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Setting Your New Year’s Intentions

December 27, 2017

By Jocelyn Weiss, PhD, MPH

With the approaching New Year comes the customary setting of resolutions to eat better, move more, and lose weight. Though, we all know how that usually goes… the gym is packed for all of January, but then most of us lose steam. Our fervor to keep our resolutions fades with the busyness and competing priorities of everyday life.

New Year’s resolutions generally involve incorporating new, positive habits or ridding ourselves of old, less positive ones. The fact is, habit change is hard. Our brains are biologically designed to hold on to the deeply engrained patterns associated with habitual behaviors. This is helpful when it comes to brushing our teeth, but not so much when we want to stop eating fast food every day for lunch. Behavior change takes time, repetition, patience, and intention.

When the end of December arrives, it may be best to consider setting intentions and goals over resolutions. By definition, intending to do something involves planning and having a course of action that aligns with one’s purpose. We are more likely to be successful with any habit changes when they tap into what matters most to us and we are clear on how we plan to achieve them.

Set intentions that align with your vision of your best self

Take the time to visualize yourself at your optimal physical, mental, and emotional health and well-being. Consider what activities you are doing, how you feel, who you are with, and the values that matter most to you. A strong sense of who you want to be at your best serves as an inner compass to direct you towards choices and behaviors that support you. You might consider making a drawing of this vision or writing down the details in a journal, along with the feelings and values it represents.

Turn intentions into S.M.A.R.T. goals

You are more likely to achieve your goals when not only are they connected to the vision and values that are meaningful to you, but you have a way to measure success. In other words, creating specific, actionable goals that are realistic and measurable with a clear endpoint, timeline, and milestones along the way. For example, “I want to lose 10 pounds over the next 6 months” is smarter than “I want to lose weight this year.”

Prepare and plan

Without a plan, your intentions remain dreams over achievements. Keeping your larger goals in mind, define clear action steps for how you will work towards achieving those goals. Action steps may include things that prepare you for action (e.g. researching local running trails, buying a pair of sneakers) or performing the action itself (e.g. jogging 1 mile per day, 3 days per week over the next 2 weeks).

Utilize your strengths and past experience

Reflect on what has worked for you when making habit change in the past, or what works for you in other areas. If you are a planner, then plotting your workouts or meal prep on the calendar can be helpful. If you are competitive, find a way to make a challenge out of your goals. The key is to figure out what works for you.

Anticipate challenges

We all know that saying about the best laid plans. Even with the best of intentions, your plans can go awry. It’s the nature of life that your schedule will be hijacked, financial pressures will arise, work will be stressful, and other priorities will take precedence. The key is to accept these challenges will come up and to think ahead of how to work through them. This could mean choosing particular times of day and days of the week to begin cultivating a new habit. Create back-up plans for those times when barriers do come up (e.g. alternate locations/ways to be active when it rains outside).

Accountability

Keeping a journal is one way to keep personally accountable in achieving your goals. It can also be helpful to recruit friends and family members either for check-ins or as partners in your journey. Many people find it more (or additionally) helpful to have a health coach or support group. You might also find specific social and activity groups designed around your particular interests (e.g. running group or healthy cooking club).

Cultivate Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the thread that runs through every aspect of creating your best self. In being mindful, you can acknowledge what behaviors and choices in the present are (or are not) in line with your overall vision and values. You can be authentic with your actions. Rather than the default mode of expecting perfection, accept that change is hard and the journey is non-linear. There will be ups and downs, successes and challenges. Mindfulness allows us to recognize all of these experiences, learn from them and then let go to move forward.

If you are interested in cultivating mindful eating as a tool for creating healthier eating habits in the new year, check out our upcoming Changing From Within course. This 8-week series (on Wednesdays from 6-8p) starts January 10.

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