As the end of the year approaches, we enter the season of resolutions and of taking stock of the past year and inevitably, we come to all the things we didn’t do, didn’t say or didn’t achieve. We remember the things we wanted to work on but somehow fell by the wayside. It can leave you feeling pretty defeated. Predictably, we make resolutions in the hopes of being able to achieve those same things next year. And, the pattern continues.
2019 marks the end of a year but it also marks the end of a decade. It’s a time for new beginnings and new possibilities.
- What if, instead of making the same old resolutions, you did something different this year?
- What if you decided to start a new tradition and adopt a new way of approaching the new year and a new decade?
- What if doing something different meant starting the new year from a place of hope and strength as opposed to one that has you feeling like you have a mountain to climb?
You can! And it starts with a shift in the way you think about your world and your place in it.
The Problem with Resolutions
The practice of making New Year’s resolutions is nothing new. It started over 4,000 years ago with the ancient Babylonians as a part of their worship and to gain favor with their gods for the coming year. Similar rituals were also seen with the ancient Romans and in early Christian practices.
Today, the practice of making New Year’s resolutions is largely a secular, individual one generally is focused on some aspect of self-improvement like losing a few pounds or stopping smoking. Oh, if it were that easy!
If you’ve ever set a resolution only to have it fall by the wayside by February or so, you’re not alone. Various polls and studies tell us that while about half of all Americans make resolutions, only about 8% report achieving their goals. About 80% of resolutions are abandoned by February. The fact is, people tend to do the same thing each year and end up with the same result. Why is that?
While it varies from person to person, here are some general reasons why resolutions have such a low success rate:
- Resolutions are not realistic. When people set goals, they usually set them in absolutes.
“I’ll lose 40 pounds in a month.”
“I will go to the gym 7 days a week.”
Wanting to better your health is a great thing but let’s be honest. These goals are not realistic. If you miss the gym – even one day – you’ve broken your resolution. That perceived failure can trigger a self-shaming spiral that only leaves you feeling defeated.
- Resolutions are vague. There’s an old saying that a goal without a plan is just a wish. (~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry). This describes most resolutions perfectly. You have a wish for something different. The results don’t come and you wonder why.
The fact is, just wishing for something doesn’t make it so. Change takes work and it takes planning. When people set resolutions, they usually have no idea how they’re going to get there. That is a recipe for failure.
- Resolutions may not fit your wants and needs. This may sound counterintuitive but sometimes, the goals we set for ourselves are not our own. Often times, we adopt the ideas of others in terms of what we “should” do or be. We set resolutions based on what other people think we should do.
Before you make a resolution, ask yourself:
Where does this goal come from? Is it based on what I want or need?
Is this goal important to me? If so, why? If not, why are you pursuing it?
Will achieving this goal improve my life in some way? How?
Am I willing to put in the work for this goal? Do I understand how much work that will be?
If you can’t honestly answer these questions, then there’s a good chance that you’re making this resolution for reasons that may not fit with your needs and wants.
When you make a resolution and it is not something that is in keeping with your wants and needs, it sets up something called cognitive dissonance. Essentially, you’re trying to do something that is in conflict with what you want or believe. The end result is that you’re likely to avoid or sabotage the goal and end up right back where you started.
- Resolutions are short-term and intended to “fix” something. Think of a resolution as a kind of short term goal. A resolution is usually set in order to change something that is bothersome or troubling, for example, a habit that you want to break.
Resolutions imply that there is something “wrong” or something we need to “fix” or “be better at”. That sends a message that we are in some way “flawed” or “broken” in some way. Add to that message the fact that resolutions tend to be easily avoided or forgotten and when we don’t achieve them, we feel bad. That is not an ideal mindset for change.
- Resolutions require a readiness for change. If we are being completely honest, sometimes we have a wish or desire to make a change, but we just aren’t ready. You don’t just need the practice tools for your goal (for example, an eating plan or a designated place to walk).
For meaningful change to occur, you have to be ready. You have to be in a place where you are ready to commit. You need to be in the right mindset. Mindset is everything when it comes to change. It is what will motivate you, drive you and sustain you long after sheer willpower fades.
Why Mindset Matters
Of all the things you need for change, mindset is arguably the number one predictor of success. If your goal is not in keeping with your vision or your beliefs about yourself, then the chances of success are small. Why is that? Isn’t wanting to do something enough?
When you view your personal qualities like intelligence, creativity or character as static or unchangeable, you tend to believe that you either have a certain ability or you don’t. Things are what they are and you can’t do much about it. This is what’s known as a fixed mindset. People with this outlook see their circumstances as largely unchangeable and if they do try something, they believe they will be destined to fail. It’s this kind of mindset that can sabotage you before you even get started.
A growth mindset, on the other hand, is characterized by an optimistic belief that hard work and dedication can result in the desired changes. Setbacks are seen as opportunities to learn as opposed to a reason to quit.
So, if you tend to operate from a fixed mindset are you destined to fail or stay stuck? Absolutely not!
