Ditch the Resolutions: Embrace Intentions for a More Purposeful New Year

The Advantage of Intentions

Ditch the Resolutions: Embrace Intentions for a More Purposeful New Year

The start of a new year is a natural time to reflect on the year that’s just passed, as well as set intentions for the next. These are often referred to as New Year’s Resolutions. Unfortunately, making these resolutions can feel intimidating and even overwhelming. They tend to be based on externalized goals with one successful end point, such as losing or gaining a certain amount of weight, cutting out certain foods, or exercising a certain number of days per week. While these examples could very well lead to the results you’re striving for, they also don’t leave a lot of room for an “off day” now and then. This is when we tend to feel frustrated, as though we have failed, and throw out the resolution entirely.

Intentions vs. Goals

It's important to understand the difference between an intention and a goal. An intention focuses on making a shift in your mindset that can be achieved at the present moment, while a goal is something external and concrete that you want to attain or accomplish in the future. Examples of an intention might include, “I will make more mindful eating choices,” “I will strive to be my most authentic self,” or “I will prioritize self-care.” The benefit of choosing an intention over a goal is that it allows you to feel a sense of accomplishment each time the intention is met, which increases the likelihood of sticking with your resolution and seeing the success you hoped for.

Setting Your Intention

When it comes to choosing your intention, reflect on behavior patterns from the prior year. Is there a particular habit that created barriers for you? Or is there a routine you engaged in that might’ve held you back? It’s important to clarify what you would like to “let go of” and leave behind in the previous year. If you noticed you struggled to say, “no,” to requests you truly didn’t want to engage in, it might be appropriate to focus on authenticity within yourself or setting assertive boundaries.

Second, consider your personal values and priorities. If being a supportive parent is important to you, your intention might focus on being more present in the moment or more empathetic in your relationships with your children. This list of common values and priorities from Brené Brown can help you get started.

Third, consider if your intentions are realistic and achievable. The key to building mastery is working toward changes challenging enough to create a sense of achievement, but not so challenging that you set yourself up for failure. It is okay to start small and work your way up to more difficult challenges. For example, if you’re hoping to live more authentically, you might start by simply voicing your opinion at a time when you would normally stay quiet.

Lastly, having a “game plan” is imperative. In order to achieve success, it’s important to consider and establish specific steps you will take to implement your intention. This is where the action happens, and where you can obtain a sense of achievement. As you are successful in completing small steps towards your intention, try something a bit more challenging. For instance, if your intention is to be more present in your parenting practices, you might start by only doing one thing at a time while your kiddo tells you about their day. Towards the end of the year, this could turn into a daily meditative practice that impacts various aspects of your life. The key is to allow for flexibility while staying focused on the end result.

Successful intention-setting involves honest self-reflection, consideration of your values, and daily adherence to specific and achievable action steps. Remember that achieving small wins every day trickles into momentous wins long-term.



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Falan Johnson, LCSW

Falan is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who provides therapy for children, adolescents, and young adults. She earned her master's degree in Social Work from the University of North Dakota and is certified in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Falan specializes in anxiety, depression, ADHD, trauma, stress, self-esteem, and anger. Aside from being a therapist, she is a friend, partner, dog mom, athlete, outdoor lover, and a continuous learner.

Dakota Family Services is a highly trusted and respected outpatient clinic providing psychology, psychiatry, and therapy in North Dakota. Our community of compassionate mental health professionals help children, adolescents, and adults improve their overall mental health and well-being through a personalized approach, trusted expertise, and unconditional presence. We offer in-office counseling in Fargo and Minot and online therapy for those who prefer to meet from the comfort of their own home. To schedule an appointment, or to learn more, call 800-201-6495.