Ditch Your Resolutions
I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. Like many people, I used to make and break them on a regular basis. Some years I would forego them, and other years I would attack them with enough gusto to impress any Beverly Hills life coach. I would make annual promises to myself that “this is finally the year!” that I would stick with my chosen goals beyond my February birthday, only to miss a day or a week of my goal and give up.
I think that part of the reason resolutions don’t work well is that they don’t provide a structure for effective, long-term changes. Any Lifehacker or HuffPost article will tell you that establishing habits is a process that takes place over time, and jumping into a massive change starting January 1st doesn’t allow any time to build the changes you want. The other reason resolutions often fail is that many of them tend to be rooted in guilt, shame, and self-loathing. Think about it. A majority of people list weight loss, or weight loss dressed up in a diet or exercise plan, as their primary New Year’s resolution. While I appreciate a desire to live a healthy lifestyle, I would venture to say that a great many weight-loss resolutions are more about emotional needs to control our bodies or adhere to a standard of beauty than they are about health. Disturbingly, self-hate commonly masquerades as self-improvement.
As a recovering perfectionist, I can attest from personal experience that changes motivated by shame rarely last. We get tired of the self-flagellation, of telling ourselves that the reason we need to change is that we’re not good enough, and our sense of psychological self-preservation (fortunately) wins out. We rightfully abandon our promise to punish ourselves. This is not to say that we can’t desire to better ourselves, including in the realm of physical health, but rather that we need to go about it differently. Enter New Year’s intentions.
I’ve been setting New Year’s intentions for the past couple of years, and I’ve not only fulfilled them but also enjoyed pursuing them. Merriam-Webster defines an intention as follows:
a determination to act in a certain way
a. what one intends to do or bring about b. the object for which a prayer, mass, or pious act is offered
a process or manner of healing of incised wounds
Evidently, an intention is not necessarily something one can achieve in a measurable sense or, inversely, fail to achieve. An intention is ongoing and forgiving; one can set an intention, stray from it, and recommit, all without betraying the original spirit of the intention. Intentions do not require perfection, nor do they invite punishment. And best of all, an intention can never truly be completed, so it is an excellent model for lasting changes that we want to make and keep in our lives. My only caveat is that intentions are meaningless if we do not take action to align ourselves with them, so I would recommend first setting your intentions and then thinking about small, actionable ways you can start to honor your intentions in your daily life.
Furthermore, I love the sacred and healing aspects of the definition. An intention can be the object of a prayer, and what is self-improvement if not an act of faith in our potential, an offering to our better nature? An intention can be a healing process, particularly from the surgically precise wounds we inflict upon ourselves to keep up with a world that makes unrealistic demands. To set an intention is to honor our best selves, and to heal from the pain we feel when, as fallible humans, we don't always live up to those versions of ourselves. So this year, set yourself free from shame, guilt, and perfection. Abandon your resolutions and set an intention instead.
My 2017 intentions:
Spend more time alone to learn, reflect, and be creative
Honor my need for more spirituality in my daily life