To set intentions or make resolutions?

At the start of every year, many of us make resolutions. We want to exercise more, eat healthier, lose some pounds, gain more money, and make all our dreams come true. But the thing is, several studies have already discovered (and what many of us probably know), that only a handful get to keep their resolutions (less than 10% as one study cited).

Whether you still see the value in making resolutions or not, setting intentions for the year to help manifest your dreams are always helpful. When we set intentions, we can use it as a guide to our daily life, directed towards creating new habits to help manifest or achieve your goals. From psychology journals to even business publications, setting intentions are encouraged—even considered more effective—instead of making resolutions many of us fail to keep.

Setting intentions vs resolutions

Chinggay Labrador, author of the book Practical Magic, tarot reader and host of Your Weekly Oracle podcast, agrees. What she has learned from British writer and teacher, Susannah Conway is that setting intentions is a lot more useful than giving yourself resolutions. “For example, your resolution can be, I’m going to lose 10 lbs this year. That’s very limiting. Either you do or you don’t, that’s very surface level.”

 For Chinggay, who’s been doing tarot readings professionally for five years (a couple of more years previously for just friends and family), “When you set an intention—which I think is what’s behind manifestation—you’re a lot more open and you get down to the essence of the resolution.” 


In her example of losing weight, she says the essence behind it can be that you want to feel good about your body. So by setting an intention, ‘I want to feel good about my body,’ it can open up to so many other things. “You will be able to see it manifest in so many different ways, you’re not just stuck with losing the 10 lbs.”

So how do you make the shift from making resolutions to having a more open mindset about setting intentions? Chinggay gives us a few reminders on knowing what truly matters to you and the power of intentions.

1) Find out what you want—keep asking why.

Intentions can “help you stay oriented toward your goal” even when you’re thrown off course, because it’s connected to what you truly, deeply want. However, if you’ve spent years ignoring what you truly want (you didn’t think it was possible, you were afraid of failing, or for one reason or another), then intention-setting can pose some challenges.

Chinggay recommends to channel your inner child and keep asking the why behind your goal “until you can’t ask why anymore.” Maybe you want to open your own store, make your own skincare product, or pursue a career in art—ask yourself why. It sounds simple enough, but you have to dig deep to understand the emotion fueling that yearning.

2) Find your word.

When it comes to setting intentions, what has helped Chinggay for almost a decade is finding your word for the year. Conway provides a free workbook to “uncover your power word.” As Conway writes in her ebook, you can’t “break” a word like you can break a resolution. 

A word, like BEGIN for example, is more open and it can guide you through your day, whereas a resolution—like, stop procrastinating or enroll in a painting class by January–can either be too vague or limiting and easily set you up for failure. There’s also a tendency to judge ourselves when we don’t meet the specifics of our resolution. (And really, we can always look at ourselves with more compassion.)

3) Less control.

When it comes to manifesting or even setting intentions, less control and more openness is better. Chinggay admits it’s a hard lesson to learn—”that you have to surrender.”

But she has seen that when you want to take control so much of what you want to happen it can become detrimental. “When you’re holding it so tightly, if you’re so controlling and close-minded, you’re not allowing things to flow and take place. That’s a big block.” 

When this happens, you can lose sight of the fact that there are so many other ways for what you really want to manifest. “You need to be open to possibilities,” advises Chinggay.

4) …but take responsibility.

Should you decide to find your word, there has to be a practice that you need to do so you don’t lose sight of your intention. Chinggay found the monthly check-ins with Conway’s workbook to be helpful so she doesn’t lose sight of her intention. “[When] it’s so ingrained in you, it’s going to come out in the choices you make.” You can also do journaling if you want to write down your intentions, revisit them, and track your progress.

For her, while we remain open, we also have to be responsible for our intentions. When she does tarot reading, Chinggay admits it’s only half the equation. The other half is about the recipient processing the reading–what made sense to you and what are you going to do about it? “Nothing’s going to happen if you don’t take any action. I think that’s what gets lost with a lot of people talking about manifestation.”

5) Your world should be expanding.

One more thing to remember when we set our intentions, Chinggay says, it has to expand our world.

When we have to move forward, make a decision, or we’re faced with something unfamiliar, we can feel either anxious or excited. Chinggay’s advice: we have to tune into it to recognize what we’re feeling. “Does it make you want to contract, get smaller? Does it make you nervous because you don’t want to face it? Or is it making you nervous because you’re taking a big step, because you know it will open doors for you?”

Knowing what you truly want, setting intentions, they all have to start in a place of truth. After that, the future is wide open.


Words by Mabel David-Pilar

Mabel has been a writer and editor for many publications including a teen fashion mag and a book on the most endangered Philippine trees. She spends most of her time writing, illustrating, stalking Common Room’s online shop, and making ferments. Together with her sisters, she co-created to celebrate fermentation and eating more plants!