An alternative to New Year’s resolutions: discover the solemn vow of Sankalpa

Inner intention instead of external resolution. This is a simple way of explaining the meaning of Sankalpa. Sankalpa, simply stated, is an intention formed by the heart and mind— a solemn vow or deeply internal promise to oneself.


Beginning with enough

A common problem with the habit of creating New Years’ Resolutions is the all-too-familiar “list” of external aspirations. Some of which we truly want, and some of which we “think” we want based on pressure from outside of us.


Many of our resolutions are grounded in feelings of not being good enough or beautiful enough or rich enough or healthy enough. We think of what we lack (and often feel emotions of remorse or guilt or even shame) and then we resolve to be different, to be better. But this can become a problem, according to Brené Brown—a research professor and author who has studied vulnerability, courage, worthiness and shame for the last 12 years. In an interview she stated,


"When we’re fueled by the fear of what other people think or that gremlin that’s constantly whispering “You’re not good enough” in our ear, it’s tough to show up. We end up hustling for our worthiness rather than standing in it."


If we aren’t careful, our resolutions can reflect that “hustling for our worthiness” that she speaks of.


But when it comes to Sankalpa—forming intentions from within—we begin with a deep and heartfelt acknowledgment that we are good enough, as we are now. Of course, we all have areas we want to improve or grow within, but we consciously (and gently) let go of toxic shame and unworthiness before we set our intentions. We stand in our worthiness. And from here, we begin to see and feel things differently. We even aspire differently. 



Continuing with reflection

It’s a hard thing to admit, but in our busy lives, we often lose touch with the part of us that reflects. I fear we live in a culture where too many of us have hearts stuffed with unopened folders, where we have stored memories and experiences to look at “sometime later,” and then move on…and later comes and goes. And more folders have been created. There is a pattern of inner accumulation.


When we are stuffed full of unprocessed, inner material, it’s hard to be clear about what our heart really wants. Our true voice is buried under our task lists and expectations. We find it hard to disentangle our own voice and desires from the voices and desires of those around us.


Sankalpa asks us to carve significant moments of inner reflection before we form an intention of where we want to go. Often where we have been (and how it has impacted us) can give us great insight into how we are called to move forward. What worked? What didn’t? What truly brought us alive? What made us feel small? All important questions to reflect upon before we can truly know where it is, we desire to go next or what we really want.


Ending with a simple and confident clarity

According to yogic teachings, with Sankalpa, the body and mind become charged with special waves that make a person self-confident, resolute and motivated. I feel this is because Sankalpa arises from the wise, deep voice within—our own inner conviction.


When we find this voice, it is resonant and clear. We become confident, magnetic, and immensely inspired.


In his book, Sacred Journey: Living Purposefully and Dying Gracefully, renowned yogi and teacher, Swami Rama wrote of Sankalpa,


“It is considered to be creative in character and superior to ordinary thought because it activates the body; it makes one perform a predetermined act in order to achieve a pre-set goal. It means – I will be decisive. I will be whole hearted. My growth is certain. I know I will make mistakes, but I will pick up and continue.”


Don’t you hear in this language the clarity and conviction from deep within? For some reason, I especially love the line, “My growth is certain.” Only Sankalpa can bring us this. It is simple, clear and incredibly confident.


Often, in order to distill the simplicity and clarity, you may need to work with images instead of words.


Last year, I led a workshop on Sankalpa. We began with a meditation on our own sense of worthiness, invoking a feeling deep within of feeling enough. We then performed a small rite of sacrifice—writing down our “inner clutter” on a piece of paper (whatever it is we feel blocks our inner voice) and threw it into a fire. And ended with creating a soul-board. Taking images and words that spoke directly to our heart and pasting them together. From those images, I asked each person to distill one sentence, which somehow captures the deep call or longing of their heart (for this time period, now). The statements were varied. Some crystal clear. Some poetic. But all deeply resonant. And gloriously soulful.


There is something so real to the Sankalpa custom. And when something is real it is packed full of energy and potential. I have made this my new habit each year, and I hope you feel inspired to join me? Perhaps, it is worth a try. 


            Loosen your grip.


            Give yourself permission to be imperfect.


            Don't seek what others are seeking,

            (unless it echoes in your bones).


            Spit out whatever you have ingested

            about not being enough.


            Your realness is delicious.


            And you don't need to obsess any longer

            about finding your path.


            Start simple.


            Tie a string

            from your heart to your feet

            And only walk in the direction

            that makes you tick.


            - Deborah Anne Quibell



Deborah Quibell

Professional writer, healer and teacher Deborah Anne Quibell believes passionately in breathing grounded knowledge from scholarly pursuits into the fields of yoga and spirituality. A senior instructor for the Institute for Inner Studies, she holds a PhD in Depth Psychology and teaches Pranic Healing as well as yoga and meditation in studio, corporate and online environments.