Approaching New Year’s Resolutions with Mindfulness & Care

Dec 22, 2022

Winter is a difficult time of year, and mental health challenges can rise to a peak with the stresses of weather and traffic, school and work, family gatherings, and gifts, all on top of our normal everyday business. Add in day after day of low sunlight, and we are left completely drained! For some reason, this is also the time that everyone decided we need to add one more goal to our already overpacked To-Do lists. Bah Humbug! I am sick of New Year’s Resolutions. Goals are nice, but the last thing I need in January is another task that I don’t have the energy for. Who wants to go to the gym in January anyways?

We don’t know what is going to change tomorrow – or next week – or next month – let alone how we are going to behave for the next YEAR! We have all heard the statistics of how fast people give up on their New Year’s Resolutions, and we have all given up on a resolution ourselves at some point. A few years ago, I decided to shift my perspective and take on a New Year’s Intention instead of setting another doomed-to-fail Resolution. I found that when I set my intentions toward the desired outcome, instead of adding another chore to my list, I naturally found myself feeling more accomplished. Here are a few steps to help you find success by setting an intention.

  1. Connect with your values. When your intentions align with your values, it is easier to follow through. If you value a “healthy body” and set your intentions on that, you will naturally progress toward that. If you set a goal or resolution to “get more exercise” or “go to the gym,” your brain registers this as an additional stressor and looks for any reason to get it out of the way. State your intentions as an affirmation of what makes you feel good – and let your brain figure out the steps to take.
  2. Write down an affirmation of your intention. Put it on sticky notes everywhere! Writing the affirmation of your intention helps encode it in your working memory – and seeing the affirmations everywhere helps remind your unconscious mind to re-process the intention and find a solution that fits you. As you go about your day-to-day life, your unconscious mind will process the data around you, and it may feel like a solution just appeared out of nowhere. That’s how amazing and powerful our unconscious mind is!
  3. Share the intention out loud. You can say it to a friend or a family member and ask for reminders (not shame) about this intention. Accountability from someone you care about can help reinforce this intention – as long as it doesn’t focus on what HASN’T happened yet. Focus on what is strong, not what is wrong. If the intention is private and you don’t want to involve others, then I still recommend stating that intention out loud! While you are fixing your hair or makeup or washing your hands, look in the mirror and state the affirmation of your intention – out loud – to yourself. Daily! Multiple times a day! Feeling good about choosing a direction is what is important to sustaining change, instead of just checking off boxes to complete another chore.

Give yourself a couple of months of setting the intention to allow the brain to sort through options and settle on a solution. The more you focus on the positive feeling of the intention, the more your brain will work to make it come true.

For those of you who feel like this intention-setting mumbo jumbo is not for you and you love those tough stretch goals and checkboxes on a list for New Year’s Resolutions, make sure you set S.M.A.R.T. goals.

  • Be Specific about the direction you are going and the steps you are taking.
  • Measure those steps based on how you feel about them, not just that you did them.
  • When the direction you set and goals are simplified into small steps so that they are Attainable, it is easier to see progress and stick with the new direction.
  • The ‘R’ in S.M.A.R.T. goals brings us back to the first step above for setting a direction and intention. Be sure the goal is Relevant to your values! If your goal makes you smile – do it! If your goal seems pointless and doesn’t connect to your life-long dreams, it becomes another one of those chores your brain just checks out for.
  • How you define the Time limit of your goals is another way to accomplish more with less stress. Setting the Time limit of the goal for shorter lengths of time will allow you to see more successes along the way, and those are the changes that last. You can increase the time duration later once you have made some progress.

No matter how you like to prepare (or not) and set goals (or not), make sure to celebrate the milestones along the way! If you have made any progress in how you feel about the goal, take a moment to reinforce that positive change with gratitude for what you have accomplished. Gratitude is the choice that helps turn small steps into large leaps!

By Raymond Young, Training Institute