New Years resolutions, intentions, or both?

For several years now, I’ve been continuously preaching all the reasons why I prefer intentions to resolutions. They’re about the journey, not the finish line. They leave room for humanness. You are less likely to give up when you hit a roadblock.

New Years resolutions, intentions, or both?

All of that is true, and in terms of my personal life and changes I’d like to make, I still believe that intentions tend to be more rooted in a positive mindset than resolutions (even if the basic “goal” is the same).

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines intention as “a determination to act in a certain way: resolve; what one intends to do or bring about,” but also as “a process or manner of healing of wounds.” Meanwhile, “resolution” has 15 different definitions, most of which come down to one thing: an ending. Whether resolving a conflict or a sickness, a resolution is the point at which something closes: a static point, whereas intentions are dynamic and always changing to fit the intender.

An intention means you’ve chosen to make this change. It puts a positive spin on whatever the goal may be because you are taking responsibility for having made the conscious choice to evolve. On the other side, a resolution gives one the feeling of needing to turn things around; as if what you’ve been doing up to this point was wrong and now you must make amends. It has an inherent negative and demoralizing tone, so no wonder only 9.2 percent of people actually achieve what they made a resolution to do.

So are resolutions worth declaring at all? Or should we aim to set only intentions instead?

When I first sat down to write this post, I had this topic in mind:

Why you should set intentions rather than resolutions — especially in business.

“Especially in business.” The more I sat and thought about that phrase, the more I wasn’t sure that was what I wanted to say at all. In reality, we tend to be much more unforgiving (and cruel) with ourselves in regard to our personal lives rather than our professional ones. Our personal lives are an extension of who we are to our core: our values, who/what/why we love, the type of person we want to be, etc. While our work can certainly tie into these areas, there are very few people who are wholly defined by their work more than their character and personality. So, perhaps intentions give us the wiggle room we need to become who we aspire to be on a personal “soft skills” level, while resolutions can give us something to reach for in the “hard skills” areas of our lives.

Look at it this way: the reality is that many of us have a hard time being kind to ourselves. It’s a constant journey that most people will never fully “complete,” and maybe we shouldn’t: if we continue changing throughout our whole lives, then our understanding and patience with who we are and what we do will surely evolve as well.

This is the basis for why I advocate for setting intentions for one’s personal life — at any point in time, but especially during the “New Years resolution” craze every winter— and saving the resolutions for other areas where defined (and maybe even quantifiable) goals make sense. When we look at our personal aspirations as a dynamic journey and allow for the peaks and valleys that will undoubtedly come, we are setting ourselves up for success. Let’s look at an example of an intention and resolution, both relating to the same personal “goal” but indicating very different journeys.

Resolution: My goal is to lose weight.
Intention: My intention is to treat my body how I would treat any important relationship in my life — with care, attention and love. I will be purposeful in doing what’s best (and healthiest) for me.

There are several issues with this resolution. First off, whether you set a specific number as your weight loss goal or not, the “end point” is defined, so what happens when you either 1) achieve it or 2) hit a bump in the road after a few weeks? Did you fail? Does the goal end there? Weight — 1, you — 0?

Meanwhile, if your intention is to treat your body well and maintain a healthy relationship with yourself then one bad day or week or month or year does not derail your journey, because it’s just that — a journey. With no set end point, you have the awesome opportunity to keep trying and improving and, best of all, succeeding. Over and over again.

For me, intentions have always felt encouraging. If I “failed” one day in living up to my own expectations, then instead of feeling defeated, I switched the mindset and felt motivated to try again the next day. The world of bettering yourself is not a three-strikes-and-you’re-out game.

You are a cat with unlimited lives. Use them.

Now, on the professional side of things, I enjoy setting resolutions. They give me numbers to shoot for, quantifiable metrics to track and a way to compare my performance year to year. I still set some intentions — for instance, in 2019 I intend to be as honest and outspoken with my clients as I deem necessary — but I also set many resolutions.

Here are some career resolutions I’ve heard other people mention for the upcoming year:

I want to update my resume (and everything else).

I want to add a new “bullet” to my skills section.

I want to get to know two new people in my office each month.

I want to complete my To Do list by 5pm each day.

I want to read one career-related book each month.

I want to clean out my digital and physical file cabinets.

I want to speak up more in meetings.

I want to increase profits in my department by XX%.

My professional resolutions for 2019 are the following:

Work with three new clients in at least one new industry.

Complete my Hootsuite Social Marketing and Google Analytics certifications.

Take on at least one project that allows me to gain more experience in the analytics side of marketing.

We all have different goals, and we all have our own way of achieving them. For some, resolutions work great, even in more personal areas. Maybe you set a health or financial-related resolution every year and always nail it by the time December 31st rolls around. For the other 90.8% of us, though, it may be worth it to take a hard look at the mindset surrounding our goals: if you’re looking to be a little kinder, more patient and more dynamic with the journey, intentions may be the way to go. Who knows, maybe this time next year you’ll be exactly who you’re aspiring to be right now.

Happy New Year, and cheers to all of us!

What are your intentions and resolutions this year? Do you find that one or the other works better for you in achieving your goals?

–Photo by Chinh Le Duc on Unsplash