At this time of year we are incessantly bombarded with messages that tell us to quit this, lose that, get fit, and to embrace the ‘new year new you’ mantra. There’s way too much pressure on us in January to be ‘the best versions of ourselves’, to aspire to what are often completely unattainable fitness goals, and to basically give up everything we love. January can be miserable enough as it is without all these other demands placed on us, right? I mean for starters there’s the comedown from the festive frivolities, then there’s the short cold days and the dark mornings and evenings, and let’s not even go there with the sorry looking state of our bank balances. So, I don’t know about you lot, but I am done with doing it that way. I want to set intentions for 2024 that are realistic, motivating, achievable, and most importantly that don’t make me feel rubbish.
As you can probably tell, I’m not a big fan of new year’s resolutions. But I do kind of get why the start of a new year is a great time to sit back and reassess a few things in life (although, I do strongly believe this shouldn’t be reserved solely for January. I personally think we should have a check in with ourselves at the beginning of every season, but hey that’s a whole other blog post). I just don’t think we should be so tough on ourselves that’s all. And so, I want to talk to you about the idea of setting intentions rather than resolutions, which is a much more positive and self-nurturing practice.
How To Set Intentions And Stick To Them!
Let’s start by looking at the language we use, as this forms a powerful narrative for how we position our mindset. Resolutions centre around the idea of resolving something. Resolving a problem or finding a solution to something that is currently wrong or not working properly. A pretty negative connotation, right? Before we’ve even started to achieve any fitness goals we might have we’re telling ourselves that we need to be fixed and that we’re not good enough. Intention on the other hand offers positivity – I intend to do this in order to achieve this. The word is encouraging and doesn’t focus on a problem, instead it inspires growth.
This year more than previous years I have felt as though I need to create more structure and set intentions in January. As though I need to grab the bull by the horns and take charge of certain areas of my life. I’m not talking about doing Dry January or signing up for gym membership, that classic January punishment. No, I mean sitting down and having a good hard think about what it is I want from 2024. What I want to do more of, what I would like to achieve, what things make me happy, what ignites the passion in me, makes me feel alive.
We can all make excuses, right? Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of non-negotiable tasks filling our day that we can’t simply strike off of the to do list; work, kids, house admin etc. it’s all stuff that needs to be done. So it’s easy to see why exercise and self-care practices can fall by the wayside. I’ve let that happen with strength training, which I used to do lots of, but now can’t actually remember the last time I picked up a weight or even did so much as a sit up come to think of it. Interestingly, the one thing I have kept consistent with is running and that’s mostly because I can tie it in with taking the dog out and therefore it becomes one of those non-negotiable tasks. Funny how us women are more than OK doing things for others, but if it’s for our own benefit or gratification we consider it as somehow not important enough and we strike it off of our priority list.
But the fact is we are important and it’s time to start recognising that. Not only is it incredibly important we make time for ourselves to do the things we love and that make us feel good, but that we also do so to strengthen the belief in the people around us; our kids, partners, loved ones, that they too should be looking after themselves and doing the things they love.
To help you set some intentions for 2024 I’m going to share with you 10 lessons I’ve learnt that have helped me to not only clarify what intentions to set, but that have also helped empower me and driven me to achieve.
1. Track Your Movement
For a long time I have been against wearing a smart watch, choosing instead to run nude so to speak i.e. without tracking my runs or fitness levels. My reason for this was because I found I was comparing my performance to others and it made me feel as though what I was doing wasn’t good enough. So why the sudden change? Why am I here telling you that tracking your movement is a good intention to set to help you reach your fitness goals?
Well, something clicked for me. Something glaringly obvious really. And that was that I could still track my runs but simply keep my records private and choose not to follow anyone else. I mean, yeah I know, it’s not rocket science, but for me it was a light bulb moment. Since then I have a new smart watch, which I’ve been using for about 3 weeks and I am loving it. Not only does it record my runs, walks and other fitness activity, it counts my steps, tracks my heart rate, monitors my stress levels, tells me when I need to rest, records my sleep patterns, honestly it feels as though it has me pretty figured out already. The information it gives me enables me to keep a track of my progress, to see the improvements I’m making, but also to keep a check on the areas I’m perhaps not doing so well at. And what I’m finding most beneficial of all is that it allows me to cut myself some slack. If I see that I haven’t had a great night’s sleep, or that my stress levels have been higher than normal, it offers an explanation as to why my run wasn’t as good that day. Or even better it allows me to pre-empt that I’m not going to be feeling so great and that I should consider not exercising that day, or changing the type of exercise I do.
