Reading Time: 3 minutes

Setting a New Year’s resolution to lose ten pounds, make more money, or land a coveted gig sounds good on paper. But by mid-January, I’d always find myself in the company of the over 80 percent of Americans who failed to stick to their New Year’s resolutions. Over and over again, I would beat myself up for failing to muster up enough motivation to change my life.

At the beginning of the pandemic, I gave up trying to predict the future and resolved to “focus on what’s working.” This mantra kept me from going down the proverbial rabbit hole by forcing me to see glimpses of good during an ongoing existential crisis.

This year, I wanted to not just survive but thrive.

I began to ask myself some key questions to help me achieve my hopes and desires, and I am exploring setting intentions for the new year instead of resolutions.

Reframe resolutions

I started by ditching the term “resolution.” This term feels too harsh, absolute, and negative for my ears right now. Conversely, the words “goals” and “intentions” have a more positive and promising ring, so I added those terms to my everyday vocabulary.

Reclaim my desires

Do my goals reflect what I desire, or am I simply parroting what others tell me I should want?

For years, I let my family dictate that somehow I wasn’t “good enough.” Once I unpacked the narcissism behind their messaging, I worked on practical steps, such as attending EMDR therapy, to release myself from childhood trauma. I learned how to simply walk away from those who leave me more drained than fulfilled.

Executive Coach & Career Specialist Susan Peppercorn differentiates between “want to” and “need to” goals. The latter pertains to others’ expectations of me, whereas the former focuses on my personal passions, interests, and values. Peppercorn reminds me that when I set a goal that is intrinsically motivating and satisfying to achieve, I am more likely to follow through and see it to completion.

So, instead of critiquing what I have to change about myself and going down a spiral of negative thinking, I will focus instead on how my strengths. For example, instead of telling myself that I need to reduce my stress now, I will focus on practicing more self-care activities. 

Set my goals

In her book “Presence,” psychologist Amy Cuddy speaks to the value of the  value of “self-nudging,” a process of constantly setting small goals instead of larger ones. Peppercorn adds, “Breaking a goal into pieces makes achieving it more manageable and offers the opportunity to celebrate successes along the way.” 

For example, since moving to the Pacific Northwest, I’ve learned that while I have an adventurous soul, the odds of my becoming an world class jock are nil since I dislocated my knee skiing in the early ’90s. Even though I still love playing in the snow, activities like skiing and snowboarding proved to be unrealistic. But once I discovered snowshoeing, I reframed my goal from becoming an impressive athlete to simply exploring and immersing myself in nature during wintertime. Now I can fully appreciate the majesty of the mountains while getting an invigorating winter workout. 

Look within myself

My late improv teacher Gary Austin would constantly remind me to focus on my work instead of the outcome. While I cannot control how my work will be received, if I put forth my best effort, then I know I’ve done all that I can do. What happens beyond that is out of my control.

Gary’s advice reminds me that no matter how noble my desires may be, the timing may not be right for my final goal to become actualized. MSNBC News health editor Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom offers this gentle advice: “If life gets in the way, or you realize your resolution is just too difficult in practice, consider tinkering with your goal.”

Get the right support

This step proves to be the most problematic for me given my strong independent streak. However, I’ve come to realize the value in having a friend serve as an accountability buddy. We both agree to check in with one another periodically to ensure we’re both on track with our respective goals.

Enjoy the journey

I often get so caught up in imagining myself at the finish line that I forget to celebrate any minor milestones I achieve along the way. I then wind up disappointed that I didn’t achieve my end goal when I should be feeling grateful and proud for all the progress I made over the past year. 

So this year, I’m going to set calendar reminders each quarter to check in on my intentions for the new year. I’ll throw myself a small celebration of what I’ve accomplished so far, and I will spend time tweaking my goals if need be.

An earlier version of this article appeared in Spirituality & Health

Avatar photo

As a freelance writer with dual MDiv/MSW degree from Yale Divinity School and Columbia University, I focus on the rise of secular spirituality, religious satire, spiritual health & wellness, faith...