New Year’s resolutions are about as popular as they are unsuccessful. Why does resolving to lose 15 pounds, get a better job, or save more for retirement so often fail?
Personal productivity experts would likely point out the difficulty of achieving an ambitious goal without also formulating a concrete and detailed plan for achieving that goal. That much is true. Equally valid are the psychological mechanisms which can hold us back from achieving our goals.
What these common viewpoints miss, however, is that goal-oriented resolutions are not well-suited to being lived in each moment. As a result, they tend to fall into the background, and are revisited infrequently–if at all–during the year. If you happen to find yourself in a moment of mindfulness during a day in January after having resolved to lose 15 pounds, what can you think, feel, or do to advance that goal at that moment? Unless you happen to be able to run off to the gym for a workout, probably nothing.
If instead you set a New Year’s intention, rather than make a goal-based resolution, you can revisit, reset, and reinforce that intention in any mindful moment. Let’s say that your intention is to be more compassionate towards yourself and others. Even if you forget about this intention for a month and then wake up into a moment of mindfulness while traveling on the train into work, you can ask yourself, “How am I being–or not being–compassionate to myself and others during this moment?,” and reset your intention to be compassionate.
A New Year’s intention defines who you intend to be, rather than what you want to do. A New Year’s intention doesn’t require any special time, place, money, or equipment to practice and reinforce. You can’t fail or succeed at it, only attend to it mindfully. It also isn’t different from any other intention you might set at any time, except that you might choose your New Year’s intention to reflect a value that is particularly important to you at this time in your life, and that you expect to require more repeated attention to integrate more fully with your being than the typical intention.
May you have a mindful New Year!