Better Than a Resolution? Try a New Year’s Intention


Now that holiday gatherings have come and gone and year-end reviews dominate the airwaves, many of us are sitting down and doing a personal accounting of the past year and perhaps making new year resolutions. Lose ten pounds? Read a book a month? Be kinder to others? Unlike many, I’ve never given much thought to New Year’s resolutions, Lunar New Year being the bigger celebration in my family, but this year—maybe because I feel the years creeping up—I’m holding myself more accountable in reviewing the past.

I’m still not making resolutions, which seem to hold people hostage rather than free them. I am making intentions instead, but more than that, I’m setting them in a framework that will give them wings.

Resolution vs. Intention

First, let’s do away with the idea of a “resolution,” which is rooted in the word “resolve,” with connotations of gritting one’s teeth and pushing that Sisyphean boulder up a relentless, punishing hill. For some, this image motivates, but often it can easily deflate a worthy intention before the second step is taken. Many experts now encourage the idea of “intention”, which engages not only the executive part of the brain, but recruits other parts as well that tap into emotional and spiritual dimensions. The idea of intention is to set one’s purpose toward a path with one’s entire being, instead of action toward specific behaviors, which can lose steam when those results are not quickly reached.

Set Time, Not Goals

wise friend once told me “Do not set an end result as the goal, set the time in which you do the things you want to do.” For example, I’m usually dogged by not writing when I should be writing. I tell myself I should write more, that I need to finish this article, that manuscript, a book. That seems to result not in getting writing done but in making myself feel bad (and a very clean house).

Instead, it would be better to set my intention to write and the time to write: say, from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. There is no need to set a page goal or make other rules that might bog things down. There is just space and time.

Take Advantage of the Premack Principle

The Premack principle is a behavioral strategy that states that the presence of a high-probability behavior can make a low-probability behavior more likely. In other words, to enact a new behavior, hitch it to a well-established behavior. So, now that I’ve set my intention to write and the time to write, I can link it to a high-probability behavior (in this case, with 100 percent likelihood), such as dropping my kids off at school in the morning. Some experts even suggest a daily mundane behavior, such as brushing teeth, as the trigger for the new behavior, such as exercising. The point is that it gets the action rolling without much thought or self-motivating talk, and over time, it becomes routine as well.

One Intention, Multiple Paths

Let’s face it, no matter how much you set an intention, if there’s no intrinsic enjoyment once you start, it will likely fall by the wayside. So, find a path you enjoy that will bring the same results. In truth, I hate exercising, but, luckily, I love sports, so I play volleyball and will try pretty much any sport. Don’t like sports either? I offer a gem from yet another wise friend: Get a dog, walk it. A lovely way to exercise, go out in nature, enjoy companionship, and meet people!

I wish you time, space, and gentleness in the new year.


Psychology Today

By: Dorothy Chin, Ph.D.

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