Monday 27 December, 2021

Setting Intentions That Improve Your Wellbeing

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We’re moving into 2022, and as with virtually every new year, talk of resolutions and goals begin to circulate – new things we want to achieve, old things we want to pick back up again, habits we want to make or break, and learnings we want to implement. 

Having goals and looking forward is essential for our wellbeing, but today, many struggle with having too many goals and demands. There are expectations set on us by others, those we set on ourselves, and those society sets on us. Adding more to that pile may not always be beneficial for your mental health and wellbeing, even if you mean well.

The demands we face are often more than we can manage, and at the beginning of the new year, we by default add things to that list. It’s unsurprising in a world that values us based on how much we do rather than who we are. But having too many goals or expectations causes us to feel overwhelmed, unsuccessful, disappointed, frazzled, burnt out, and impacts our mental health and wellbeing and relationship to others. Cancer adds a layer of goals, expectations, and hopes that we perhaps didn’t take into consideration before.

Yet, we have every power to challenge that approach to life and change the narrative. Instead of thinking about the new year as a time to set goals, think of it as an opportunity to set intentions. The main difference between goals and intentions is that goals are set for the future and imply a destination or specific achievement. In contrast, intentions are focused on the present moment, lived each day, independent of a future destination. Goals tend to be more rigid and don’t allow for much space to be human and for the spontaneity of life to happen. By setting intentions, we enter the new year without the rigidity or sense of failure when you don’t “meet” our goals, and with the motivation and joy of developing ourselves and taking active steps now. 

Here are five ways to kick off the new year with intentions that introduce space in your life to take care of your mental health and wellbeing during and after cancer. 

1. Make resolutions that take things away 

Regardless of what kind of intentions you decide to focus on in the new year, ask yourself what it is you can take away from your plate. Are there expectations you’re setting on yourself or others are setting on you that are doing more harm than good? Understand your underlying motivator and take away goals or expectations that cause unnecessary stress and drain you. This will save time and energy to spend in places that do you good.

2. Carve out time for reflection

When looking back or looking forward, we see broad strokes and create narratives about ourselves. For example, 2021 was the year I got cancer. Or, 2022 is going to be the year I experience chemotherapy. Sometimes it’s helpful to look at the big picture and see how far we’ve come. Maybe the treatment worked or you got through complications linked to your cancer. Perhaps you went from grieving your cancer diagnosis or the loss of a loved one to accepting it and feeling hopeful about what the future has in store. 

Ends and beginnings are good times to reflect. Take the time to reflect on this past year, what it brought you, what it took away, and how you’d like to take some things with you into the new year and leave other things behind. 

Then, set an intention for yourself to carve out space more often than just once a year to reflect on what is going on in your life so that you can focus on the details of your life – what is serving you, what isn’t, and intentionally seek out what energises you.

3. Express yourself 

The next step in reflection is expression. Challenge yourself to reflect back and dream ahead, and express these thoughts and emotions concretely. Write down, record or draw out your thoughts and give yourself the time to let them out. Self-expression is vital in reaping joy – by letting out our emotions through writing or music or art, we help our minds and hearts sift through everything we are going or have gone through.

It’s a safe and cathartic way to express our emotions, better understand ourselves, feel more in control of our situation, and lift our perspective above the muddle of the day-to-day. By doing so, you become the author of your life. Here’s more on how storytelling can help life with cancer.

4. Celebrate the small moments and practice presence

All of us get caught up in the nitty gritty of life. Inconveniences arise, worries pile up and our to-do lists get longer and longer. Beyond that, we deal with a complex layering of emotional, physical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual experiences that impact our moods, the focus of our attention, and wellbeing. Some days, we get caught up in who we are and why we’re here, what we’re doing or not doing, if we’re going places or feeling like we don’t want to go anywhere at all. These kinds of existential thoughts can be exacerbated by our experience with cancer. Other days, we get tunnel vision and focus our attention on the hiccups, annoyed at insignificant details and the things that go wrong.The thing is, it’s so human. We want to control our lives and get annoyed when things don’t go according to plan. Usually, cancer fucks with our plans. 

It’s vital to remind ourselves that however human this may be, these behaviors aren’t beneficial for our mental health. Instead of focusing on the inconveniences or swerves that knock us off balance and taking it out on ourselves, what can we focus our attention on that brings us back to the present moment and help us cultivate joy and peace in our daily rhythms? 

A great place to start is your breath. Taking a moment to close your eyes and focus on your breath has a physiological impact on our wellbeing by decreasing stress signals in the body. Let’s take a collective deep breath right now. 

If you haven’t tried meditation, see how it feels for you. Then, use your senses to take in the world around you. Literally, stop and smell the roses. What is in front of you and around you that you can be grateful for? What went well today? What small thing happened today that brought a smile to your face? What did you accomplish that you can celebrate? It can be as simple as getting yourself out for a walk or making dinner. If something bad happened, what did you learn from it? Practice presence and try not to be so hard on yourself. 

Focusing on the micro-moments can have its upsides if we practice appreciating the good things: feel the breeze, the blanket, take in the dog’s wagging tail, the peace of sleep, or warmth of a meal or a hug. Appreciating and celebrating the small moments and not taking things for granted is a loving intention to set for yourself in 2022.

5. Help others and act with kindness

It’s much easier to be kind towards others when you are kind to yourself and are present with your surroundings. It’s well-known that extending our help towards others has a positive impact on our own wellbeing. Whether you believe in altruistic happiness or not, humans are social creatures and supporting others speaks to a biological and humanistic need that we have to look out for each other and want what’s best for the collective whole. It is proven that happiness is not bred from selfish acts but selfless deeds. 

In today’s day and age, it’s so easy to be kind towards others. Even if you don’t see someone physically all day, you can reach out to a friend or colleague with encouragement or a simple reminder that you’re thinking of them. 

You can reach out to your community, whether you know people or not – give of your time, energy, or money to give to those around you. Support a cause close to your heart. Help an elderly person with their groceries. Hold the door. Smile. Give gladly. 

If you know someone who is going through cancer or has gone through cancer and you’d like to pass on your knowledge and help others going through something similar, download the War On Cancer app and connect and support others.

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