Resolutions vs. Setting Intentions

Now that we’re a handful of weeks into the New Year, it’s time to do a check-up on our resolutions.   Oh come on, no need for groaning and moaning.  We know.  Something went terribly wrong on day 2, or 5 or 18, and now you’re left feeling a bit defeated. Many of us have already chalked our lack of success up to our lack of willpower, or perhaps just bad timing.

The truth is that millions of Americans make New Year’s resolution each year, but studies show that only 8% of the people who make them actually keep them.  With those odds, you have a better chance of winning the lottery.

Time magazine recently published the results of one of these studies by the University of Scranton, Journal of Clinical Psychology. The study showed that 49% of all Americans make New Year’s resolutions, and the list is much like you would expect—to lose weight, to quit smoking, to spend less and save more, etc, etc, etc.

So then the question that remains is: why do we make them when it’s next to impossible to keep them?   Perhaps the best resolution (and one we may actually keep) is to resolve to never again make another resolution, though that probably wouldn’t work either.  As people, we are driven and goal-minded.  It’s a part of our human nature, and so we’re likely always going to put ourselves through the rigors of some type of resolution.  But perhaps we can tweak the process to make it a bit more gentle, more encouraging, maybe even more enlightening.  We can learn to set our intentions instead of making dogmatic resolutions.

What’s the difference between making resolutions and setting intentions?

Very simply, resolutions are typically about self-discipline and willpower, and a final product as a result of them, while intentions are about finding pleasure in pursuing something that is important to you.  For example, instead of resolving to lose 30 pounds this year, we can set our intentions to have a healthier relationship with our weight and health.  This allows us to focus on learning better nutrition instead of the number on the scale.  We don’t have to feel like failures if we don’t lose 30 pounds.  We can be happy with 29 pounds, or 19, or 6, or in just knowing that we are developing a healthier relationship with our weight.  See the difference?

For some, setting intentions relates to their spiritual practice.  For others, it’s a matter of what they want to pursue in life.  Regardless of how we approach setting our intentions, most motivational speakers and life coaches suggest:

  1. Get clear about what it is that you want, and write it down.
  2. Do something today to take one small step toward your intentions.  (This will remind you of your commitment to the process.)
  3. Acknowledge and affirm your actions.  It is often helpful to write down some affirmations and post them on a desk, mirror, or refrigerator.
  4. Share your intentions with a trusted confidant who will encourage you in your pursuit.

If you still want to make (official) New Year’s resolutions, you’ll have to wait until 2015, but it’s never too late to begin setting your intentions.   It is an easier road to achieving what you really want.

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