Its my birthday today. Having a birthday on New Year’s Eve has its pros and cons. There is always a party on, but rarely is anyone available for a birthday celebration, and all the restaurants are inevitably booked out. Still, I would never swap my birthday for any other day. You see, I love that the years of my life align with the calendar years. It feels orderly, which appeals to my Capricorn control-freak tendencies, but most importantly, it enables my cherished birthday tradition.
Every year, no matter where I am in the world, I take a couple of hours to be with myself, ponder the year that has passed, and set some conscious intentions for the year ahead – New Year’s resolutions, you may call them. I call them intentions because they are what I intend for myself. I write them down, usually in a fresh Moleskin journal whose blank pages express an expanse of possibilities. Then on my following birthday, after the Earth has revolved once more around the sun, I return to my secret wishes and reflect on how far I have come. I have been doing this for nearly 15 years.
This year I looked back through my tower of different coloured, now tattered, Moleskin journals and the various resolutions I had scribbled in them over the years. To my amazement, I discovered that virtually ALL of my intentions had come true. Some were life-changing like getting pregnant and having a baby (or three), some were more trivial like going on a European holiday. Most came true within the year I had set them, but some manifested many years later, after I had forgotten that they were ever even wished for.
The realisation of last year’s intentions has been perhaps the most surprising of all. At the end of 2014 I shared on Facebook that my intention for 2015 was to be courageous, carefree and creative. However, I didn’t tell anyone at the time what that cryptic message actually meant, because my desires seemed so unattainable that I was afraid to voice them publicly. But this is what I wrote in my journal – “to have the courage to resign from my job with grace; to build a new career where I am carefree and see my kids more; and to pursue creative writing and start my own blog.” Unbelievably all of those things have come to pass in 2015. I resigned from my job, am now working for myself, seeing my kids more, writing every day and I launched this blog a few months ago. Not only that, I started my own organisation working on the prevention of violence against women, which I now discover was an intention that I had written about in detail in 2011.
This journey back through my birthday wishes made me wonder, what is it about the process of setting conscious intentions that works so well? How does this magic happen? Upon reflection I think that there are 7 important steps that anyone can apply to make their dreams come true. This sounds corny, I know, but seriously, give it a try.
Step 1: Be still. The first step is to get still. You need to be silent and go within yourself to identify your deepest desires. Some people might do this through meditation, others by sitting or walking in nature, or journaling. Do whatever works for you, but give yourself time to tap into your most authentic wishes – these are the ones that are aligned with universal desire.
Step 2: Be grateful for what you have already. The second step is to reflect on the year that has passed and express gratitude. I write down all the experiences that have brought me joy, what I feel I have accomplished, and all that I am grateful for. This process reminds me how beautiful and rich my life already is. And starting with a feeling of abundance is absolutely vital in setting intentions, because what you believe about yourself and your life will be reflected back to you.
Step 3: Identify your deepest desires. The next step is to figure out what you truly, madly, deeply want. Don’t be afraid of desire. Your desires point you towards the path of your true self. For your resolutions to have any chance of coming true they cannot be based on the ego, or external expectations, or driven by what you think you are ‘supposed’ to do. Rather, they should bring you such excitement that you want to jump up and down like a 2 year old who has just eaten fairy floss, or bring you such peace that you exhale just thinking about them. Some people know what their dreams are but many people have buried them so deeply under obligation and responsibility that they are barely discernible. In this case you need to be quiet enough to hear the whispers. One strategy I find helpful is to write a story about what your perfect life looks like in as much detail as possible: where are you living, what are you doing on an average day, who are you spending time with and how do you feel? Then let go of any fear. Ignore the voice in your head telling you that your dream is crazy, or frivolous, or irrational, or irresponsible, or impossible. You would not have this deep yearning if there was no way for it to become a reality. As Deepak Chopra says,
“Inherent in every intention and desire is the mechanics for their fulfilment.”
Step 4: Focus on how you want to be and feel, rather than what you want to do or have. Often our most powerful desires are about being, rather than doing. Being at peace, being in love, being inspired, being creative. For example, you may think you want a certain new job, in part because of how you imagine it will make you feel – perhaps more challenged or creative. The job may bring you those things, or it may not. So when you set your intentions focus first on the state of being or the feeling you seek, because you may find that your desires are fulfilled through unexpected experiences. Then check in with yourself throughout the year to see if your choices bring you closer to those desired feelings.
Step 5: Be positive. Traditional New Year’s resolutions tend to be negative and stem from a sense of self-criticism. For example, “I’m fat and unhealthy and have to lose weight and stop smoking.” Such resolutions are almost bound to fail because they are driven by a sense of deficiency and will never inspire you. Positive goals that stem from a recognition that you are already beautiful and whole, well, they have immense power. So always frame your intention in the positive. For example, you might set your intention to feel fit, healthy and fully engaged in life by starting a physical activity that brings you joy such as hiking, horse-riding or dancing to Beyoncé. Whatever does it for you.
Step 6: Be specific. While your overarching dream might stem from a desire to be at peace or to be creative or to be of service, the more specific you can be with your intentions the better. You may have one big dream, for example to become a writer, but it is helpful to include multiple specific goals in your list – to write a new article every two months, to get published in your favourite magazine, to join a writers group and be inspired by meeting other aspiring writers.
There are a few different ways to organise your list of intentions. I sometimes group them – for example – by career intentions, personal intentions, creative intentions, family intentions etc. One of my favourite approaches is to set short (1 year), medium (2-3 years) and long-term (4-5 years) intentions. This let’s me dream big by including goals that may take many years to achieve, and also helps me map out steps along the way.
Step 7: Let go and float downstream. This is possibly one of the most difficult and least intuitive steps for many people. But the word ‘resolution’ comes from the Latin word resolvere, which means to loosen or release. And that’s what you need to do with your New Year’s resolutions. Let them go. Release them, just as you do symbolically when you blow out a birthday candle, or breathe a fallen eyelash into the world. You should know that your wish will come true, but that you cannot control how it will happen. Focus on the joy of what you love doing, the journey so to speak, and surrender the outcome.
In our society we are often taught that nothing is achieved without hard work, and that you have to struggle and strain to make your dreams come true. And if you have made resolutions based on external expectations or obligations then it will indeed be an endless struggle. However, if you have identified deeply authentic desires, achieving them will feel effortless, like floating downstream because you will be inspired to act. This is perhaps expressed most beautifully by the Tao Te Ching’s description of non-doing which says,
“The Tao does nothing, yet leaves nothing undone.”
When you are on the right path and pursuing you deepest desires, the universe wraps you in stars and carries you on a cloud to your destination and beyond. So dream big, sit back, relax and watch the magic happen.
May 2016 bring you everything you wish for and more.