Welcome to a new year, a new decade, a new era perhaps. Certainly 2020 comes with an expectation of change, or a shift or move forward of some kind. At the beginning of every new year we tend to feel the pressure to improve ourselves, to ‘do better’, to begin new habits in whatever area of our lives we feel is lacking or lagging behind - fitness, health, career, relationships. The take up of exercise classes and hobbies is typically up by 12% in the period between January 2nd and January 29th, and the first month of the year is actually now named ‘National Hobby Month’ in the National Calendar. But the beginning of 2020 somehow seems particularly portentous. And it’s got me thinking about the practices we do and the promises we make around the time of a new year, and how that relates to the work we do at The Pitch Process.
One of the main tools we offer clients when coaching public speaking or communication skills is intention setting. We invite them to use intentions to focus their communication, to ensure that what they say or how they deliver has a direction and motivation. This engenders a deeper level of connection with whomever they are speaking, and ensures their speech has clarity and definition. And it’s interesting how this tool is reflected on a wider scale.
A few years ago I stopped making resolutions and started attending a New Year’s Day ritual at a yoga studio instead. Something to do with looking for a more long-lasting habit or concept that I would stick to throughout the succeeding 12 months. It involved yoga, meditation, mantra, visualisation and (importantly) intention setting. A little ‘woo-woo’ some might think - the teacher’s own words of choice, not mine! - well maybe so, but in my experience ultimately more sustainable and effective.
A resolution always seemed so finite to me: a goal to achieve, a destination to reach, a target to hit, and it therefore almost always elicited a sense of guilt. To be resolute about something means to be ‘determined, purposeful, unwavering, headstrong or adamant’. All of these qualities are admirable of course, but during the dark grey days of January when one is not feeling so determined…well, the energy to be unwavering and purposeful might wane somewhat. Our resolutions might begin to fade and old habits creep back in. Similarly, when delivering the same speech over and over again, or presenting a pitch to yet another room of investors, trying to attain a certain result, without connecting to the intentions behind our words can elicit the same feeling of drudgery and apathy. Just like resolutions, we are thinking about the end point without considering how we might get there.
Resolutions are about reaching, striving, achieving, rather than living, journeying, embodying.
This is where intentions come into play. The discovery of intentions, or of setting an intention - for the year, the day, a task, an interaction - was a real eye-opener for me in terms of personal approach. It gave me a different perspective on everything I did. To be intent about something is to ‘give all your attention to it; to be attentive, vigilant; to have purpose’. It seems to cover a wider spectrum of emotions and situations than being resolute does. For me, intentions hold a sense of promise and excitement, a sense of having an attitude to something without being attached to the outcome. When speaking or presenting we can intend to affect our audience in some way and fully invest ourselves in this expression of thought without worrying about what the person or people we are speaking to are thinking about us or our words, because we are fully concentrated on our approach. Intentions allow us to see our goals and start to cultivate the journey towards them; resolutions are focussed on the end point. The goal, the destination, the target.
“Intentions give you clarity, and clarity gives you peace of mind”
- Chip Wilson, Canadian businessman & philanthropist
Intentions can also be reframed, of course. They can be revisited, altered, softened and adapted to each situation that crops up. An intention for the year might be to get fitter, to work towards a career goal, to live more sustainably, to travel more. Similar to resolutions, but framing them as intentions allow us to map out a plan to reach these desired achievements or experiences. I intend to live more sustainably, so I will buy my fruit and veg from the farmers market or local stall rather than at the supermarket, and I will hang my reusable bag by the door so I don’t forget it, for example. The same applies to communication: I want to win this pitch so I will intend to excite and inspire my audience so that they fall in love with this idea and want to back it. Even if you don’t do it perfectly all the time, your intention is there and you are moving towards your goal, rather than failing to achieve a resolution and then beating yourself up about it.
“Intentions and goals are for liberation. But when we use goal chasing like a hammer, it can beat up our self-esteem, relationships and creativity.”
- The Desire Map, Danielle LaPorte.
I also love the idea of setting intentions at the end of January rather than on New Year’s Day. (Hence the late release of this blog!) The first few weeks of January feel like a settling in period, a new exciting start but also a time where we need to shake off last year and the holiday season and sink into the present experience before we can start deciding our ideal trajectory.
Perhaps we could pencil in our initial intentions on January 1st and then review and rewrite in ink once we’ve seen the lay of the land more clearly. Perhaps the Chinese New Year, typically falling towards the end of January, is a good time to refresh those January 1st intentions. A quiet time set aside in the dark and dusky evenings to reflect and cultivate our mode of action for the year. Consider doing the same for your next speech or presentation: what’s my intention? How will I move forward, what might I create, what habits might I build, what’s my 2020 intent?