said I haven’t been in this place many, many times before. I’ve always loved setting goals for myself. I love the thrill of putting my all into something to see it through to fruition. What I haven’t loved, is the seemingly unavoidable crash-and-burn that comes with going a million miles an hour and not knowing how to stop and rest, let alone learn to start pacing myself.
And this doesn’t mean I shouldn’t set goals. Personal growth and development are so, so important. But I think what I’ve come to realize is that in order for this growth to embody sustainability, it has to have intention behind it. And what I mean by “intention”, is that although there may be tangible and measurable results behind what I work toward; my personal expectation is centered more on the general direction I’m headed in, rather than that which is achieved along the way.
Intention can be defined as “a mental state that represents a commitment to carrying out an action or actions in the future. Intention involves mental activities such as planning and forethought (Bratman, M. from my very, very-credible friend, Wikipedia.)”
Intention speaks to desires formulating into concrete action for the sake of a certain outcome. The formation of this intention happens before any action and resulting success (or even failure) takes place. This means that the existence and persistence of an intention remain, despite a failed attempt or two (or ten, let’s be real).
This is important for me as someone who’s learning to be less failure-adverse, as I’ve come to find that avoiding failure is a sure-fire way to get nowhere fast. My failure in achieving and sustaining “new year’s resolutions” in years past has kept me from making anything close to one for quite some time now — Which is why for at least me personally, learning to set and stick to intentions rather than intended outcomes/achievements is becoming a game-changer in my personal growth. Setting an intention means that although I may be hoping for a specific outcome, I can celebrate incremental progress just as readily as I would a measurable goal being met. It means that picking up and moving forward is independent of the number of times I “fail” in the eyes of myself, or those around me. It means that I learn to expect, and even welcome said failure as a friend for the sake of the self-awareness and character development is has to offer me – because growth is more important than success or achievement.
Let’s look at the flip-side of this – when we succeed or achieve something, without intention behind it.
We’ve all been in situations where we receive or accomplish something that we know we never set our eyes on to begin with – be it a certain job title and/or promotion, an item or valuable possession, a position of leadership or influence, or maybe even an unexpected friendship or relationship. There’s nothing innately wrong with receiving things, but I’ve also noticed that when I step into something that I never intended to pursue, I more-often-than-not have a certain level of passivity in the attitude I receive said thing with. This in turn leads to a pretty quick burn-out or lack of appreciation, as I eventually find myself just going through the motions, not knowing why I am where I am, doing what I’m doing. And I know that not everyone’s like this, but I personally find it difficult to power through something that required little-to-no forethought regarding my personal values or desires for myself and the world around me. There are obviously exceptions to this, but I hope you see generally what I mean.
I should also quickly mention that there’s a common misuse of the concept of intention that should most certainly be avoided – that which excuses problematic or damaging behavior, regardless of what one “intended”. I’ve seen harmful actions or words become permissible due to the fact that the consequence of said words or actions were “unintended.” I understand the temptation to release oneself of blame, particularly when there were likely well-meaning intentions in place to begin with. We’ve ALL been there. But the interpretation of “intention” I’m talking about isn’t that which releases us of responsibility for our well-meaning, yet potentially damaging words or actions. (but this is yet again another post, for another day.)
And so, with all that being said, I’m trying something different this year (and hopefully not just this year, but every year). Rather than set particular “goals” for myself, or things to be achieved or accomplished; I spent much of 2018 honing-in on my personal desires and/or needs. From this place, I’ve crafted a list of intentions that I have going into the next few years or so of life, with full knowledge that I’ll meet failure, discouragement, and insecurity along the way. But the thing that I find really beautiful about these intentions, is that their existence is not dependent on any measurable or attainable achievement, nor failure.
Here are the intentions that David and I talked through as 2019 began:
Wellness: embodying holistic wellness that encompasses my physical, emotional, spiritual, and relational well-being.
Choosing Growth: making decisions that lead to growth in my career, relationship, and lifestyle.
Stepping into Integrity: embodying consistency in who I am and what I value, regardless of who I’m with and where I am.
Unapologetically Evolving: pursuing personal evolution and character growth regardless of the environment I’m in, or how other respond.
Investing with Discernment: recognizing that who I am and what I have to give is valuable, and I should therefore invest accordingly with my time, gifts, and resources.
Self-Compassion: making decisions fearlessly and extending myself grace when things don’t go as I’d hoped or planned.
So as I sit here, sick in bed after 2 weeks of attempting to power-through and accomplish all that I could within the first few days of January – I’m choosing to embrace self-compassion rather than judgement; in understanding that pursuing holistic wellness is going to be a journey. Rather than beat myself up for ending up in this burn-out cycle once again, I’m choosing to instead notice the ways that I’ve given myself time and space today to mentally and physically rest and find joy in writing, rather than work my butt off trying to get things done despite being sick. It’s not going to happen overnight, and I’ll probably have many more “crash-and-burn” periods in the months and years to come. But I do believe that I’m making progress. And I’m choosing to believe that this progress is more foundational than any achievement I could’ve otherwise made at this point in the new year.
And I hope this can encourage any of you reading — who like me, may have set overly-ambitious and unrealistic goals for this first month of the new year, and may need to revisit the intentions behind those goals. It’s okay to be where you are. It’s okay to have hit your first round of failure so soon into the year. It’s okay that you, as a human, have limitations. It’s okay to celebrate your progress, even if you’ve got nothing to show for it. You’re still moving forward, and that’s good enough for today, and the days ahead.