Tracking my movement has kept me consistent and helped me to learn more about my body and to tune in with what it needs each day. This knowledge has kept my intentions on track without me really even having to think about it. Because the watch is doing all the thinking for me.
2. Ignore The Gym Membership Offers
Controversial, I know. Especially when at this time of year you’re surrounded by messages telling you that signing up to a gym membership and taking advantage of the discounted January ‘new year, new you’ offers is exactly what you should be doing. But the way I see it is why spend money on a gym membership when you could be exercising for free at home or outdoors?
Gyms can be quite daunting spaces. They’re crazy busy at this time of year which means you can’t always use the machines and weights you want to. They’re loud, brightly lit, and there are mirrors everywhere. Honestly, it’s my worst nightmare. I personally feel as though my money is better spent on investing in a few pieces of equipment to use at home. I’m not talking about big bulky machines like multi gyms and power racks, there aren’t many of us that have space to house one of those bad boys, no just buying a range of dumbbells, an exercise mat, maybe some stretch bands etc., are all you need to get started. And that works out way cheaper than any gym membership.
The benefit of having this kind of kit at home is that you can use it whenever works for you. Going to the gym on the other hand, has to be scheduled into your day, you have to account for travel time to and from the gym so it’s going to take longer, and you also can’t workout in your pjs if you want to. Well… you can, but you might get some funny looks!
Set intentions that promote movement that is controlled by you and that don’t rely or are restrained by external factors, such as gym opening times etc. and you are much more likely to stay on track without having to make anywhere near as much conscious effort.
3. Be Realistic
The biggest reason people break their resolutions is because they have set themselves too high a target. When you set intentions it’s much easier to scale it down. And for this to work you do need to be realistic with yourself. Be realistic about what your base level of fitness currently is. Have you exercised recently, or have you had a big gap, or perhaps this is all completely new to you. Whatever level you’re at it’s better to start slowly and build up, to not only make your goals more achievable but to also avoid injury. Instead of resolving to ‘get a six pack by summer’, switch it up and set the intention to ‘move more’ so that your fitness goal becomes way more attainable.
The other thing to consider is how much time you have and when a good time for you is. Again, be realistic. If you know you aren’t a morning person, don’t try and squeeze a workout in in the morning. Yes, it might seem like an easy way to ‘make time’ but the fact is if you love your lie ins, you are much more likely to fail at some point in the future. It’s almost inevitable. Avoid setting yourself up for failure by setting some intentions that work for you, not against you. Got a spare 20 minutes at lunch? Go for a walk. Dropped the kids at school and got half an hour before you need to be at your desk? Squeeze in a short run. Want to catch up with a friend? Why not do a yoga class together and grab a coffee afterwards. There are always ways to fit things in, but it is so important to be realistic about what you can fit in, without it impacting on other things in your day. Perhaps start off by thinking about what you intend to do each week. For example, ‘this week I intend to… move more’. By keeping the intention simple you are much more likely to achieve that goal and that is going to not only make you feel great but will also be motivation enough to keep going.
4. Figure Out Your Drive
Everyone is driven by something and before working out what intentions you’d like to set it’s worth figuring out what drives you. For example, some people are motivated by how other people are performing and thrive on the competition. If that’s you, then using a fitness tracker or an app to follow your mates is the way to go. Other people need an event to keep them focused. Knowing you have a long distance race booked in 9 months time will certainly keep you motivated. Whereas others are driven purely by the fact exercise makes them feel great and they do it for the endorphin hit.
This year I have set the intention to make time for strength training. Mainly because I’ve taken on a bit of sod it you only live once challenge later on this year and I know that in order to be fit enough, strong enough, and to reduce the risk of injury, strength training will benefit me massively. In the past I would have set this as a resolution and attacked it full throttle, resulting in me completely knackering myself and it impacting other things going on in my life. Yes, I got the results I was after, but it didn’t make me feel any happier, and it literally consumed me. This time I’m doing things differently. I’m tuning into a more intuitive way of thinking when it comes to movement and this works so well with intention setting. Take today for example. I had strength training on my to do list (the intention was there). However, the day completely ran away with me, things crop up unexpectedly, right? In the past I would have forced myself to do that strength training no matter what. Today, instead, I have listened to my body and thought you know what I ran a long run yesterday, had a busy day today, strength training can wait. The intention was there, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way, and that’s fine. I can do it another day. No guilt, no beating myself up, no shame. And because my drive to do it is still there, I know that I will do it when I can.
