Why I have New Year’s intentions, not resolutions, and you should too.

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issue 06 / Sima Newell

A new year has rolled in – welcome 2024! – and with it, New Year’s resolutions made by millions of people around the world. Where do these resolutions wind up?

By the time you are reading this (late January or early February most likely), those resolutions for many will be a distant memory. By April, most have let go of their resolutions.

That’s quite a loss and can feel very disempowering when you set a resolution and fail to get there, year on year.

In a moment, I will share why I go with intentions rather than resolutions and how much more powerful these can be.

But first, let’s get real on the success rates: a Forbes Health / One Poll survey found that the average resolution lasts only 3.74 months. Most people are back to the same-old, same-old by sometime in April.

What’s really going on? Why is it so hard to set up and keep these new habits going?

And what is the difference between an intention and a resolution?

Habits


There is a lot to unpack here, but in essence habits are wired in our brains to keep us safe; our brains believe our habits are essential for survival. If your habit is to have an afternoon coffee, or to come home to a glass of beer or wine to relax after work, or even to have a cigarette, your brain will treat these habits as essential to your very life (yes even the ones you know are killing you.) This is why habits can be so hard to change.

And willpower, the essence of New Year’s resolutions, is high up in the new part of the brain – the neocortex – trying to win out an argument with the oldest part of the brain (the limbic system) which is governing our behaviour. That habit voice (“it’s okay, just this once”) is a very visceral deep driver. Will power alone has little long-term chance of success.

Beliefs & Identity

The real magic is in examining your beliefs and identity.

If you are an athlete, you won’t need a go-to-the-gym resolution. Your identity as an athlete is one of someone who already works out, probably at least once a day, intensively. You believe workouts are fun and important and your behaviour aligns with this.

If, on the other hand, you are someone who believes that your work is essential to your income and the more you work, the more recognised and promoted and rewarded you will be, this belief is in contradiction to the beliefs you need to have to make a fitness resolution hold strong.

You’re not an athlete, you’re a successful employee or leader or coach.

To succeed towards your fitness goal, you need to have the same kind of deep conviction about the fitness resolution that you do about your existing day-to-day.

Can you feel the difference?  How easy and natural the old way felt (staying at work) and how there is some resistance somewhere inside your body to the new way (stopping for a workout)?

Take a moment to imagine each and notice how it feels different somewhere inside.

That’s it.

That’s the key you are looking for.

The way to get the results you want is to become the kind of person who has those results.

To make a small identity and belief shift to get to the result you want.

My tips are around setting intentions – and shifting beliefs

An intention is a bigger, bolder, more powerful goal.

It recognises that it may take time and there may be hiccups. Intentionality is a very deep powerful tool in your personal toolkit.

A goal (or resolution) can be met or not, but an intention persists. It gives you the grace to get back up when you’ve missed the mark. Because your intention is still there, even when the resolve has faded away.

Understanding intentions brings us to the power of intentional belief shifting. I go through an annual process of deep introspection. I look at my big intention and do some meditation to really get present to the resistance points. This is the question to ask:

What beliefs do I currently have that are blocking my achieving that intention?

You have to get quiet and present to know the answers. And then, take some time to get to know that old belief:

  • How has it been serving you?
  • Where did it come from?
  • What’s funny about it?

Then you can thank it and just let it go.

You can then give time to reflect on what would be a more empowering belief.

Let me give an example. Last quarter, I was overcommitted for a whole number of reasons. Yet I also recognised that if I have an intention for a healthy work-life balance, I cannot be the type of person who becomes over committed for too long.

I realised that I have a belief that saying “yes” to things gives opportunities. And I feel that it is a true belief. I am here, writing for the COACH Magazine Global, because I said “yes” several times and this opportunity to reach you, my reader, has come about, and I love that.

At the same time, too much opportunity becomes too much work for me, and that is overwhelming.

So… what’s the new belief? 

I’ve added a new belief that saying “no” gives me mental space.

My new beliefs around healthy work-life balance are now:

  • Saying “yes” gives me opportunity
  • Saying “no” gives me mental space
  • Balancing “yes” and “no” makes me feel light and accomplished

So, my old belief wasn’t doing a disservice in this case, it was just out of balance. I’ve embedded these new beliefs in my mind via self-hypnosis, and now, I do feel light and accomplished.

In fact, how light and accomplished I feel is a good indicator of how well I am achieving my intention of a healthy balance. I am much more tuned in to how my “yes” and “no”s make me feel in the moment.


Does that make sense?

So, which will you choose: a will-powered based New Year’s Resolution, or a resilient, beliefs-based intention for 2024 and beyond?

For me, it’s setting intentions all the way. 

And the big intention I set for 2024? Follow me on LinkedIn to find out what it is and my progress. It’s an amazing, ambitious goal to impact thousands of people. It may last into 2025 and I’m okay with that.

Happy New Year!

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