New Year's Intentions: The new and improved New Year's Resolution

Somewhere around 80% of New Year resolutions fail. Personally, I’ve failed every single one of mine.


Why do New Year’s resolutions usually fail? Because January 1st is essentially the Monday of the new year. We all say, “we’ll start on Monday” and then Monday comes and we get this burst of motivation, and then that motivation lasts about 2-3 days later max. New Year’s resolutions fail because they rely on motivation – which is notoriously known for quickly fading – rather than systems (or how we are actively working to pursue our goals).


For example, one of the most popular (or the most popular) New Year’s resolutions is to exercise more and/or lose weight. If this is your New Year’s resolution, you are setting yourself up for failure because the resolution is too vague and lacks the systems to back it up. How much weight do you plan on losing? How much more do you plan on exercising? What kind of exercise are you going to pursue? How do you plan on improving your diet to meet your weight loss goals?


Alternatively, in the case of setting a New Year’s intention rather than a resolution, you are focusing more on a system rather than an open-ended goal. You can re-frame the previous resolution into an intention by saying “I intend to discover more joyful ways of moving my body”. With this intention, you are already setting yourself up for success because the intention is achieved through the system, rather than by meeting the goal. Chances are if you enjoy the type of exercise you are doing you are more likely to stay consistent with it. Thus, setting this intention encourages you to explore different forms of exercise until you find one that you genuinely want to be committed to.


That’s why, I suggest, rather than making a New Year’s resolution, create a New Year’s intention. These might sound one and the same, but they're actually quite different. A New Year’s resolution relies on motivation, but a New Year’s intention relies on the creation of systems or behaviors.


How to set a New Year’s intention:


1. Visualize where you currently are as of January 1st, 2021, and then visualize yourself on December 31st, 2021


Out of all the steps, this is the most important because it depends on 2 key factors: 1) you being realistic with yourself, and 2) you identifying what you actually want to bring in (or remove) from your life. Many of us adopt the “new year, new me” mindset when we create our resolutions, that we seldom consider how this “new me” differs from “current me”. On January 1st, you are not going to be a new you, you are going to be the same you. So, rather than thinking about the “new you” that’s supposed to magically appear during the night between December 31st, 2020 and January 1st, 2021, focus on the “new you” that will slowly and consistently evolve between January 1st, 2021, and December 1st, 2021. Also, because intentions are behavior-based, they work better when you pick an aspect of your life that you genuinely want to improve or change for the better.


2. Identify the differences between your two visualizations and make a list or plan what you must do to bring those two selves into alignment (make it a multi-step process)


By now, you’ve pictured who the “new you” is that will slowly evolve over the next 12 months. What are the differences between “current you” and “new you”? Identify them. Let’s use our previous example and say that the new you is one that finds joy in exercising and thus, stays consistent with it. At this point, make a plan of what needs to be done in order to bring current you (who doesn’t find joy in exercising) to new you (who finds joy in exercising). A pretty logical plan of action would be to do some research and come up with some types of exercise or fitness classes that you would be interested in trying (i.e. yoga, pole dancing, weight training, Zumba, HIIT, running, kickboxing, a brisk walk outside) and try them. If you still don’t enjoy any of the options you came up with, come up with a few more and try those as well. Once you do find a form of exercise you like, set a number of times in the week you plan on continuing to practice it. If you truly found joy in that type of movement, then you will most likely want to practice it often.


3. Create an affirmation or mantra that will serve as a reminder that you can use throughout the year to stay on track (be positive)


Personally, I usually don’t end up succeeding in my resolutions because I forget about them come February (if they even last that long). However, in the case of setting an intention, because it’s more focused on regular behaviors rather than a one-time goal, creating an affirmation or mantra can serve as a regular reminder to keep on track. For example, if your intention is to discover more joyful ways of moving, your affirmation or mantra can be something like “I am open to receiving joy during exercise” or eventually “I experience great joy in moving my body”. Don’t lie to yourself, but also stay positive. Set your mantra/affirmation as your phone background, tell it to your friends, say it to yourself every morning – whatever you find most effective. Further, your affirmation or mantra can evolve throughout the year in order to keep up with your progress.


4. Track your progress in a journal and give yourself permission to celebrate small wins


Tracking your progress in a journal is a very effective way to realize the improvements you have made. I recommend writing your plan of action and your current progress in the same journal, so you can tick off how much of your plan you have achieved and add to your plan as you continue to progress. A journal is also a great place to jot down the personal significance of your intention; as well as your thoughts and feelings throughout the practice of your intention. Sometimes, it seems as though we haven’t made any progress when we in fact have. Having a record of your progress will show you how far you’ve already come on days when it feels like nothing has changed.


5. Optional: Create a mood board


If you are the creative type, a mood board composed of mindfully-chosen quotes and images can help further realize your visualizations and serve as a reminder of your intention. Set this as your phone and/or laptop background (bonus if it also includes your affirmation or mantra).


Will you be making the switch to New Year's intentions or sticking to resolutions? Let me know in the comments!