Setting Positive Intentions for 2017

In the midst of transition this time of year, when many of us are taking time off to travel and celebrate holidays, it can be a powerful practice to reflect on the year that has passed and set goals and intentions for the one that lies ahead. This exercise gives us a chance to celebrate what went well in 2016, make peace with what did not, and devise a plan to get the most out of 2017.

Judging by the consensus within my community and all of the people featured in John Oliver’s season finale: A Tribute to a Truly Terrible Year, 2016 has been hard. The near constant stream of bad news from around the globe is not only heartbreaking, it also has terrible effects on our brains. Receiving negative information — similar to exhibiting negative thoughts and behavior — deteriorates our optimistic tendencies and strengthens our tendency toward negative thinking and pessimism.

The other day I sat down to brainstorm the beginning of my own list of 2017 goals. When I went back to start to formulate SMART Goals for myself this morning, I was surprised by how much of my initial list was framed in the negative. A few examples:

  • Eat less quickly.
  • Be better at staying in touch.
  • Stop saying “yes” to things I’d rather say “no” to.

It’s true, these are three areas of my life that could use some improvement. It is also true that I’m not going to get motivated to make changes by focusing on what I’m doing wrong. Paradoxically, if we put our attention toward what we want to accomplish, the more capacity we will have to manage what makes us feel bad. Here are my three example goals reworked in the positive:

  • Savor my meals and improve my digestion by chewing thoroughly and taking breaths between bites.
  • Reinvigorate relationships with distant friends and family by calling or writing at least two people each week.
  • When asked to do something, take a moment to think and do a body scan before answering. Ask myself if I have the time and interest and answer honestly.

None of this is new or revolutionary, but at the end of this challenging year, it’s worth a reminder that despite all the hard work and obstacles that lie ahead, we have the ability to start the new year on as positive note by treating ourselves kindly in regards to our goals.