• Megan Johnson, Ph.D.

6 New Year's Intentions That Don't Involve Another Year Of Broken Resolutions

With the New Year just around the corner, many of us are thinking of changes we would like to make in 2020. The New Year is often a time to set resolutions, but for many, those resolutions will be broken before January is even over. Rather than committing to a rigid resolution this New Year, try setting an intention instead. Unlike resolutions, intentions are aspirational and flexible. Intentions are not restrictive and rule- based, but instead create space for you to thrive in the here and now. Read on for 6 ways you can ditch the resolutions and embrace intentions this New Year.

1. Get clear on your values.

Self-awareness involves understanding yourself and your needs, and it is the first step in living a meaningful life. Developing self-awareness is probably the single most impactful thing you can do to improve your mental health and overall well-being. One way to move toward greater self awareness is to identify your values. Around the end of the year, we start hearing about what resolutions others are making in the New Year and are inundated with people committing to a dry January, or beginning the keto diet, or starting marathon training. It can be tempting to jump on board with these trendy resolutions, but they will never stick if they are not rooted in your own personal values. Each person values different things in life, and the things you value reflect what is most important to you and the direction you want your life to take. So spend some time thinking through what values you want to define your life in 2020. Maybe you value adventure and spontaneity; or perhaps you are the opposite and you value consistency and security. You might find that you strongly value fitness and pushing yourself, or on the other hand you might value comfort and rest. There are no right or wrong values, it is just important that you know what your values are so that you live in accordance with them. Once you have identified your values, it will become more clear which goals and resolutions fit for you and which don't.

2. Identify and communicate boundaries.

After identifying your values, you can begin establishing boundaries, which are another crucial aspect of living a fulfilling life. A boundary is essentially a line that separates “me” from “not me.” Boundaries define what you will and will not take responsibility for. Everyone’s boundaries are different. What works for you may not work for others. Make sure your boundaries fit your values and contribute to your overall well-being. As you think through what values you want to characterize your 2020, begin to identify what will and will not make that a reality in your life. For instance, if one of your values is rest and solitude, then you may need to create some boundaries around how many happy-hours and you attend with coworkers next year. And if you value peace of mind and emotional stability, you may need to create additional boundaries in some of the relationships in your life. Set boundaries with respect to all of your finite resources, including time, emotional energy, finances. Once you are clear on your value-based boundaries, it will be much easier to communicate them to others and respect them yourself. 

3. Write stuff down.

After identifying your values and boundaries, actually write them down. Jot them down in your planner or write them on sticky notes and post them on your bathroom mirror. Writing things down makes them a reality and serves to reinforce the commitments you have made to yourself. 

4. Create sustainability.

Take small steps and don't go overboard right out of the gate. A lot of people operate with all-or-nothing thinking so creating large and lofty goals sets us up for failure. For example, if your goal is "clean eating," and that is defined as zero carbs and zero sugar, then the first time a coworker brings baked goods to the office, you are likely to fail and throw out the whole clean eating resolution all together. However, if you start by defining clean eating as a smaller goal such as "eating two servings of vegetables a day," then this is a lot more attainable. When your coworker brings baked goods to the office and you inevitably have a bite, then you can still stay on track by eating a salad for dinner and getting your vegetables in that day. Creating smaller goals builds momentum because it gives us a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction every time we are able to succeed. Think through what realistic and manageable goals will be possible in the life you live. If you start work at 7AM, then going to the gym 5 days a week before work may not be realistic for you. Perhaps starting with two days a week after work is a more realistic goal. If you live in a studio apartment without a full kitchen, gourmet meal prep may not be feasible. Instead, a meal delivery service may be more suited for your situation. It's ok to start small and build from there. Eat one vegetable, run one mile, make one phone call, clean out one drawer, read one chapter, turn off the phone for one hour, or book one appointment.

5. Practice gratitude.

Many New Year's Resolutions are about denying yourself indulgences and eliminating certain things from your life, which creates a restricted life. Rather than focusing on things you can't have, a more energizing mindset is to focus on things that you are grateful for. This can be done through developing a gratitude practice. This can be as simple as writing down three things you are thankful for at the end of each day. Set aside a few minutes before going to bed each night to jot down big wins, new opportunities, simple pleasures, people who enriched your day, ways you have improved since yesterday, or small things like good weather or a delicious meal. When you create a regular practice of gratitude journaling, it orients your attention toward things you are grateful for. If you know that at the end of the day you will sit down to journal about the things you are grateful for, it will prompt you to look for things to be grateful for. 

6. Enlist help.

Making any change is challenging, so rally a team around you to support you. This might include family members, close friends, accountability partners, or a therapist or coach. Let your people in on the things you are working on so they can encourage you and help keep you accountable. 


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