Stop setting a New Year’s resolution:

Try a New Year’s intention

This may be a controversial opinion, but I believe setting a New Year’s intention is better than setting a resolution. Please tell me if you’ve had a different experience with resolutions in the comments on this post, but I find that New Year’s resolutions are rarely kept for longer than a few days. For example, when I was more of a gym rat, I remember a flood of new people using the pool and the treadmill right after Jan. 1. They were probably the people who resolved to work out more in the new year. But after Jan. 10 or so the numbers dwindled to pre-new year levels. Why do all those people disappear after just a few days into the new year? I’ll explain why those resolutions – or at least our mindset about them – tend not to help us to take the action we actually desire. I will also make the case for why you should try setting a  New Year’s intention instead and give you a helpful journaling process for setting a that New Year’s intention.



Why New Year’s resolutions don’t work

A piece of paper with the words, "New Year's resolutions" written in the middle. Around the words are other crumpled pieces of smaller paper with words of past, failed New Year's resolutions."

I believe a New Year’s intention can be more helpful at guiding your year than a New Year’s resolution. According to Dictionary.com, a resolution is: “the act of resolving or determining upon an action, course of action, method, procedure, etc.”  In other words, a resolution is an idea that prompts an action. At least in the way we approach New Year’s resolutions, the idea of what we want to do rarely matches the action that we take. A lot of our problem stems from our cultural mindset that we must accomplish everything right now or we are a failure. Realistically, we know this isn’t possible. If you’ve ever attempted to learn a new thing in your life, you know that it takes a lot of time, practice and mistakes to get good at the thing you’re trying to master. New Year’s resolutions are no different.

But, over the years you’ve probably only associated resolutions with failure, disappointment, and even shame, because of this mindset, it’s time to set New Year’s resolutions aside and try a new approach and mindset with a New Year’s intention instead.

Try a New Year’s intention instead

Several years before I tried a New Year’s intention, I stopped setting New Year’s resolutions completely. For the reasons I mentioned above, I thought they just didn’t work. As my yoga and meditation practice deepened, however, I started seeing the possibility of a new ritual. After all, if I can set an intention before a yoga class or meditation practice, why couldn’t I set a New Year’s intention?

The definition of intention is pretty similar to a resolution: “an act or instance of determining mentally upon some action or result.” In other words, it also means an idea that prompts an action. But, this word is free from the negative emotional baggage associated with a resolution. Let me say more about how I approach setting and living into a New Year’s intention that just may help ease your anxiety and enhance your growth in the new year.

Nicole a white-bodied fat woman with long brown hair and hands in prayer pose at her chest, setting an intention.

With an intention, I encourage you to pick a work or short phrase that will guide you in the coming year. The word or phrase is usually less about a concrete goal (though it can be) but rather a quality you’re trying to cultivate in yourself and your life. Then, as the year progresses, you can use the intention in a few ways which I described in my live video. You can simply notice how it shows up in your experiences. You can also use it to guide your behavior. For example, if you’re cultivating patience, you might take a breath and return to that intention when you’re stressed struggling to stay patient. (Slow traffic is always my kryptonite when it comes to patience. How about you?)

In addition to being more flexible than our typical New Year’s resolutions, New Year’s intentions also push back against our too-goal-oriented culture. Setting intentions and using them in the way I describe, allows for more space for exploration, habit setting, and can be internalized much more incrementally than a resolution. With an intention you don’t have to feel like you need to accomplish it right away, you can explore it over the year. At some point in the year, you might even feel like you need to change it and that’s perfectly OK. Go for it! The New Year is arbitrary anyway.

How to set a New Year’s intention

Setting a New Year’s intention doesn’t have to be complicated, here’s three approaches you could take to setting one.

Set your intention intuitively. Maybe a word or phrase pops to mind right away or after contemplating it for a while. Then use it! It can be that simple. Or if you want to take it a step future, do a little journaling on the intention and imagine ways that it might show up for you in the coming year.

Use a reflection process to set your intention. Set a little time aside (5-15 minutes) to do some writing or drawing with the following questions. Start by observing your breath and body to settle in. (You can use some of my guided meditation practices if you need some support.) and then reflect on these questions:

  • What qualities do you want this next year to have? What qualities do you want to cultivate in yourself? (Do a big brainstorm without judging or editing at first.)
  • Step back and look at what you wrote or drew in the brainstorm. What themes are emerging? Circle or underline the ones that grab your attention.
  • Write down or draw the word or phrase that captures your attention and make it your New Year’s intention!

Let the universe decide. Maybe you just don’t have the energy for reflection or are fresh out of ideas. Use a tool like these beautiful Angel Cards to pick a word that will guide you for the year. You can also pick a new one each day, week or month to guide your intention setting all year. I love them!

Sticking to your New Year’s intention

A small decorative jar with multi-colored slips of paper in tham.

Just like a resolution, your intention could easily get forgotten in the hustle and bustle of daily life. So I suggest that you create a simple ritual around your intention to keep it front of mind. I like putting my intention on sticky notes and sticking them in places where I will see them often – on my bathroom mirror and on the cupboard where I keep my coffee and tea. When I see them I will usually do at least a quick mental reflection on how that is showing up in my life or how I want it to guide my actions that day. If you want an even more dedicated time for reflection, you can journal about it one day each week before bedtime. Or you can get a plain jar and a pad of small pieces of paper. Once a week, write down some way that you saw your intention show up spontaneously or in something you did that reflected that intention. At the end of the year, read through each piece of paper and celebrate how much you grew in your intention!

How my 2023 New Year’s intention went and my intention for 2024

Abundance was my intention for 2023 and I’ve been remembering it through the strategically placed sticky notes all over my apartment. My attitude about abundance (and its opposite, scarcity) has been absolutely transformative for me. One way that my mindset around abundance/scarcity has changed was in my business. I realized this year that I needed to focus less on numbers goals and more on what I was learning from each initiative or product or system I created. What I found was an abundance of learning that helped build a solid foundation, even if the numbers right now didn’t seem abundant.

In 2024, my New Year’s intention is going to be “strength.” I realized this year that I wasn’t feeling connected to my natural strength for a couple of reasons: First, I wasn’t working out like I used to, which would help me feel strong in my body, which helps boost my confidence. And, second, I was letting my “I can’t” mindset creep in too much as it related to my business. I was feeling far less confident or competent than I had in a long time. (The realization I had about learning was really helpful to boost me up here.) Now I want to build on what I did with abundance and come to feel and realize my own strength in 2024.

Get support for your New Year’s intention in 2024

Everything – including a New Year’s intention – is better when you do it together! Get your energy, creativity and passion for life and work back in 2024 by setting intentions and learning simple ways to form new habits to live into your intention in this special coaching session, “Defy the Burnout Trend: Learn Habits for a Balanced Life” on Jan. 18 at 1 p.m. ET (or get the recording later). This is especially designed for helping you prioritize your own care, but it could apply to any intention you set.

Image of a brown-skinned woman reclining with her head resting in her hands. The title above says, "Defy the Burnout Trend: Learn the habits for a year of ease."
Nicole Havelka

Nicole Havelka

Lead coach, trainer, and facilitator, CEO and Founder of Defy the Trend anti-burnout coaching community

Nicole is the founder of the Defy the Trend community that uses group coaching, restorative yoga, and a supportive community to prevent and recover from burnout. Try one of Nicole’s free yoga classes any time by joining the free Defy the Trend community.