By Holly J. Bean, PhD, LCPC, CRC, CTRS
Happy New Year! With the end of 2020, we may be taking a collective deep breath. Looking to the future – 2021 – with hope and positivity, we are offered an opportunity to leave the past behind and work to create a happier, healthier future. This typically means it is time to create New Year’s resolutions.
According to an article from Trafalgar (2020) “At least 40% of people in the United States set New Year’s resolutions, while 22% of people in the UK aim for self-improvement with a resolution”. Ironically, we work to create resolutions in January, typically pertaining to weight loss, smoking cessation, increase exercise regimes, perseverance in some long forgone goal, with a firm determination to ‘this time’ make it stick, with the same results last year’s resolutions gave us.
Research shows that 80% of people break their resolutions by the first week of February and only 8% are successful in achieving their goals at all (Trafalgar, 2020). So how did this practice in futility begin and is there another way forward?
Resolutions appear to have quite a long, storied history. Sarah Pruitt, writing for History, notes that the “first New Year’s resolutions date back over 4,000 years ago to ancient Babylon. The Babylonians are said to have started the tradition during Akitu, a 12-day New Year celebration in March (Pruitt, 2020.). The Romans continued the practice yet, unlike the Babylonians, the Roman’s changed the calendar and made January as the start of the year. In the 17th century Anne Halkett, a Scottish writer, wrote in her diary several pledges and titled the page “Resolutions” hence giving us the title (Trafalgar, 2020). By the 1800’s, satirist capitalized on the futility of making New Year resolutions due to lack of success in achieving the stated goals (Trafalgar, 2020).
Ending 4000 years of resolution making may take some time, however there is no time like the present! Current trends speak of replacing resolutions with intentions. AARP’s article on intentions states, “As one of the most challenging years in history draws to a close, it may be time for a revolution in resolutions. Intention-setting is less about a specific goal and more about a shift in mindset to help achieve that goal” (Locker, 2020). The AARP article continues with the definition of an intention as “something you want to manifest in your life or some guiding principle that you want to live by” (Locker, 2020). Resolutions are thought of as hard and rigid goals that are either achieved or not, intentions reflect broader ideas. Intentions are kinder and gentler goals, yet, it doesn’t have to be an overarching goal. It might help to think of intentions as being somewhat less tangible than resolutions and come from a much deeper core level. Intentions have the ability to reduce the anxious feelings that hard and fast resolutions bring and offer a kinder, calmer way to create a better quality of life.
Let’s explore how to turn resolutions into intentions:
|I will lose 30 lbs.||I set my intention to eat healthy|
|I will exercise every day for 30 minutes||My exercise regime supports my healthy lifestyle|
|I will stop smoking||This is the year that I become a non-smoker|
|I will learn to play the piano this year||This is the year that I work to do my best with any project taken on|
|I will be happy this year||I will focus on areas in my life that I am grateful for|
|This year I will work harder||This year I will learn to be more mindful and present|
As a practice, it might be fun to list your resolution for the New Year and then see if you can turn them into intentions. The intention is to have fun!
For more helpful information on intentions please visit https://yourholisticpsychologist.com/5-steps-to-intention-setting/
Locker, M. (2020). Scrap the Resolutions and set New Year’s Intentions Instead. Retrieved
Pruitt, S. (2020). The History of New Year’s Resolutions. Retrieved from https://www.history.com/news/the-history-of-new-years-resolutions
Trafalgar. (2020). Exploring the History behind New Year’s Resolutions. Retrieved from