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Goal Setting

Goals & Intentions: An alternative to new year’s resolutions

I stopped making new year’s resolutions a long time ago. Even when I was running a successful Life Coaching business and earning my living helping people to achieve their goals, I was very clear that I don’t care much for new year’s resolutions. I do, of course, fully support any effort to make positive changes in one’s life; I just think there are better ways than the traditional “From 1st January, I will…” approach. In this post, I want to share my preferred approach to charting my course for the incoming year.

What’s wrong with resolutions?

1. The Willpower Factor

I already covered off in a previous post that most people choose to make sweeping life changes on the first day of the new year, and outlined all the reasons why this is not a wise idea according to the latest research on willpower. You can read about that HERE.

2. All or nothing

A resolution, by definition, is a statement of resolve. I resolve to either do something or not do it, commencing 1st January (or whatever date you choose). Stating your intention in such absolute terms only allows for passing or failing. If you resolve to go to the gym three times per week, as soon as you miss a session you’ve broken your resolution. Many people slip up on their way to achieving goals and this is no sign of failure, but resolutions don’t allow for slip ups. The feelings of discouragement (and the accompanying negative self-talk that usually goes with it) make it difficult to pick up where you left off, which is why many people have shelved their resolutions by mid-January only to bring them out and dust them off again on January 1st next year.

3. Goals vs Strategies

Most people’s resolutions are either broad-brush statements such as “get fit”, “get out of debt” or “lose weight”; or they are specific actions such as “exercise three times every week”.

The first group of statements, while technically “goals”, are too vague to be meaningful. For goal setting to be effective, goals need to be S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound) and I’ll post more on that later.

The second type of resolution is actually not a goal but a strategy. Exercising three times a week is a strategy you might implement to achieve your goal of getting fit. It’s important to understand the difference between a goal and a strategy. (Listen out and you’ll frequently hear people list strategies as goals.)

4. The laundry list of resolutions

“Get fit, get out of debt, drink less, eat better….” *yawn*. It’s a long, boring list serving to highlight all your perceived inadequacies and there isn’t very much inspiring about that. Combined with the high chance of breaking all those resolutions due to points 1, 2 and 3 above, people find themselves by mid-January adding lack of self-discipline to their list of (supposed) faults. It’s a lose-lose situation.

An alternative approach

I’d like to share my preferred options when it comes to planning what I’d like to achieve in the coming year.

live every day with intention

image via pinterest

1. The first is to get clear on my intentions. For me, living with intention every day is more likely to take me closer to the life I want to create than any list of goals.

You might, for example, have an intention to live more simply. Or more sustainably. Your intention might be to foster more authentic social connections, or stretch yourself and step out of your comfort zone. Living with intention cuts through the to-do list of goals and requires you to get clear on your values.  From values and intentionality, goals and actions emerge very organically. For example, if your intention is to nurture social connections, you might be inclined to cut back on social media and make more effort to have real conversations with people in your life. Your decision and action is inspired by an authentic value whereas creating a new year’s resolution to ‘spend less time on Facebook’ is unlikely to stick.

2. Each year, I like to distil my intention for the year into one word. I first read about this approach several years ago in this blog post and I’ve chosen a word every year since. 

3. When it comes to setting goals, I like to imagine myself a year from now looking back on what I’ve achieved. I decide the specific accomplishments that are most important to me and that are likely to make me feel proud and satisfied that I’ve put in a good effort.

I usually have personal, family, financial and business goals. I make them specific and write them down so I can refer back on my progress throughout the year. In this way, I give myself a full year to map out a course for achieving these things. Nothing magical needs to happen on 1st January; I don’t try to achieve everything all at once; and there are no resolutions to be broken.

Sometimes at the end of the year, I find there are some goals that aren’t achieved or only partially achieved. Regardless, I know that by writing down my objectives for the year and systematically working towards them, I have achieved far more than I would have had I not set any goals at all. So each year, I aim high. They say if you shoot for the moon, you’ll land amongst the stars and I fully believe that a life lived with intention, values, a sense of purpose and clearly defined goals is far more likely to bring you success and fulfillment than another year lived out of habit.

Do you make resolutions? What’s your preferred approach? I’d love to hear what works for you.


Clinical and Coaching Psychologist. Mindfulness teacher. Wife, mother, animal lover.

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