5. Do It For You
When you set your intentions for the year they need to be for you. Not anyone else. You. Which is easier said than done, especially at this time of year when your social media feeds are likely packed with fitness influencers telling you what they think you should be doing. And these people do their jobs really well, as their posts can be hugely influential, after all they’re the experts, right?
But remember, these are your intentions, your goals, your achievements that you want to reach. And whilst I am not deterring you from getting help or seeking advice from people who are trained in fitness and who really know their stuff, I also feel that we can be drawn into this world a little too much. When actually we should be going with our gut, listening to our body, and not forgetting the intentions we originally set.
Just because your mate, someone you follow on social media, some random person you’ve seen working out in the gym, is lifting heavier weights, running faster times, not breaking out in a sweat, doesn’t mean you are failing. This is your journey you’re following, not theirs.
And while I’m on this topic, please also don’t just set intentions because it’s January and everyone else is and you’re feeling the pressure that you should too. If the time isn’t right and if you’re not quite feeling it, don’t force it. You will know when the right time is. Just trust the process.
6. Make Life Easy For Yourself
I am all for making things as easy as possible. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not work shy, nor do I like to take short cuts, but if there’s a way to make a goal more easily achievable I think it’s worth exploring the options. This is about helping yourself. Helping yourself to see through your intentions and to save yourself time in the process.
Here are some ideas for you:
- Get Your Clothes Ready – Planning on going for a run in the morning? Check what the weather’s going to be like and lay out suitable clothing right next to you bed so that it’s the first thing you see when you wake up. Going to the gym? Pack a bag ready with all your kit. Line your trainers up at the door. Do anything that’s going to spur you on to make this happen. Set intentions and see them through.
- Prepare Your Space – Similar to getting your clothes prepared, if you intend to workout at home the next day, lay your mat out the night before, so that your space is ready for you in the morning. Get your weights out, pause the workout vid at the exact point you want to start, do absolutely anything that is going to much it that much easier for you to get started.
- Plan Your Workout – Whilst I’m not a big fan of having things absolutely set in stone, I do think it’s important to have a bit of a plan. Think in advance about the type of exercise you want to do that week, how many days you want to exercise, and the times you could fit it in. By knowing when your free times are, you can be more flexible with when you exercise.
- Find An Accountability Partner – If you struggle to motivate yourself, it’s time to get someone else on board who can not only motivate you, but who you can also help motivate. Having someone who you are accountable to makes you much more likely to stick to the intentions you have set. For example, if you have agreed with a friend that you are going to go for a run in the morning, you are more likely to show up because you don’t want to let your friend down. Whereas if you were running on your own, it is far easier to come up with an excuse and talk yourself out of it, because no one else is depending on you.
7. Planning Is Key
I am someone who needs organisation in my life in order to thrive. I feel in control if I have a list in front of me. On my phone I have a to do list for each day, a food shopping list, a weekly meal plan list, a weekly exercise list, a books I want to read list, you name it I’ve got a list for it. No matter what intentions you set for the year ahead, a certain level of planning is recommended. Especially if, like me, you can be prone to procrastination.
I know how much I can fanny about when the tough stuff needs doing. I’ll have a difficult piece of writing to do for work or I’ve planned a run but it’s raining, and suddenly I’ll have this massive urge to put a clothes wash on, do the dishes, empty the bins, scroll through social media, order random stuff online, anything to put off the more difficult task.
Plan your week ahead, your day, your month even. Where would you like to be fitness wise in say a months time, 6 months time. What obstacles might be in your way, for example do you have a holiday coming up where realistically you know full well time around a pool with cocktail in hand is going to trump hitting the hotel gym. Be realistic with your time and be kind to yourself. This isn’t about running yourself ragged, these intentions are here to improve your life in some way or to make you feel happier. Enjoy the process just as much as the result.
