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Intentions or Resolutions?

This weekend we’ll be pulling out our 2017 calendars, swiping ahead into another calendar year, and getting used to writing a new year. Many people will be reflecting back on the ups and downs of the past year, and look ahead to goals and plans for the new year. Approximately 45% of people make at least one New Year’s Resolution, yet over 80% of New Year’s Resolutions are unfulfilled. According to the History Channel, making resolutions for a new year is thought to have first begun with the ancient Babylonians, who made promises with the belief that they would earn the favor of the gods and start the year off on the right foot. I don’t personally know anyone who makes resolutions today for those reasons but for many, a new year is associated with a fresh start. So what is the power of these often unmet resolutions?

A big factor in the setting of resolutions is our natural inclination as humans towards growth and improvement. Making resolutions is a practice of hope. Whether it is one of the more popular resolutions of losing weight, changing jobs, making more money, quitting smoking/drinking, or something altogether different, any attempt to change or improve needs to come from a genuine desire within us, not just the hype of the holiday or a certain date on a calendar. And it’s important to note that desire is not the same as “the shoulds”, as in “I should quit smoking”. While the risks of smoking are well known, facts aren’t usually enough to create that authentic personal desire to change.

With New Year’s Resolutions, we set specific measurable goals but often “life gets in the way”, our plans are derailed, we feel discouraged, and often abandon those goals. This is a common occurrence with many New Year’s Resolutions and the reason that the same resolutions are made year after year. If we are to ever be successful in making changes, we may want to first evaluate how we are approaching the desired change. Are we establishing a rigid goal, much like a task or to-do list, another set of demands and expectations to add to our already full plates? Or alternately, are we envisioning a desired way of being that is flexible and can be practiced, adapted, and repeated? The very definition of resolution is “the firm decision to do or not do something” whereas intentions can be defined as “the determination to act in a certain way”. Note the difference and it’s understandable why many people find more satisfaction creating intentions for themselves instead. For instance, rather than a goal of “losing 20 pounds”, the intention might be to eat more fruits and veggies. The focus is more on the process than on the end result. Intentions are often more present-oriented and immediately attainable than a future-oriented goal.

Regardless of the time of year, we can all start each day with the question “What are my intentions today?” In the meantime, I’ll remember to get to the gym early for my favorite classes, as they will be flooded with the crowds of people who have made exercise part of their January plans.

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