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Setting intentions for the new year may sound unfamiliar to you. But fear not! In this post, I don’t ask you to replace good ol’ fashioned resolutions and goals with some purely touchy-feely emotion-based intention. I actually believe in a combination. And I’ll show you how my process allows me to set more authentic and aligned goals for the new year.
Plus, I’ll show you how my tarot cards help me throughout the process!
This post is a must-read for anybody who wants to live a more intentional and successful life in the coming year.
What’s wrong with the way you’ve been setting goals
In the beginning of her book Steering by Starlight: The Science and Magic of Finding Your Destiny, author and life coach Martha Beck helps us to get clear on what we really want in life and to set better life goals.
Beck insists that most people don’t know what they really, truly want, so they might not be setting the best goals for themselves. In her words,
“What we think would bring us happiness often won’t do the trick. What we’re really after when we yearn for something is a feeling state.”
This “feeling state” can often be better encapsulated by an intention rather than a goal.
Why you can’t neglect intentions
While intentions and goals both refer to changes you want to make in order to improve your life or develop or grow in some way, there are some key differences between them.
Goals tend to name desired achievements or measures of progress we want to make, while intentions focus more on how we want to feel and act on a regular basis.
For example, let’s say you want a bigger social circle in 2021. If you are goal-oriented, you might set a goal to meet one new person each month. On the other hand, if you are intention-oriented, you may intend to show up as a more outgoing and integral member of your social support system in 2021.
Want another example? Let’s say you want more money. If you are goal-oriented, you might set a goal to add at least $10,000 to your savings account in 2021. On the other hand, if you are intention-oriented, you may intend to appreciate, rather than fear, money and adopt more of an abundance mindset in 2021.
As you can see, shifting from setting goals to intentions focuses less on the external marker or symbol of “success” and more on how you want to feel everyday. And why is that important? Because intentions honor the way you want to feel and actually invite you to regularly check in on how you’re feeling. In this way, they tend to be more authentic and aligned with your highest good.
Goals, on the other hand, aren’t really concerned with how you feel as long as you’re ticking milestones and accomplishments off your list. The sad truth about being solely goal-oriented is that you can be the most productive and impressive goal-achiever on the planet and still feel empty, joyless, and unfulfilled if you are achieving goals that don’t mean anything to you or don’t get you closer to the person you want to be and the way you want to feel.
But, goals aren’t all bad! Goals – at least smart ones – are specific and measurable and give you a clearer path to success. They tell you exactly what to work toward and let you see when you are approaching success and exactly when you have reached your aim and can celebrate your achievement!
How setting intentions first can help you set better goals
That’s why I think that when it comes to setting new year’s intentions or any time you are designing and planning for the life of your dreams, you need a combination of both emotion-based intentions and more actionable goals.
In fact, intentions need to come first. Here’s my process.
Step 1 – The Intention Phase: Ask yourself how you want to feel.
How do you want to feel in 2021 (or whenever you are reading this post)? Get out your journal or a blank Word document and start writing everything that comes to mind about how you want to feel. You are going for emotions here – not material, tangible, external things.
If you’re like me, you might want some more guidance and structure for this phase. Most people, myself included, tend to disproportionately focus on a few areas of their lives and sort of neglect the rest. The below list helps me to think holistically so that I am not living an imbalanced life and neglecting things that really matter to me:
- Physical Health
- Mental Health
- Activism/Civic Engagement
Feel free to use this list or any variation of it necessary to give you a full picture of your life.
You might take one area at a time and journal how you want to feel in terms of that specific area.
Here’s an example of what you might say for Area 1:
I want to feel loved and appreciated. Supported and cared for. I want to feel confident and sexy and beautiful. I don’t just want to receive love – I want to show affection more freely.
Your journaling for Area 7 might look like:
I want to feel physically stronger and more vibrant and healthy. I want to trust and appreciate my body and all it does for me.
Notice that I focused on feeling states – emotions – rather than specific action plans or measurable things. I didn’t say I want to get back to the weight on my driver’s license; I said I want to feel strong and vibrant.
(Related: Set Better Goals: What Do You Really Want?)
Step 2 – The Goal Phase: Take one intention at a time and ask yourself how to get there.
Here’s where we get into an action plan. I told you we aren’t giving up goals entirely! We can’t completely revolutionize our lives for the new year (trust me – I’ve tried), but we can certainly take one or two important steps to get us closer to our intentions.
So, taking just one life area at a time, ask yourself what you need to do to get to that feeling state.
Another way to look at it is to ask yourself what the highest version of yourself, the one who already embodies this intention, does to show up as this person? Journal your thoughts.
Let’s say that for Area 12 – fun and hobbies – I wrote down that I intend to feel joyful and adventurous. How does the joyful and adventurous version of me live? What does she do? I might journal:
Well, she certainly doesn’t work all the time because she makes time for joy and fun and adventure. She also needs to be less of a perfectionist and embrace spontaneity. In fact, I love going on adventures with my husband and we never do anymore because I work so hard.
