New Year’s Intentions (Not Resolutions)

Embrace Encourage Empower

photography by Greg Rakozy

I’m not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. You set this vague intention not because the time is right for that change but because an artificial “new beginning” is nigh and social pressure tells you you should. Or maybe it’s because the holidays are over so you have no excuses left about how busy you are or how your other priorities come first. So you shout your intentions into the ether, drunkenly declaring that THIS will be the year you finally make that change.

For many years I resisted New Year’s resolutions. When I have made them, they burned out pretty quick – in fact, some I didn’t even start. Finishing my children’s book? I never even picked up my paintbrush. Finally get my house neat and organized for good? Only if putting boxes of junk in the attic counts!

Statistics show that I’m not alone – One study showed that 88% of New Year’s resolutions fail, despite 52% of participants being confident about their success in the beginning. Forbes cites failure rate of resolutions at a dismal 92%. This is largely due to not having well-made goals – we make resolutions based on what sounds good in theory, despite not having a clear intention or plan on how to really implement that change. This is why I’d like to banish the Resolution and introduce the Intention.

sitting on a wall_Joshua Earl

Photo by Joshua Earl

Set Intentions, Not Resolutions

Setting an intention is different than a resolution because rather than resolving to change your behavior directly, you shift your mindset to influence behavior changes. Mindset is incredibly important – like the old cliche “if you believe it, you can achieve it” the opposite is also true. If you don’t have the right mindset, achieving your goals will feel tedious at best, insurmountable at worst. Having a positive mindset, however, turns setbacks into fun challenges, and every step of the way feels light and joyful. Unlike a resolution, which is generally a destination goal that you either achieve or fail, a mindset is a series of minor but constant shifts, like adjusting the course of your journey. When you find yourself engaging in a negative or unproductive thought, you just need to catch yourself and make the adjustment back to your goal mindset. It’s not complicated – it just takes intention and awareness.

For me, shifting my mindset is in three parts – acknowledging what I’d like to let go of from the previous year, determining what I’d like to cultivate in the new year, and deciding on a mantra to remind me of my intentions.

2015 has been a challenging year for me – I’ve experienced loss, loneliness, and failure. It’s also been a great year, where I’ve experienced transformative change and learned how to better rely on my own strengths and abilities. This has largely been done by being aware of my mindset, being patient with myself, and believing in my ability to get through the challenges. It hasn’t been seamless, but it has been progress.

In no particular order, here is what I intend to let go of from 2015:

  • Rigid Expectations
  • Doubts
  • Self-judgments
  • Shame
  • Feeling limited by my past, childhood, and upbringing
  • Friendships that don’t bring me joy
  • Self-pity
  • Self-limiting beliefs
  • Scarcity
  • Disappointments
  • Insecurity
  • Hurt
  • Resentments

To be clear, the above is part of the human experience, and part of my experience in particular. I don’t plan to be able to eliminate these things, but by naming them as things that hold me back from being my best self, I can catch myself when I’m getting stuck in one of these pitfalls and refocus my energy.

Now the fun part. If none of the negative things in your life were holding you back, what could you achieve? How would you like to feel, how would you like to think, operate, and act?

Here is what I intend to cultivate in 2016:

  • Abundance
  • Joy
  • Focus & Productivity
  • Confidence
  • Financial stability and self-sufficiency
  • Love for myself and others
  • Balance
  • Acceptance
  • Gratitude
  • Perseverance & Consistency
  • Success

It’s important to note that it’s best to only include things you have some control over. Although there is some merit to setting an intention for things you don’t actually control (i.e. the state of the world, the health of your loved ones), that falls more under a wish or a prayer than a mindset. Intentions should be personal and influence your behavior, but they should not be behaviors themselves.

A few friends and I did a New Year’s ritual where we wrote what we wanted to let go of on one paper, and what we wanted to cultivate on another. We ceremonially burned each set of papers while mentally letting go of the bad and setting our intentions for the good. Having a ritual around your intentions can add meaning and solidify them.

Finding a Mantra

A mantra is like a shortcut for your brain – you put the meaning you want (i.e. both of the above lists) in a few words, and then you just have to bring up those words to access all that meaning and intention. In other words, all of what I’m letting go of from 2015 and what I’m cultivating for 2016 is encompassed in these three words: Embrace, Encourage, Empower.


Photography by Danist Soh

Beyond just sounding catchy, this is a mantra I can apply to myself and my personal life, and my practice as a therapist and coach. It’s what I wish for my clients and will help them achieve. More on that soon.

What would you like to let go of and cultivate in the New Year? Do you have a mantra you use or would you like to make one?

Comment and let me know!


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