21 Jan Setting an Intention and Taking Action, by Kimberly Gibson, LPCC
It’s that time of year, a time when one may choose to set an intention or make a plan for the new year. Looking back and reflecting on the past year is a common occurrence in the month of January. When doing so, it can be easy to get caught up and stuck in thoughts such as “I could have done more” or “I should have done more”. The “coulds”, “woulds” and “shoulds” are filled with pressure & judgment. These type of thoughts can be negative and difficult to shake. So how does one work through these automatic negative thoughts and move on to setting an intention and taking action?
To take on these types of negative thoughts, it’s important to do two things. The first step is to explore them to gain a better understanding of what is behind them. For example, statements that start with “I should” can often provide insight into the standards you set for yourself and what you expect of others. Recognizing these standards can be helpful at times, however at other times, “I should” statements are unrealistic and unreasonable. They often create unrealistic demands and pressure. Questioning them can help one decide if they are realistic and if they are healthy.
The next step in balancing out negative thoughts is to identify what you did do. For example, if you were hoping to find a partner it’s important to reflect on how many dates you did go on when it could have been easier to stay in. Or if you were hoping to move into your dream home but weren’t able to do so, it’s important to consider how you made your current home into a warm, safe place. In other words, it’s important to recognize the actions one did take in the past year. Identifying these past actions can help challenge all or nothing type of thinking and create movement in one’s future rather than getting stuck in “the coulds, the shoulds & the woulds”
Once you have challenged your automatic thoughts and recognized your past actions, it can be motivating to identify future steps that are needed to reach a goal or to meet an intention. For example, if your intention for 2016 includes connecting with others and creating deeper relationships than a “next step” may be to turn off your phone when socializing or make your self fully present, in the moment. Resist the urge to multitask when in a position to connect with others. Another example could relate to improving one’s physical health. Maybe your intention is to get in better physical shape in the new year. Rather than getting stuck in all of the “I shoulds” such as “I should go for a run every morning” or “I should go to the gym three times a week,” it may be more powerful to phrase the action in terms of a next step. One’s inner dialogue could be, “My goal is to get in better shape so my next step would be to schedule a time to workout that is convenient and matches with my current schedule.” Thinking of goal related tasks as “next steps” rather than “to dos” or “I shoulds” can help create movement and help one move forward towards one’s goal or intention.