What Are Your Intentions?

I have never liked New Year’s resolutions.  They feel restrictive and confining, like a sweater two sizes too small.  They are focused on specific behaviors and seem to carry with them the suggestion of failure.  “I will lose weight.”  “I will stop smoking.”  “I will exercise every day.” I’m a goal-oriented person so I bristle against self-defeating goals.

Still, the idea of a resolution or guidepost held real appeal for me.  So, in 2013, I decided I wanted the best of what a resolution could be without the rigidity of a resolution.  I determined to set an intention instead.  Where a resolution is focused on behavior, an intention concerns itself with attitude.  And where a resolution is limited, an intention can be expansive.  Intentions do not need be tied down to specific outcomes.  Intentions, by definition, inspire mindfulness.

The intention I chose for 2013 was “less judgment, more compassion.”  During the year, I actually used that phrase every day, in conversations with clients, friends and family.  Over the course of the year, I found myself thinking less critically and taking more time to explore other angles of a situation or story before forming an opinion.

My decision to choose an intention and bring intentionality to my life was both satisfying and successful.  So much so that I began thinking of my intention for 2014 well before the new year.  I had grown very fond of “less judgment, more compassion.”  While I was reluctant to let it go, a new year deserves a new intention.

But how would I choose my new intention?   Could it ever be as satisfying as my old one?

In late December, I found myself in the Redwood Forest in Northern California.  While walking beneath the redwoods, I stopped and listened and heard… nothing.  At least, none of the sounds I was so familiar with.  No traffic noise.  No television talking heads.  No cell phone ringing.  There was not even the sound of a bird chirping.  I listened more closely.  Only then did I hear the soft sound of the breeze stirring the leaves and the gentle rustle of those incredible trees.

And my new intention came to me: Listen.

I was pleased with my new intention but, after several days of contemplation, I felt that it needed a companion.  But what would that be?  I let the question percolate into the new year and my return home.  Once back in my office, I found myself distracted by the many emails and social media that had accumulated while I was away.  As I was reflexively deleting many of these missives, too overwhelmed to bother reading them all, I realized that I was deleting a lot of valuable information, and missing an opportunity to learn.  And just like that, there it was. The second part of the intention: Learn.

Listen and learn.

Let’s see how that works.