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It’s only natural! More people seek to make positive changes in their lives after landmarks like the start of a new week, month, school term, and of course: year. I’ve seen this a lot in my work with patients, and it’s what one team of researchers coined the “fresh start effect.”
If you’re one of many people who decided not to make a resolution this year, I have a guess why. Along with 80 percent of “resolvers” in a University of Scranton study, you’ve broken a New Year’s resolution at least once, and you’re not too keen on doing it again.
Something isn’t working here. I believe that part of the problem is these words: “new year, new you.” They hint that there’s a lot about you that needs replacing, and not much that’s worth keeping.
It’s easy to fail when you’ve already decided you’re a failure. Success is so much more achievable with a goal that affirms who you are and what you truly believe. That’s where setting your intention comes in.
Whereas goals and resolutions are targets for the future, intentions are guiding principles for the present. They remind us why the goals we set really matter to us. If you want to lose weight this year, why is that? What about that will make you a better version of yourself?
Intentions have proven to be useful tools for achieving goals. This might be because intentions help us break down our goals into manageable steps. Want to know how? Keep reading!
Look inwards to find out what your values are. What do you think is essential in life? What words would you say that you live by?
Think about the experiences that led you to these values. The more time you take to figure out what matters to you and why, the easier it will be to set an intention and follow it.
Pick one of your values that you’d like to commit to, and turn that into your intention. Stay positive in your words. If your intention is to stop feeling anxious around people, consider the flip side: “feel more comfortable in public.”
Imagine exactly what it looks like to “live” the value that you chose. What will you have accomplished this year, season, month, week, or today? This year’s evidence is your goal, but everything else is an important step.
Here are two examples:
If your goal for the year is to lose weight, then your step today could simply be walking—across the parking lot, to your mailbox, around the block, and up from there.
If your goal for the year is to be able to meet new people, then your step today could simply be eye contact and a smile with just one stranger. Tomorrow, try for two.
Keep a record of your goal and the steps you plan to take for the week, month, and so forth. Try to write down your intention each day and return to it at the end of the day, even if you didn’t follow it and even if it’s the same as the day before. The point is to see the big picture, but focus on these smaller steps.
Make your intentions known! Telling a trusted friend about your goal could make you more likely to achieve it. According to one study, goal-setting is most effective when goals are set publicly.
Celebrate: Following your intention should give you joy—and if it doesn’t, your intention may not align with your values as much as you thought. The joy comes from progress, and celebrating progress just reinforces that feeling. Reward yourself every now and then, as long as your rewards don’t undermine your initial goal. I can get behind a well-deserved pedicure, a fancy coffee drink, or a new book to cozy up with.
Forgive: Setbacks are a question of when, not if. We’re human! Remember not to sweat the small stuff. In that University of Scranton study, even those who kept their pledges (19 percent) still slipped up an average of fourteen times. All you can do is make a plan for when this happens and turn “failure” into “feedback.” What did you learn that you can apply moving forward? Maybe you filled your cart with the foods you’ve been avoiding because you were shopping on an empty stomach. The lesson: Fuel up beforehand!
More help is on the way! In our next article, one of our whole health coaches, Heidi Beer, will show you how to freshen up your intention and reevaluate your goals. The article will be a great resource from someone who knows how stress affects us and has offered tips for how to handle it.
Michele is a licensed clinical social worker at the North Country Homes Care Center. She has spent over 15 years as an outpatient mental health therapist for all ages. With a focus on mindfulness, Michele provides patients fresh approaches to engage in a rewarding life.Meet Michele Bauer, LCSW
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