Setting Intentions for the New Year

At the start of a new year, it’s easy to feel pressured to come up with a life-altering resolution — an all-or-nothing commitment that will make us happier, healthier or more confident in some way.

Upon closer look, what we’re really talking about is a feeling of hitting the reset button. With the holidays behind us and a new calendar on the wall, it feels natural to evaluate the different areas of our lives and commit to improving where we can.

These conversations often spark New Year’s resolutions: well-intentioned but often overly ambitious milestones to achieve within the coming 12 months.

While resolutions are popular, you may have also heard the commonly cited statistic that only 9% of people successfully achieve their resolutions.

If these resolutions are so hard to keep, why do we come back to them each year? And if resolutions “don’t work,” are there other ways to keep our goals? 

The short answer is yes.

One of the reasons why resolutions are hard to keep is that they feel time-bound. With a distinct beginning date (often January 1) our brains think resolutions must also have an end date (perhaps the following December). The sense that our resolution is temporary makes it harder to keep.

Another common reason why resolutions fail is that they tend to be dramatic lifestyle changes that are too extreme to commit to right off the bat. It turns out that “slow and steady” really is the more effective mindset for creating lasting change.

Making Real Change Happen

If resolutions are about ambitious goals, the surest way of achieving them is through incremental changes. According to Dr. Roberta Anding of the Baylor College of Medicine, rather than making one challenging commitment for the year, we may be more successful if we focus on smaller ways to “hit the reset button.”

Anding writes, “January 1 signals a new beginning. However, each day allows for a new beginning, and hence it is a reset.”

This could look like finding time in your day to talk a walk, unplug from social media or work, call a friend, or choose a healthier meal option.

At the office, “hitting reset” could mean looking at old projects with fresh eyes, asking for advice from a new team member, paying attention to how you might improve your working environment, or setting incremental, “winnable” targets for productivity.

Setting Intentions

Another alternative to the traditional resolution is to focus on intentions rather than one big, looming resolution. 

The concept of setting intentions is rooted in a variety of practices, and if you’ve ever taken a yoga class, this may sound familiar.

Setting intentions is about choosing an action, mindset, or concept that you want to cultivate in your life, starting with the present moment.

An intention can be as simple as “joy,” “steadfastness,” “courage” or “letting go.” You can extend these into short phrases to keep at the top of your notebook or on your desktop as small reminders.

Contrary to resolutions, which tend to focus on what we are lacking, intentions are formed and kept internally, grounded in our sense of self and the acknowledgement of what we already have within us.

One Day at a Time

Hitting reset by setting daily, monthly, or even yearly intentions helps us center ourselves, reduce stress and start with gratitude.

Much like a company’s mission statement, these intentions help you achieve external goals and resolutions while remaining both focused and flexible as our lives evolve throughout the year.

After all, a year is made up of individual days, and there is always something we can do within our day to make a small difference.

And as Jeff Rich puts it, “The best thing we know about the future is that it comes one day at a time.”

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