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I can’t help but notice that my gym has been more crowded this month. The lines at my organic grocery store have been longer, too. Several of my clients have felt a sudden surge of motivation to move, or start online dating, or apply to new jobs in earnest.
I get it. There’s something sobering about entering a new year, especially if there are things you don’t necessarily want to repeat from the past year. The energy of newness and a fresh start is palpable, and it’s no wonder so many of us decide that NOW is the time to change our habits and improve our lives.
There’s nothing wrong with using the energy of the new year to be more reflective and set goals for yourself. But we all know how New Year’s resolutions tend to go. Come February, I guarantee you that my gym and organic grocery store will be much quieter. The collective surge of motivation we all felt at the new year will melt away, and we’ll settle back into our old habits and routines.
Not to depress you, but … to throw some stats into the mix, according to U.S. News, about 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by February. And only 8% of people who make resolutions ultimately achieve them.
So clearly, the way most of us are trying to change our lives isn’t working the way we’d hoped.
I’m not against resolution-setting — a big part of being a coach is encouraging intentionality in all things, after all — but I think most of us are going about it dead wrong.
WHY MOST NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS ARE DOOMED
There are countless theories about why most of us have so much trouble sticking to our New Year’s resolutions, but in my opinion, it comes down to two main factors. (By the way, this really applies to anytime you decide to make a big change in your life, regardless of whether it’s around the New Year or not.)
- We set the mile-marker too far out. I don’t know about you, but I have a hard enough time planning for next week, let alone an entire year. To declare that THIS is the year I’ll (insert typical New Year’s resolution goal here) seems crazy to me because I have no freaking idea what this year will bring. I used to choose a “word” or “theme” for each new year, but by the end of 12 months, I was in a totally different place and it no longer seemed as relevant. Plus, the word I chose was rarely the one the Universe ended up choosing for me. So I’ve stopped pretending like I have any clue what’s in store for me in a given year. I could maybe get on board with choosing a seasonal theme, but a yearly one just seems too big.
- There’s no deeper connection. Most people’s resolutions are externally based — things like “exercise more,” “get a new job,” “travel more,” “start online dating,” or “eat healthier.” The reason these kinds of goals don’t usually last long is because there’s no deeper connection to WHY we want to do them in the first place. Eating more salads and scrolling through job sites, without a deep motivator for why you’re doing it, simply feels like a chore. So it’s no wonder that eventually you’re going to rebel against it!
SO THEN HOW DO YOU ACTUALLY CHANGE YOUR LIFE?
Just because the stats about New Year’s resolutions are pretty dismal doesn’t mean you should give up on doing things to improve your life. I just think the whole concept of resolutions — and honestly goal-setting in general — needs a massive overhaul if it’s ever going to actually work for most of us.
I may have been born a natural worrywart, but as I’ve gotten older and more self-aware, my tolerance for overwhelm has plummeted to nearly zero. And part of becoming allergic to overwhelm has meant breaking up tasks into their tiniest, most manageable parts.
That’s how I want to approach this whole idea of resolution-setting.
So instead of creating some vision for all of 2019 (which feels huge and overwhelming), I’m going to start with setting an intention for today.
I’ve started doing this for the past couple of weeks — spending two minutes in the morning, often before I’ve even gotten out of bed, choosing a word to capture my intention for the day — and it feels so much more peaceful and attainable than the big, sweeping yearly intentions I’ve tried in the past.
Just to be clear, when I say “daily intention,” that’s not just a fancy way of describing your daily to-do list. The kind of daily intention I’m talking about isn’t “clear out my inbox” or “go to yoga before work” or “apply to 3 jobs.” Those might end up being ways you live out your intention of the day, but the intention itself should be more feelings-based.
Here are some examples of daily intentions I’ve set for myself recently:
- Today I want to be patient with myself and others.
- Today I will be laser-focused on whatever I’m working on.
- Today I want to be a good friend.
- Today I want to feel vibrant and
- Today I will be extra gentle with myself.
- Today I want to find the joy in the little moments.
- Today I will be the most authentic version of myself.
- Today I want to follow my curiosity wherever it leads.
- Today I will seek out peace.
CHANGE HAPPENS ONE DAY AT A TIME
The beautiful thing about swapping yearly resolutions for daily intentions is that I can see the changes happening in real-time, instead of hoping change happens in some distant future.
As I remind myself about my intention throughout the day, I notice my behavior changing slightly to match it.
- If my intention of the day is to be gentle with myself, I’ll shift my schedule slightly so I don’t need to rush.
- If my intention is to feel vibrant and alive, I’ll find myself pushing a little harder at the gym just to feel the aliveness of my body.
- If I’ve intended to be a good friend that day, I end up being an even more attentive listener.
- If my intention is to be more authentic, I’ll speak up when I otherwise might have stayed quiet.
Instead of focusing on the specific things I want to do to change my life, I focus on how I want to feel that day, and then the actions flow naturally.
I’m also finding that the intention I set in the morning strangely tends to be exactly what I needed to practice that day.
For example, the day I decided to focus on patience, I had no idea that I’d run into unexpected traffic, have a client show up late for a coaching call, have tech issues with my phone, AND be put on hold 6 times by a customer service person. Without knowing it, I’d chosen exactly the thing I needed most to get through those potentially annoying moments.
Choosing an intention for the day forces you to be more present in the here and now, instead of mentally living in some future reality, so you intuitively get tapped into what you need most right now, today.
Because 99% of the time, change doesn’t happen overnight, all in one fell swoop. It happens gradually, little by little, day by day. It’s not sexy, but it’s the truth: The only real way to make anything happen is one day at a time.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about daily intention setting! What’s your intention for today? Share with me in the comments below.
Kristen (& Rachel)
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It’s a 5-ish week course (with a mix of pre-recorded videos, workbook assignments, and live Google hangouts with the two of us) that helps you figure out what to do with your life. Think of it as the “AP Life” class you should have taken in high school, but never got the chance!
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Hi Kristen what a great post and you are 100% percent right about New Years resolutions failing because people’s hearts and commitments aren’t in it. i guess from my experience I have found that most people don’t want to change their lives until something forces them to do have to do something about it. Even then some people are resistant to it but change can be a positive thing and like anything in life we need to do more of it to form a habit and enjoy it. Especially true with exercise and if you keep going you soon start to enjoy it. Hope things go well on the VIP list and great to see someone like you giving great advice on a topic that is really important to most peoples lives. Wish you all the best Scott
So true, Scott! Too often, most of us will wait until things get SO bad that we feel forced to make a change. But life tends to go a lot smoother when you make intentional changes, instead of reactive ones.
Thanks for the kind words! Wishing you all the best as well, and Happy 2019! 🙂