What’s up with New Year’s resolutions? Why is the beginning of January so different than the beginning of other months?
At least for me, there’s something about the beginning of a new season that feels like a chance for renewal and change. A new year brings newfound motivation to get shit done.
But New Year’s resolutions?
They might not be the best way to improve your life. Especially if you’re setting resolutions for someone else and not for yourself. It’s hard to follow through on a change that doesn’t come from within.
Setting intentions is different. When you set an intention, you choose to follow through with an intrinsic desire. It’s about you and what you want.
Different people will define intentions differently. Wikipedia has a good definition.
Intention is a mental state that represents a commitment to carrying out an action or actions in the future. Intention involves mental activities such as planning and forethought.
These are some of the most common New Year’s resolutions. If you want to make over your life this year, ditch these resolutions and set intentions instead.
New Year’s Resolution #1: Lose Weight
One of the most common New Year’s resolutions is to lose weight. Why?
Is it a reaction to holiday overindulgence?
Or does this resolution arise from some outside pressure to look a certain way?
Western beauty ideals worship thinness and falsely equate thin bodies with healthy bodies. I’ve been sick and underweight before, and I still received positive comments on my body. Which is… troublesome, to say the least.
Wanting to be healthy is a good goal to make. Focusing just on losing weight becomes less about health and more about numbers. And if you’re honest with yourself, a resolution for weight loss might have nothing to do with a genuine desire to improve your health.
So skip the New Year’s resolution to lose weight this year. Instead, set a healthy intention.
Set the intention to improve your physical, mental, and emotional health this year. Follow that intention with concrete action steps to take each week or month.
It’s okay to start small. Set yourself up to succeed, not to fail. Each month, commit to making a few small healthy changes. Here are a few ideas for healthy action steps to take.
- Go one entire week without any soda or alcohol.
- Start your morning with a glass of water.
- Get off your phone by 9pm every night.
- Park farther away when you go shopping.
- Take the stairs instead of an elevator whenever possible.
- Eat a salad before dinner every night.
- Start a gratitude journal, writing down three things every day.
- Take a weekly walk with a friend.
These are specific, manageable changes you can make in your life. Add at least one to your life every month, and you will slowly build a healthier lifestyle. Before you know it, these goals will become habits, and your overall health will improve greatly.
Isn’t this intention better than a resolution to lose weight?
New Year’s Resolution #2: Read More
Another common New Year’s resolution is to read more. As a big reader, I obviously approve of this resolution!
But why are you setting this New Year’s resolution? Why do you want to read more?
Are you a former reader who stopped prioritizing time for books? Or do you just think you should read more because of some think piece about how Americans don’t read enough?
Reading more is a great goal. By setting the intention to read more, you can actually make it happen this year. But your reading intention should be more than just “read more.”
Start by asking yourself two questions.
One, why do you want to read more?
Two, what do you want to read?
Knowing the answers to these questions will help you set a clear reading intention for 2019.
The following are a few possible reading intentions and action steps to follow this year.
Set aside time to read books for relaxation and self-care.
- Read for 20 minutes every night before bed.
- Read during breakfast every morning.
- Keep a book in your bag or car to read during spare moments in a day.
- Establish reading time with your family.
Stay aware of current events by reading a variety of media sources.
- Subscribe to a few newspapers or magazines.
- Read X number of articles daily or weekly.
Grow as a reader by reading outside your comfort zone.
- Read X number of nonfiction (or fiction) books this year.
- Join a book club.
- Ask your friends for recommendations and then read one book each month from that list.
- Visit your local library and choose a new book from the displays.
These intentions get to the heart of why reading more is important to you. These straightforward action steps will allow you to achieve your intention.
New Year’s Resolution #3: Learn a new skill or start a new hobby
A new year is all about trying something new, right? At least, I assume that’s the motivation behind the common New Year’s resolution of learning a new skill or starting a new hobby.
Before you drop a few hundred dollars on art supplies or tennis gear, ask yourself why. Why do you want to try this new thing?
Do you want to learn Spanish to improve your career, or do you want to learn Italian before your summer trip to Rome? Both of these resolutions involve learning a new language, but they have different timelines and different objectives.
Once you know why you want to learn something new, then you can set your broad intention. Here are a few examples.
- Learn conversational Spanish with industry vocabulary to bolster my resume before asking for a raise at my annual review.
- Learn conversational Italian to get around Rome this summer.
- Take an art class to have a weekly commitment outside the home to get a break from my spouse and kids.
- Join a volleyball team to meet new people.
- Join a soccer team to have accountability for consistent physical activity.
- Improve my cooking skills to save money on food.
Look at those examples carefully. Each intention has both an action and a motivation.
To follow through with your intention, however, you also need to set action steps. How will you meet your intention?
Here are a few of those examples again.
Learn conversational Italian to get around Rome this summer.
- Sign up for Duolingo or another service to practice Italian.
- Borrow Italian audiotapes from the library.
