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Thrive in the New Year: How to Set Intentions Not Resolutions

Each new year we are encouraged by society to set New Year’s Resolutions. It’s a time that’s supposed to be filled with new hope of making things different in the coming year. However, if you’re like most people you aren’t a fan of setting New Year’s resolutions. In theory, it’s a good idea, but it leaves many people feeling like they’ve failed by the time February 1st rolls around. That’s why I’m going to encourage you to set intentions for 2019 instead of resolutions.

What are New Year’s resolutions?

The Cambridge Dictionary defines New Year’s resolutions as, “a promise that you make to yourself to start doing something good or stop doing something bad on the first day of the year.” In short, New Year’s resolutions are when people decide to take action and work towards a goal. The most popular resolutions are to:

  • Lose weight
  • Exercise more
  • Eat healthier
  • Stop smoking
  • Drink less
  • Learn a new hobby or skill

We know that it’s good to have goals in life, but there are a few reasons why resolutions don’t work for most people. The first is that many people struggle to know how to set proper resolutions and goals. So they choose something they want to do, but they don’t have a plan on how to accomplish it. This leads to failure to achieve the goal. The second is that we tend to view resolutions with an all or nothing mentality. That means the first time we blow our diet or miss a workout we throw our resolution out the window completely. Resolutions are something that we either succeed or fail at. It’s black and white.

If you don’t believe me just go to a gym at the beginning of January and then again at the beginning of February and March. Gyms across the country are packed with people who have made resolutions to get in shape at the start of the year. But, each month attendance drops off as people give up. After so many years of trying and “failing” to stick to their resolutions, people just stop making them altogether.

How are intentions different than resolutions?

But unlike resolutions, intention-setting focuses less on goals and more on the journey which leads to certain outcomes. Think of it this way: Intentions focus more on internal power and long-term change, whereas resolutions focus more on external—and sometimes, short-lived—rewards.

Let’s look at how this works for one of the most commonly set resolutions—losing weight. If you are setting a resolution to lose weight it might be something like, “lose 20 pounds”. But, if you choose to set an intention the weight loss might be a result, but it’s not going to be the focus. The intention might be something more like, “I’m going to take care of my body the way that it deserves.” This might incorporate making changes to your diet or exercise regimen, but the focus is not on those specific changes but the intention of treating your body the way it deserves.

Intentions are about reconnecting with our authentic selves. It enables us to reconnect with what we need — mind, body, and spirit.  Intentions seek to address this residue from within in order to achieve change, whereas resolutions most often set awareness on the achievement of something externally. The difference is subtle but important.

How to Set Intentions

1. Spend time in self-reflection and dig into your why.

The first step to set intentions for 2019 is to spend some time in self-reflection. Your intentions will only matter to you and come to reality if it’s something that truly matters to you. Think through what areas of your life are the most important to you along with what your priorities and passions are. Your intentions need to align with who you are. 

Take time to really dig into what you want your intentions for the year to be and why they matter to you. What do you want your life to look like and why? What would life be like if those things came to be?

2. Create a statement for your intention.

Once you know what your intentions are going to be you should create a statement around each of them that you can focus on throughout the year. Your thoughts hold a lot of power over what outcomes you will experience in 2019 and beyond.

Once you have your statement make sure you spend time thinking about it for a short time each day. Spend time meditating on it.

3. Release your doubts and negative beliefs.

Once again, your thoughts are powerful. Therefore, it’s important that you work on releasing any doubt or negative thoughts that you have about your intentions. This can be tricky, especially if it’s an area that you set resolutions for and failed in the past. You need to let go of the past and remind yourself you are focusing on intentions, not resolutions now.

4. Allow your intentions to guide your plans.

Once you have intentions set in place you can use them to determine what actions you want to take in order to achieve it. When you use the intention as the focus it allows you to keep going even if have trouble sticking to the changes or actions you are working on incorporating in your life.

5. Get ready for 2019.

While 2018 might not have gone exactly as you wanted, but as you set your intentions for 2019, make sure to celebrate the successes from the year. Celebrating successes, even the small ones, can go a long way in building confidence and spurring you on to further action. Then, remember the difference between success and failure is often spelled as intentions.

Thrive in the New Year: How to Set Intentions Not Resolutions

Julie K. Jones, Ph.D., LPC

Julie K. Jones, Ph.D., LPC is the owner and director of Well Life Therapy, LLC, a private group psychotherapy practice in Middletown, CT. She and her clinical team offer a wide range of services and specialties including perinatal/postpartum support, trauma recovery, couples and family counseling, and teen/young adult assistance. She is a founding member and board member of the Connecticut Chapter of Postpartum Support International.

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APA Reference
Jones, J. (2018). Thrive in the New Year: How to Set Intentions Not Resolutions. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 31 Dec 2018 (Originally: 31 Dec 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 31 Dec 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.