Never underestimate the power of a rest day. If there’s one thing my new smart watch has shown me, it’s that the rest and recovery are just as important, if not more important, than the days I exercise. After intense exercise our bodies need time to recover in order to function at their best and to continue functioning at their best. Without these essential rest days we risk injury and burn out, and then we’re never going to reach those fitness goals. When you set intentions, especially if they are fitness related ones, it doesn’t always have to be about the active part. It is just as worthy to jot down that you intend to rest more than it is to say that you intend to exercise more.
Sleep is also another hugely important factor to consider when thinking about achieving your fitness goals this year. And perhaps if you are someone who doesn’t get the best quality sleep, this should be an intention you focus on before you consider any fitness intentions. I realise it isn’t quite as easy as setting an intention to get more sleep. If only it was that easy! But what you can do is to set intentions that will aid sleep, such as putting your phone away earlier than you would usually, not exercising too late at night, or cutting down your caffeine intake.
When your body is rested, not only will it perform better, but you will feel much more energised and up for it. Which is going to make setting and achieving your intentions a hell of lot easier.
9. Make It Fun
There is absolutely no point doing something if it isn’t fun in my opinion. Force yourself to do something you hate, you’re going to give it up, no question. Hate getting up early every day and forcing yourself to do yoga? The result is you resenting the very thing that once bought you joy. Can’t stand running in the rain? Every step ends up being a chore. Force yourself to do anything and you lose the passion, the love, the drive to success. Exercise becomes something you have to do, rather something you want to do. And that’s miserable.
If you have set the intention to include more movement into your life, think about what this actually means. Movement can come in so many different forms. It doesn’t just have to be a sport, a gym workout, or a strenuous activity. We move our bodies when we do the gardening, when we dance in the kitchen making dinner, when we chase the dog around the garden, when we walk to the shops. Movement can be slow, it can be fast, it can be full on sweaty, or it can be calm and chilled. Make it work for you and most importantly make sure it is something that puts a smile on your face. In fact, do you know what, there’s another one for you… this year I intend to have more fun!
10. Failure Is Success
Failure is so often painted in a negative light, when in fact it is through our failings that we reach success. Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “Failure is success in progress” and if someone as clever as him believes that, then I reckon we can totally get on board with it too. You see, every time we fail, we learn something new. We become more resilient, we learn to adapt and change, to try something different to see if that works. And the result is that not only are we likely to gain a better outcome overall, but because the journey has been longer it also means that much more to us knowing our hard work and perseverance has paid off.
When we set intentions we already accept that we won’t be obsessively strict with ourselves, because often the intentions are purposefully vague. For example, if we set the intention to walk more, we haven’t really set a bar as such. Walking more each day could be achieved by as little as 200 more steps a day, walking to the shops for a pint of milk, taking yourself out for a lunchtime walk, or as much as going for a long hike every weekend. That’s the best bit about intentions; we get to choose. And if something crops up, meaning we haven’t managed to walk as much that week, it’s no biggie. We simply accept the failure, learn from it, think about why it is we haven’t managed to walk more that week, and then work out how things can change for the next week so that we can fit it in. And that right there is growth mindset at it’s very best.
The very act of sitting down and setting intentions is a joyous thing. Give yourself some time to truly think about what you intend to achieve this year and jot those intentions down. Start with the sentence opener, ‘This year I intend to…’ and then list your intentions. If you’re more of a visual person, you could try creating a vision board instead using cut outs from magazines, photos you have taken, or drawing your own pictures that depict your intentions for the year ahead.
Here are a few of my own intentions to help inspire you:
This year I intend to…
- Step out of my comfort zone and do the things that scare me.
- Believe in myself more.
- Compare myself less to others.
- Have faith in what my body is capable of.
- Write for fun, not just work.
- Continue with my sobriety.
- Lean into my creative side more accept that doing is better than perfection.
- Embrace the YOLO moments.
- Exercise for fun not necessity, all movement is good movement.
- Learn more about the things I love – language, nature, walking.
- Make time for reading.
The list could go on. What’s important to note however, and what marks intentions out as different to resolutions is that I will not become obsessed by these. These are not set in stone. They are not waiting to be broken. To make me feel bad when I fail. Because you can’t fail with these. They are simply there, on a list. A list that I can refer back to and remind myself of the things that matter to me. The things I intend to do.