Why we’re setting intentions, not resolutions in 2023

December 8, 2022

When was the last time you set a new year resolution, and achieved it?

If the answer is ‘not lately’, you’re not alone. There’s no doubt that the end of a year is a reflective time for us all. We start to think about the year coming to an end, and naturally, we look for ways to be better and achieve more in the future. January 1st can be highly motivating and symbolic; for many, it’s a reset button, or a clean slate for us to work with.

Enter the new year’s resolution.

Many of us start the new year off ready to kick our habits or achieve great things, setting goals and often sharing those goals with others. However, whilst goal setting is an important driver in making positive changes, if not set realistically, or with the right support in place, the chance of failure rapidly increases. Unfortunately, for many people, a resolution is often nothing but a distant memory by the time February rolls around. Tori McCarthy, Senior Therapist at South Pacific Private, says resolutions for those who want to enter recovery can be tricky territory. ‘We tend to think we can start afresh on January 1st and we will have all the answers, power and motivation to make a change’ says Tori, ‘but the problem is that motivation often simply isn’t enough for those bigger goals, and it’s rarely maintainable in the long run. That’s why setting an intention rather than a resolution can go a long way in keeping your mindset positive, and staying on course.’

Why we don’t stick with resolutions

Broadly speaking, setting a resolution tends to be a finite goal where success is measurable. The problem with making this kind of promise to ourselves is that there’s no room for human error. A lapse, or relapse in this instance equals a failure and when we feel ashamed of our shortcomings, we’re unlikely to get back on the horse and try again. ‘We’ve all been there – setting big goals, and having big shame as a result when it doesn’t work out’ says Tori, ‘but there are different ways we can make positive changes when the new year comes knocking, which place far less pressure on us to be perfect’.

Scrap the resolutions, and set an intention

When we set an intention, we leave ourselves open to new ways of thinking that support the behaviour that we want to change. An intention is less measurable in terms of ‘success’ or ‘failure’, and more about creating new mindsets and taking smaller steps toward a bigger picture goal. For example, resolving to quit drinking could fall by the wayside quickly with a single lapse. On the other hand, an intention to address your drinking could be approached by changing some small behaviours to begin with, such as committing to attending one AA meeting, researching therapeutic measures or even talking to a trusted person about what you want to change. Some goals we set are often out of our control and this is where setting an intention can also be helpful. For example, setting a resolution to not argue with your family might be more adequately addressed as an intention to seek peace with your family. ‘When we set an intention, every small change we make as a result is a success’ says Tori, ‘and the rewarding feelings of those little successes are what keeps us going in the long run’.

Stop the timer, and enjoy the journey

Sometimes when we set goals for ourselves we tend to place time-restrictions on achieving those goals, for example, losing a certain amount of weight by a particular date. Alternatively, when we set an intention, we set less concrete limitations on ourselves, for example, setting an intention to enjoy more physical exercise in nature. An intention like this has the potential to open the door to numerous healthier, and more enjoyable habits that might result in making strides towards the bigger, long term desire of wishing to lose weight.

Alternatively, an intention may not even be part of a bigger, conceivable goal. Tori says that setting an intention can be as simple as selecting a word you want to focus on for the year. ‘Setting an intention doesn’t always need to be so specific, it could be something less tangible, and more evocative, for example focussing on a word like ‘wonder’, ‘confidence’, ‘joy’, ‘vitality’, ‘healing’ or ‘growth’’.

Living with intent

Tori recommends setting your intentions at any time of the year, but understands the affinity that many of us feel with the 1st of January. ‘You can set an intention at any time of year, but if the intent is feeling strong over the new year period, go with it’, Tori says. ‘Remember to stay realistic and be kind to yourself with your intentions. Write them down so they become real. But, most importantly, celebrate your little wins, this is how you’ll set yourself up for positive changes in 2023.’

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