Resolutions vs. Intentions: A Soft Surrender Into Our Highest Self

In many cases, we find ourselves falling short of our resolutions, leaving us to question whether they’re the most effective option for making change. This article explores why and how to set heart-based intentions.
Gillian is a writer, yoga and meditation teacher
intention setting
Gillian is a writer, yoga and meditation teacher

In this article, Gillian Florence Sanger explores the difference between resolution and intention setting and explains how to make heart-based change.

Making Change Is Not Easy

As many of us know through experience, it’s as they say: old habits die hard. Making change isn’t always easy due to layer upon layer of conditioning that built hard shells around our beliefs and our actions. As our mind begins to move beyond its narrow perceptions (outside of these limited shells we’ve built overtime), our yearnings to break free only grow stronger. And yet, our actions struggle to line up with our words, leaving us feeling out of alignment with our highest intentions.

It’s at these precipices that we are confronted with a choice – even if that choice is unconscious. We can

  1. choose to let that inner voice fade as swiftly as it came, returning to our comfortably uncomfortable old habits,
  2. resolve to never again fall prey to our old ways, or
  3. set mindful, clear, and compassionate intentions given all the information at hand.

If we’ve been practicing mindfulness for some time, the first approach doesn’t satisfy for too long. When we realize that something must change, we can take the second road – the tough love approach that is ‘black or white’, measurable, and specific – or, we can take the third route – a softer surrender to the voice that bellows from below.

The difference here is between resolutions and intentions, and as we familiarize ourselves with the qualities of these approaches, we might find ourselves melting quite naturally into the latter.

The Difference Between Resolutions And Intentions

It might seem to be a matter of semantics, but the difference between resolutions and intentions runs deeper than what might be apparent on the surface. Resolutions tend to be clearly defined, measurable, and specific. They view things as ‘this’ or ‘that’, often quietly judging behaviours to be either ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

Intentions, on the other hand, are soft, qualitative, and compassionate. While they might include some degree of specificity, they are often difficult to measure being based in experience as it unfolds. Intentions embody a quality – and as we know, qualities are felt in the body before they are known in the mind.

To highlight this difference, we might consider an example. For instance, someone might set a resolution to consume zero grams of refined sugar, indefinitely or for some period of time. The intention behind this might be

  • to listen to and honour the needs of the body,
  • to nourish oneself with high-quality, unprocessed foods, or
  • to be aware of one’s attachments to certain foods as a means of avoidance or distraction.

In some cases, a resolution-based approach might be exactly what is required. When resolutions appeal to us, setting parameters (and an end-date) that are both challenging and achievable can help us to stay committed. Furthermore, in cases of abuse or addiction, the ‘all-or-nothing’ approach may be the best route. In these instances, professional support is deeply valuable.

However, in many cases, we find ourselves falling short of our resolutions, leaving us to question whether they’re the most effective option for making change.

We might first ask ourselves: Why do we fall short? One explanation is that it’s because our experience changes. What we know as ‘truth’ in our body shifts according to the minute, the day, and the season. In one moment, a warm chocolate drink might be soothing for both soul and body; in another, it might be a distraction from taking a closer look at something calling for our attention. Intentions provide us with room to flow and to explore these shifts with compassion and curiosity.

Read more: Explore the natural cycle of transition and three helpful questions to inquire when coping with change.

Intention Setting: Softening Into The Self

Taking the intention-based approach to making change is a gentler, more compassionate way of addressing the voice that tells us it is time for something to shift or to come to fruition. Rather than forcing the self to be something other than what it is, intentions help us to soften into the truth of our purest or highest self. Again, this approach may not be the optimal path in all cases, but for many of us, intentions are just what the highest self yearns for.

As we explore the intentions of our heart, the mind softens and we tune into what is ‘most true’ for us. Placing heart over mind, our vision sets itself on images and qualities that unveil more stable yearnings and virtues. If we come back to our previous example of giving up refined sugar, our intention to listen to and honour the needs of the body takes precedence over the issue we have with sugar. Because, on the deepest level, it’s not about sugar – it’s about our relationship to ourself.

How To Set Heart-Based Intentions

Setting intentions from the heart is a practice we can explore at any time of the year – in any breath, on any day, in any season. Intentions offer us the opportunity to recognize that each moment is a fresh start. This might become a daily practice or be something we explore when the heart feels compelled. There is no right or wrong time or frequency to practice this. One approach to intention setting is as outlined.

To begin, find a quiet space where you will undisturbed (universe permitting) for ten to fifteen minutes. You might like to set up your space with a candle, a journal or soft music. Whatever settles the soul is welcome here.

Take your time to reflect upon what is moving through various realms of your life – your relationships (romantic, familial, and other), your work and sense of purpose, your creativity, your leisure time, your quiet time, and all others nooks of life. Consider where you feel as though too much or too little energy is flowing at present.

Take a bird’s eye view of where things feel unbalanced, enquiring deeper about what virtues, qualities or commitments might be missing. Is patience required? Is seriousness outweighing playfulness? Is compassion missing – for self or for others? You might use your journal to jot down your thoughts or any single world that comes to mind.

After five to ten minutes of contemplation, place everything aside, close your eyes, and put what you’ve discovered into a single sentence of intent. Examples of intentions include:

  • I intend to let myself move freely and confidently, embracing the wisdom, beauty, and radiance of my truth.
  • I intend to open my heart wider, to both myself and to my partner. 
  • I intend to prioritize space – to be and to breathe.

Your intentions might be framed in a single word, such as ‘compassion’, or they may be more detailed as in the examples above.

Spend about five minutes reflecting or meditating upon your intention, feeling into these words as though their truth already rings through every cell of your being. What does it feel like to embody this energy? Can you let these intentions be true in this very moment?

Gillian Florence Sanger created a guided meditation to set intentions for the new year. However, you can do this meditation whenever you want to gently open yourself up to the values and virtues of your heart. This recording creates space and guidance to help you discover what those values and virtues are, inviting you to set intentions that will inspire our moments ahead:

  1. Set Intentions For The New Year Gillian Florence Sanger 13:22

Intention setting meditations, reflections in nature, and any other way of connecting with your heart’s deepest yearnings are all ways of living in greater alignment with your highest self. As you practice intention setting, be sure that your words are imbued with compassion and patience. As life flows, let your intentions direct your steps. Slowly, overtime, you might come to realize your intentions have woven themselves into the core of your being – and that old habits have fallen softly in the footprints left behind.

Read more: Keziah Gibbons explains how we can use language to influence our unconsciousness to direct our attention and energies towards our goals and dreams.

Meditation. Free.