I used to have a love-hate relationship with the New Year’s holiday. I loved a champagne toast and kissing my honey at midnight as much as the next gal. And there was something magical about the idea of new beginnings and starting a new chapter. January always filled me with feelings of hibernation and introspection – the need to go within and take stock of the year that passed, identifying what worked and what didn’t, what I wanted to bring into my life, and what I wanted to let go of.
But things inevitably went left every time I set my New Year’s resolutions, which usually entailed a vow that “this was the year” I would lose 20 pounds by February exercising at the gym every morning before work and meditating 30 minutes a day (or some variation thereof). February always came and went with my resolutions abandoned, and my weight up five pounds in some sort of subconscious act of defiance.
So, what’s wrong with setting a resolution? Isn’t self-improvement a good thing? Absolutely. It’s great to have goals and want to better yourself. I truly believe we’re here to grow our souls and become the best version of ourselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It’s the way we go about it that can be problematic.
Why Do We Fail to Keep New Year’s Resolutions?
There are many reasons why we struggle to keep New Year’s resolutions:
- They Are Inherently Negative. On its face, a resolution seems like a great thing to do – you’re resolving a problem. But that’s just it – you’re usually identifying yourself as the problem. There’s something “wrong” with you that you need to fix. Underneath many resolutions is the belief that “I’m not good enough or lovable the way that I am.”
- They Are Often Unrealistic. We often set too many resolutions at once or ones that are too unrealistic. For example, paying off all your debt, losing 40 pounds, and landing a new job are all significant undertakings, and resolving to achieve any or all of these in one year can place you under a lot of pressure and make you either give up altogether or feel like a failure if you don’t achieve them.
- They Focus on an External Outcome Rather Than an Internal Feeling. Resolutions often set us up for “destination addiction” by creating an external solution to an internal problem. We often think “when I have the perfect” body, job, relationship, etc. I will be happy and life will be amazing. We chase the external (e.g., losing 20 pounds) instead of the feeling that we’re really seeking (e.g., peace, balance, or happiness).
Set an Intention Instead of a Resolution
So, what’s the difference between a resolution and an intention? At first glance, it may seem like a distinction without a difference, but they represent two different approaches. A resolution is a definitive course of action that is rooted in the future. We resolve to “lose 20 pounds by February.” It’s absolute – you either succeed or fail. An intention is an objective that is rooted in the present and does not limit you to a single outcome. And because of this, you can’t fail. If we think about a resolution as representing the mind, then an intention represents the spirit. It reflects your values and purpose and is based on the idea that you are already “enough.”
For example, instead of making a resolution to “lose 20 pounds,” you may instead set an intention to be kind to yourself. Then you naturally start to make choices that support that intention, such as eating healthy foods and moving your body in ways that you enjoy. Weight loss becomes secondary, and happens naturally, because you aren’t telling yourself that there is something wrong with you that can only be fixed by fitting into your skinny jeans. You are no longer attached to the outcome.
How to Set an Intention
Intentions don’t need to be set at the beginning of the year. You can set them and change them anytime – daily, weekly, monthly. Here’s how:
- Get Quiet. Put your phone down, turn off your computer, and find a few minutes to unplug. Go for a walk. Lounge in your favorite chair. Take a relaxing bath. Our lives are so busy and filled with so many distractions that we often lose touch with how we think and feel.
- Ask Yourself Questions. What do you want to feel? What do you want to experience? What steps can you take to support your intention? What do you need to feel or experience to know that you achieved what you want? For example, if you want to lose 20 pounds ask yourself why? What do you think that you will feel by doing so?
- Write it Down. Once you get clear on what your intention is, write it down. There is something powerful about putting pen to paper and it helps you to focus and be clear about your intentions. Put the paper in a sacred place or somewhere that you can see it, like on your bathroom mirror.
- Use Visualization. Once you’re clear about your intention, take a few minutes every day to visualize it. If your intention is to practice self-care, what does that look like? What does it feel like in your body? By doing this every day, you are consistently aligning your energy with your intention and drawing it to you.
- Practice Gratitude. Gratitude is one of my favorite practices because you get such a big return on a little investment. Each day, try and shift your thoughts and find things that you are grateful for – even if they are small. It may seemed forced at first, but if you stick with it, over time it really shifts your perspective.