So it looks like if I intend to feel more joyful and adventurous, I need to work less. My specific goal for this intention might be to stop working for the day at dinner time. No working after dinner, no matter what. (Another version of this might be to stop checking work email over the weekend, or whatever else makes sense to you. Think about it and really picture where your hangups are and what your less-than-ideal habits and tendencies are.)
Do this for each of the areas in your life. What step or two will help you more fully embody your intention?
Step 3 – Check for alignment: Review your goal to make sure it truly aligns with your intention.
Finally, we circle back to our intentions and reflect to make sure our egos didn’t completely take over in the Goal Phase and veer us off our true path.
Check on the alignment of each goal you just set by reading back your original intention – the feeling state you want to cultivate – to see if that goal will actually get you there. If they don’t quite match up, it’s likely that your ego took over! But now you are equipped to catch it and set a more aligned goal.
In fact, I’ll share with you an actual goal that I set for 2021 that didn’t align with my intention.
When it comes to Area 7 (Physical Health), my intention for 2021 is to feel stronger, more energized, and confident in my body. Somewhere along the line I translated this intention into doing yoga three times a week, getting some kind of movement every day, and getting down to my pre-pandemic weight.
Step 3 asks us to see how well these goals match up against our original intentions. Regular yoga will help me feel stronger and more confident in my body. The yoga I do tends to be slower paced, which is why I want to make sure I get other movement too. That could be a 20-minute dance party or a long dog walk.
(I’m also super sedentary and terrible at exercise, so these goals are realistic for me. Set yourself up for a reasonable challenge.)
As for my pre-pandemic weight, I thought it would make me feel confident. But when I really thought about it, I didn’t like the idea of hinging my confidence on my size. I know many confident queens much bigger than me. I also know some teeny tiny self-esteem disasters. So the verdict is in: My ego set that last goal. My weight is actually completely irrelevant to my intentions. It’s neither here nor there, and I don’t need to expend energy on it because it won’t help me embody my desired intentions.
Out it goes!
How can tarot cards help with the process of setting intentions for the new year?
Your tarot cards can help you at various stages of this process. It’s so natural and easy to weave tarot cards into all sorts of intention-setting, decision-making, and planning processes in life. Also, it’s really fun!
Tarot cards are a tool for tapping into our inner wisdom and higher self. In other words, tarot allows us to dig past our ego-driven desires and commune with our authentic self to find out what we truly want and need in life.
When we consult our tarot cards, we are actually consulting our intuition. This allows us to dig deeper and feel into our intentions and goals to see how our heart weighs in on the matter.
So here are the various ways tarot cards can help you with setting intentions for the new year.
If you’re having trouble stating your intentions for 2021
If you’re having trouble getting to the heart of your intentions for any of the 12 (or however many) areas above, your tarot cards can help.
Take a few deep breaths and shuffle your tarot cards. If you’re feeling really blocked and want some free-flowing guidance, ask your cards, “What are my deepest desires for the coming year?” Pull a few cards (anywhere from three to six would probably help) and see how they make you feel. Write down the intentions and feeling states that come to you.
Let’s say the 10 of Cups comes up. You might realize you want to feel more serene and at peace. Perhaps you want to feel more trusting and optimistic in 2021.
If you are stuck on a specific area that isn’t particularly inspiring you, pull one card for that area. Shuffle your tarot cards and ask, “What is my truest and most positive intention for my mental health (or whatever) in 2021?”
Let’s say you draw the Queen of Wands. You might realize you’re ready to deal with some past wounds or traumas that are catching up to you. Instead of pretending everything is okay, maybe your intention is to honor your pain and process it with compassion and acceptance rather than shame or self-loathing.
The cards act as meditation or writing prompts that unblock your thoughts and get your heart speaking to you through the cards.
If you’re having trouble coming up with a specific goal
Perhaps you are able to articulate how you want to feel in 2021. But when it comes down to taking action or starting a new habit or project that will get you there, you’re stuck. Your tarot cards can get you unstuck!
Shuffle your tarot cards and read your intention out loud. Then ask, “How can I best embody this intention in 2021?” Pull a card and see what you see in the card that relates to the specific intention you’re asking about. If one card seems cryptic or confusing, pull one or two clarifying cards to help your interpretation.
If you want to make sure your goal is aligned with your highest good
Maybe you didn’t have trouble coming up with either your intentions or your goals. That’s great! But perhaps you’re having trouble with the third step – really setting your ego aside and evaluating the alignment of your goals.
The tarot cards are a great help with this! In fact, that’s how I realized that my weight goal didn’t align with my highest good. I shuffled my tarot cards and asked, “How does my goal to get back to my pre-pandemic weight align with my highest good?” You know what card I drew? The Devil! After cracking up (come on, tarot cards be sassy!), I realized I may just be stuck in some limiting belief. After all, society pushes this stupid goal on women all the time. Is this really something I want to care about? Or does society just shove it down my throat on the daily?
Feel free to draw a new card to see if your revised goal gets a cosmic green light. It usually will.
Have an intention or goal you’re particularly excited or nervous about? Feel free to share in the comments below! I am ready to celebrate and encourage you as needed!
Happy New Year!