The good news is, mindset is absolutely something that can be changed! Learning to see your strengths and positive qualities can help you to build a mindset that will help you move forward and help you to make the changes you want to make. You can take actions every day that help you to embrace a positive mindset and move you closer to your goals. A positive mindset helps you stay focused and handle the challenges that come so that you can achieve your goals.
Resolutions simply focus on “fixing” something. They’re often black and white, all-or-nothing. They don’t do much for your mindset which is one reason why the success rates are so low.
If resolutions aren’t very effective, then what’s the alternative? Setting intentions.
Intentions vs. Resolutions
Intentions and resolutions are sort of two sides of the same coin. They are both mechanisms for change, but the focus is different. The difference can make all the difference in your mindset and how you approach your goals.
As stated earlier, resolutions are much like short term goals. They tend to be focused changing one behavior or issue, often a self-improvement type of problem. Resolutions imply that there is something “wrong”, something that needs to be “fixed” or something that you need to “be better at”. The message is you don’t measure up. Resolutions are easily avoided, sabotaged or forgotten. When they are not achieved, it feels like failure and feeds that negative mindset.
Intentions, on the other hand, are more like deliberate actions, based on a goal you envision, that guide you along on a journey. They are not specific goals like, “I want to lose 20 pounds.” Intentions are positive, deliberate actions you commit to based on your vision of a desired outcome.
You’ve probably heard the saying, “What you think, you become.” That’s intention. Intentions guide your thoughts, attitudes, and actions thereby influencing your actual experiences. They come from a place of strength, mindfulness and acceptance as opposed to the need to “fix” something.
The difference between resolutions and intentions is subtle but powerful. When you focus on a specific intention, you are bringing it to your mind, your thoughts, your emotions and your heart. Eventually, you manifest it in your reality. Using intention as the foundation for change can have profound effects on your well-being, your relationships and even your physical health.
How To Set An Intention
Setting an intention is not hard but it might feel odd at first as you shift to a more positive, present way of thinking about change. It does take some thought and some honesty with yourself. If you’re not sure what you want to focus on or what is most important, here are some questions to ask yourself:
- What words or phrases would you most like to identify or align with?
- What are the things that matter most to you?
- What would you like create or nurture in your life?
- What are the things you would like to let go of?
- Are there people (including yourself) or situations that you would like to forgive?
- What fears would you like to be free of?
- What are you grateful for?
These are just a few of the many questions you can ask yourself. Another great strategy is to do some journaling. Spend some time thinking about the above prompts and just write what comes to mind. As you write, you will probably start to see some common themes in your thoughts. These themes may be the basis for the intentions you ultimately choose to set.
Getting 2020 Ready
So you’ve thought about what you want to manifest in 2020 and are ready to set your intentions. When you feel ready, here are some tips and suggestions to get you started:
Be authentic. When you decide to set an intention, it should be compatible with who you are – your beliefs, values and perspectives.
Define your intention. Your intention can be a specific wish. It can be a broader aspiration such as, “I intend to be kind to others.” Your intention can be something as simple as a word or phrase that you identify with and would like to manifest. (ex. compassion for others, freedom, at peace, calm) Whatever your intention is, it is important that you know what it is that you are wishing to manifest in your life.
Be positive. State your intention positively. You want to nurture that positive mindset. Instead of saying, “Don’t be so irritable with others,” try stating your intention as, “I intend to listen and respond calmly to others.”
Let the past go. As you start thinking about intentions, it’s easy to get caught up in the “should haves” and the feeling of being undeserving. The past is over, and you can’t go back. We all have things we regret. This year, give yourself permission to let those things go and set yourself on a new path of positivity.
Keep the focus on the present. Set your intentions in the now. Worrying about the past or the future keeps you from appreciating all that is beautiful around you. Allow yourself to live in the moment. Welcome each day and commit to be present as the day unfolds. When you allow yourself to be present, you will notice so much beauty and inspiration that you’ve probably overlooked before.
Practice Gratitude. As you begin your journey, take time each day to intentionally notice and appreciate things that you are grateful for. Why is gratitude so important? Practicing gratitude has been positively and strongly associated with feeling more positive and happier, sleeping better, feeling more compassion and kindness towards others, improving self-esteem, better health and high level of satisfaction with life. An attitude of gratitude can help you to achieve your intentions.
Envision your intention often. Just writing down your intention or saying it aloud is not enough. You want to call it up in your mind often. This allows you to envision and create connection with the very things you wish to manifest in your life. This imagery has powerful effects on our thoughts, feelings and actions that can help move you closer to your goal.
As you ring 2020 in, set your intentions and allow yourself to step into the new year confident and prepared to manifest the changes you wish to make.
Sometimes it can be hard to know which direction to go even after we’ve asked all the right questions. If you find yourself struggling with how to move forward in positive ways, help is available! Let one of the therapists at Therapy24x7 help you to define your goals and find strategies that will set you on your path to success and happiness in 2020.