The power of making flexible “new semester intentions”

Starting a New 2L semester

[ Bree A. Vculek, 2L at George Washington University ]

Starting the semester feels like the start of a “New Year” for me. An exciting blank slate of opportunity awaits. But instead of New Year’s resolutions, I like to make new semester intentions.

I have found that setting intentions brings a feeling of excitement and promise, more so than traditional resolutions, which often have left me feeling a sense of guilt (for not following through) and dissatisfaction. I also find resolutions to be stiff – like a to-do list. You either complete something or you don’t. My intentions are much more flexible. They represent my hopes and values, and who I want to be a semester from now. My intentions resemble a map with many possible paths that lead to the goal.

Three steps for setting your intentions

1) Think incrementally and realistically

If you can turn your intentions into habits, it’ll be easier to embody those intentions. Consistency impresses a habit into your brain, whereas exhausting yourself once every couple of weeks makes a habit difficult to keep. Say you intend to embrace movement more this semester. Think about a reasonable amount of time you might spend exercising. Then set an intention to exercise for half that time on a more regular basis.

2) Specify what you want to achieve

Let’s be honest. Sometimes the habits we want to keep aren’t the easiest. Writing your habits down with specificity can help you better visualize how it’ll happen. Visualization can help you get over that hurdle.

FOR EXAMPLE, TRY WRITING DOWN: I intend to [activity] for [time] in [location] at [time of day] every [interval like day, week, or month].

3) Reward yourself a little at a time

One potential drawback to intentions and positive habit-building is that the process doesn’t always deliver immediate gratification. If you can give yourself little rewards along the way, you can make intentions feel good without always looking too far into the future. For example, if you intend to meditate more, you could have your coffee (reward!) directly after meditating each morning. If you’re looking to jog more, you could take yourself out for a nice dinner (reward!) every ten runs. Try not to make these rewards dependent on a streak, or doing something every day, since that doesn’t lead to a healthy relationship with the activity. 

Finally, and perhaps most important, as you’re putting these intentions into practice, exercise kindness. At the end of the day, we’re all human. Think about what you’re getting out of an intention along the way. If, after a while, you find it’s not making your life better, feel free to let an intention go. Always remember, these are flexible promises to yourself and there’s always more than one way to achieve your goals.

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