Now almost one month into the new year, you have to wonder how many of those resolutions we made are going to stick. They say it can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days to form a new habit and, on average, 66 days for a new behaviour to become automatic. In the past, I would set vague goals like “do more exercise” or “get promoted at work by the end of the year” or “sign up to go skydiving”. But I haven’t always had luck with implementing goals when I have made them. There’s a constant feeling of pressure to hit them, hanging over my head. And it sometimes even makes me feel worse having made goals versus not having any and just taking each day as it comes.
There are a few different things I wanted to do last year, one of them being to go to New York, and one of them being to write more honest pieces like the one I’m writing right now. Though the latter isn’t a habit nor an automatic behaviour (yet), I’ve managed to at least work towards it. This year I decided it was time to approach this differently. If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that you can make all the goals and objectives you want, but if the universe has other plans, there is not much you can do to change that.
Research has shown that although about half of all adults make New Year’s resolutions, less than 10% actually manage to keep them for more than a few months. What’s the psychology behind this? Many people fall into “false hope syndrome”. In short, this comes from setting too many goals that are unrealistic to achieve and it often leads to a spiral of decreasing self-esteem and low moods.
I first heard about the idea of making intentions rather than goals on The Receipts Podcast. Tolly, one of the hosts, mentioned this being a much healthier way to move forward. I can be quite a forgetful person so I ran to note this down as soon as I’d heard it, knowing that I’d forget otherwise.
But what’s the difference between intentions and goals?
Setting a goal involves placing the emphasis on the result you want to bring about. It also involves focusing on milestones that you’ve set – and they’re more focused on the future. Intentions involve focusing on and living in the present. They prioritize the emotions you are feeling, and the relationship you have with yourself. Focusing on goals only can cause those who are goal-driven to feel empty and that they need to constantly seek the next best thing after they’ve achieved their goals. It can set unhealthy expectations for ourselves, leading to us not taking time to look back on what we are proud of. For example, intentions like “I want to be more patient by doing x” or “I want to worry less by doing x” can be a lot more beneficial than just setting a goal alone.
We often get too focused on future goals and what they can do for us. But the real progress can be made by combining your intentions with your goals. Still need some help? Here are some tips to get you started:
1. Try focusing on something that isn’t tangible or physical, this should help you to focus much more on the present. For example, “I want to work with less distractions by working in 25 minute intervals and switching my phone off while I work”, or “I want to strengthen my friendships by reaching out to a few friends I haven’t spoken to in a while”.
2. Try focusing on what will make you feel good. While not every intention you set will be a walk in the park to stick to, it will be easier and better for you if you set intentions with your wellbeing in mind.
3. Create a vision board, but with words, mantras and phrases. If you’re as forgetful as me, having something you can look at as a daily reminder of the intentions you set for yourself can help you keep focused. Check in with yourself every so often by looking at your vision board, and remind yourself to be grateful for the intentions you’ve managed to stick to.
Goals shouldn’t be set to make us feel worse. We should be working towards things we’ve set out for ourselves that uplift us and keep us going. In 2021, I think we all deserve to be a lot kinder to ourselves – and setting intentions seems like a great way to do that. So I challenge you to set some intentions this year and see where it takes you.