- Spend at least 20 minutes per day practicing Italian.
- Read an Italian guidebook. Focus on cultural customs and language tips.
- Set specific milestones to achieve before the trip.
Improve my cooking skills to save money on food.
- Honestly assess your current cooking skills.
- Honestly assess what barriers keep you from cooking regularly.
- Meal-plan every week.
- Meal-prep every Sunday.
- Search YouTube or the Kitchn for one new cooking tutorial per week.
These are just a few examples of clear intentions with action steps. Your own intentions should be personalized based on what you want to do and why you want to do it.
How to Set Intentions You’ll Actually Keep
I’ve gone through a few common New Year’s resolutions and suggested possible examples of intentions to make instead. But since intentions are personal, I can’t possibly write out every possible intention to set this year. Instead, I want to share a few tips to set your own intentions.
1) Assess the previous year
Did you set any goals last year? What progress did you make on them?
How did you improve yourself overall, even if not part of a particular goal or resolution?
It’s easy to focus on small failures from day to day, but looking at an entire year of growth and change shows just how far we’ve come. By assessing your previous year, you establish the mindset that you can grow as a person, that you can create positive change in your life.
2) Be realistic with your intention(s)
Look back at my examples for learning a new language. Note that I suggested “Learn conversational Spanish,” NOT “become fluent in three new languages.” An intention needs to be realistic. Otherwise you’ll give up trying to obtain the impossible.
Choose 1-3 areas to improve in your life. Need help focusing? Try a brainstorming exercise.
- Set a timer for 10 minutes. Write down everything you want to improve in your life, big and small.
- When the timer goes off, look at your list. Find patterns and connections. Group together like ideas. For example, “declutter kitchen” and “create a capsule wardrobe” are both goals for a minimalist lifestyle. “Call Grandma more often” and “plan date nights with hubby” are both goals to spend more time with loved ones.
- Evaluate the groups you’ve created. Which groups are most important? These will help you determine your intention or intentions for the year.
You’ve figured out your general priorities, but you still need to determine realistic expectations. How much free time do you have? How much disposable income do you have? What’s your current health status? You wouldn’t expect to win a triathlon in three months if you don’t know how to swim today. Be realistic about 1) your starting position and 2) restrictions in your life.
3) Choose an intention that ignites a flame in your soul
I cannot emphasize this enough. True change comes from within. Do you really want to chase someone else’s dream? If you want to follow through on an intention, you need to set an intention that inspires you to change. Look over your list again. Choose a goal with intrinsic motivation.
Figure out your why. Why do you want to change this part of your life? Why do you want to set this goal? By knowing your motivation, you can set a strong intention for the new year.
4) Write down your intention(s)
Write it down and make it happen.
There’s a power to putting thoughts to paper. There’s something almost magical about seeing the words in our heart staring back at us.
Write down your intention or intentions for the year. Be specific. Include your motivation. Refer to all the examples above for ideas.
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Happy New Year! 🎉 I’ve never chosen a Word of the Year before, but for the last few months, a word kept coming to me. Three words, in fact. A mantra to keep me calm and steady. 💖 I’ve shared this, my intentions for 2019, and my monthly goals for January on the blog today! 💕 Oh, and for my fellow bibliophiles, I’ve also recapped the books I read in 2018. 📚 Link in bio! What are your intentions for 2019? #LaBelleBlog
5) Add action steps
You need action steps to achieve your intention. Break down your overall goal into smaller goals.
Use the SMART system to create action steps. Specific. Measurable. Attainable. Relevant. Time-sensitive.
Once again, you can refer to all the examples above for ideas.
6) Check your intentions regularly
In January, you probably can’t set out a schedule for the entire year that you can then follow perfectly. But you can create your broad intention with a few action steps to follow for 1-3 months. To stay on track, you need to review your intentions regularly.
To do this myself, I have resumed my monthly goal-setting. Every month, I look over the previous month to record my hits and misses. I also then refer to my intentions for the year before setting new monthly goals. Every week, I look over my list of monthly goals to determine goals for the week. Daily, I write out a to-do list based on my weekly goals. This is how I stay accountable to myself with my annual intentions.
However you decide to review your intentions, ask yourself a few questions.
Are you following through with your action steps? Are you ready to challenge yourself with more action steps? Have you allowed yourself to become distracted by something else, or have you genuinely discovered a new intention that should take priority?
Life changes. Sometimes our intentions need to change too. You’re not a failure for realizing you need to prioritize something else in life.
7) Accept setbacks as part of the process
Don’t allow perfect to become the enemy of good. Any step in the right direction is still progress, even if take the occasional step back. If you get distracted for awhile, or screw up an action step, it’s okay. Keep going. Keep working to fulfill your intention. Accept the mistake and move on.
Did you set any New Year’s resolutions? Why or why not? Do you think my system of intentions with action steps is more feasible? Share your goal-setting thoughts in the comments below!