New Year's Resolutions

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Happy New Year! Let the making … and eventual breaking … of resolutions begin!

I recently listened to an episode of one of my favorite podcasts during which the commentators discussed their New Year’s resolutions.  If this podcast didn’t consistently deliver funny, enlightening and intelligent conversation during every other episode, I might have skipped this one. I find the whole discussion of resolutions stale and a waste of time. Almost as bad as end-of-year “Best of” or “Worst of” lists. But these folks are a funny bunch and often make my long commute to and from my day job much more pleasant, so I cut them some slack and gave the New Year’s Resolution episode a shot.  I wasn’t disappointed.

One of the presenters made an interesting point that has stuck with me.  She said this year she isn’t going to make resolutions.  Instead, she’s making what she calls “intentions.”  For her, resolutions are “pass/fail” challenges we set for ourselves every year.  As long as you are sticking to the resolutions, you’re doing great.  As soon as you stray, you’ve failed.  And that’s when you give up on them.  You failed.  No second chances.  No do-overs.  Game over.  In the failure, it’s like we give ourselves permission to give up on what we resolved to do…until next January 1st when the process starts all over again.  It’s a never-ending cycle of failure and disappointment for many.

Instead, according to this wise podcaster, intentions allow you to acknowledge that you might not ALWAYS succeed, but that you intend to give it your best effort.  If you stray from your intentions, you can always right the ship. There is no black/white, pass/fail, did it/didn’t do it with intentions.  Intentions are things that you mean to do, hope to do.  Things you will do your best to accomplish. 

The theory of intentions goes like this:  If you start the year thinking about what you intend to change or what you intend to do with the upcoming 365 days rather than saying with absolute certainty you resolve to do those things, it make it easier to actually see those plans through.

Who knows? It may just be a way of deluding ourselves into sticking with our resolutions a little longer than we might otherwise. 

There is something intriguing though about intending to do things differently in the coming year, rather than challenging myself to do “x” or not do “y”. So I’m going to give this a try.

  1. I intend to try my best to stick to a nutritious meal plan. Will I falter and dip into the bag of dark chocolate M&Ms my son put in my Christmas stocking.  Yep.  Most definitely. But there’s always another chance to choose an equally delicious apple over a handful of M&Ms.  I could remove the temptation altogether by taking the bag to work and letting my coworkers enjoy them.

  2. I intend to structure my days to include time at the gym.  Will I wake up one morning when the temperature dips below 20 degrees and say “heck no,” roll over and sleep another hour? Almost certainly. But the gym will be open that evening.  Or the next morning.  And nothing is lost as long as I don’t make pulling the covers over my head a daily habit.

  3. I’ll strive to have more patience with other drivers on the road during my morning commute down Interstate 270.  I guarantee I’ll struggle with this one at about 7:15 a.m. on January 2nd.  I’ll just be sure to have all my favorite podcasts queued up and ready to listen to for the afternoon drive home. A perfectly acceptable form of distraction. No harm done.  And there’s always the chance to do better next time.

If I own and accept going into the New Year that, occasionally, I will fall short of meeting any or all of those intentions (quite likely all on the same day!), then I can more easily forgive myself for straying from my them and just try to do better the next day (notice I didn’t say “resolve” to do better the next day). There’s always tomorrow for me to practice how I intended to live my life but I won’t need to beat myself up for failing to live up to what I resolved to do.

Clearly resolutions are important to us.If they weren’t, we wouldn’t return to them year after year, pledging to renew our resolve to accomplishing whatever goals we have. Is the concept of intentions vs resolutions just semantics then?Mind tricks? A different way of saying the same thing that just makes us feel better when we don’t live up to our own expectations?Maybe.But that’s okay because at least we continue to try new approaches to the same old problem of not sticking to our New Year’s resolutions. We only truly fail when we stop trying to pursue things that are important to us or when we stop trying to be our best selves.