Set Intentions, Not Resolutions

The holidays are filled with a wealth of traditions—shopping for gifts, trimming the tree, feasting on delicious food, and spending time with family and friends. 

Setting New Year’s resolutions is another holiday tradition. Many of us start the year with lofty goals to reinvent ourselves and improve our quality of life.  

The most common resolutions include losing weight, spending time with family, quitting smoking, reducing debt, and living life to the fullest. These are all important goals, but we can drift away from the very goals we strive to achieve. 

Why We Break Our New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions have become synonymous with broken goals, missed opportunities, and frustration.  

Around 8% of people make their New Year’s resolutions stick, and studies have shown that most resolutions are broken within the first few weeks.

Here’s why…

1. Holiday Fatigue – After a season full of cooking, shopping, and festivities, we can find ourselves emotionally and physically exhausted. We may want to make significant changes in our lives, but we don’t have the motivation to follow through with our actions. 

2. Unrealistic Expectations – It’s easy to set unrealistic expectations, such as losing 10 pounds in two weeks. We can try to do too much at once or in an unrealistic time frame. But this can trigger an “all or nothing” way of thinking, which can lead to frustration that causes us to revert to old behaviors.

 3. Unresolved Issues – You might think that losing ten pounds is going to solve your problems and help you feel better. But it could actually uncover a deeper issue that you need to address first before you can achieve your initial goal. 

Making the Shift from Resolutions to Intentions

Intentions are attitudes that affect your actions. They can be an empowering and nurturing way to create lasting changes in behavior. 

Intentions can be just as motivating as setting goals for the New Year, but without the negative associations most people have around New Year’s resolutions. 

Intentions can give you a broader vision of your life and serve as a starting point for setting more specific goals…like an overarching guide for the changes you want to create. 

Setting intentions requires emotional presence and mindfulness. The first step is to ask yourself, “What do I hope to gain from this shift, and how would my life be better as a result?”

Here’s how you can make realistic intentions that lead to successful results: 

1. Create your intention.

Write down the changes you want to create in your life. Use nurturing and compassionate language as you make your intention more concrete. 

2. Create small action-oriented steps to achieve change.

Using your general intention as a guide, create small measurable steps to formulate a plan that helps you achieve the results you want. 

3. Tell others about your intention.

Research shows that those who make their intentions known to others are more successful. Sharing your intention establishes accountability that can support you along the way.  

4. Don’t wait until the New Year.

Start now. Intentions are the guiding force to laying a foundation for changing behaviors. They should be seen as a lifestyle change and not just something you do for a specific period of time.

5. Be mindful (physically, emotionally, psychologically).

With our reliance on technology, we can be disconnected from others and ourselves. Learning to live in one’s body is an essential part of cultivating a healthier and compassionate perspective.

6. Celebrate the milestones.

Reward yourself when you reach small goals. If your intention is to live a healthier life by making better food choices, then reward yourself with a new book or a long walk. 

7. Be flexible and expect setbacks.

Life is full of unexpected turns, and there will be joys and challenges. If you falter and revert to old behaviors, be kind to yourself and start again. Change is never linear, so don’t think of progress in that way.

8. Periodically revisit your goals.

This is where accountability is crucial. It may be helpful to reexamine your intentions and the path you’ve chosen to honor them.

As you usher in the New Year, I hope your intentions allow you to take a gentle and compassionate approach to goal-setting. Every part of the process, whether positive or negative, represents your life’s journey and deserves to be honored. 

Originally published in Thrive Global on December 12, 2019.

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