Setting Intentions for the New Year

Posted on January 4, 2022

The end of the old and the beginning of a new calendar year offers a perfect opportunity to ‘reset’ by taking stock and making new goals.

Mary Nelle Osborne, EdD, MA, ATR, manager of recovery services for Peninsula outpatient and Sevierville clinical manager, suggests an alternative to making new-year resolutions. She proposes “setting intentions for a new year” instead. By setting intentions rather than making resolutions, she says there is “room for grace” and opportunity to recognize that we are humans who will make advances and have setbacks in carrying out those intentions. Because we are acknowledging our human nature “up front,” Osborne says we may be more likely to make progress, regardless of setbacks and challenges along the way. 

Advice for setting New Year intentions: 

1. Set intentions instead of goals.

Osborne suggests making slight adjustments in habits to become closer to your “ideal state.” Perhaps you want to spend more time with your family, but after reflection, realize that you want to do more than just be present with family members. You may want to make your time together more meaningful. Your efforts don’t have to involve expensive, over-the-top adventures, but can be simple and maybe with no cost attached. Talk to your family about what you would like and find out what they would like family time to be.  Ask them to engage with you in creating new traditions or doing meaningful activities together. Perhaps you decide on one event a month that you can all help plan, implement and enjoy together.

2. Don’t bite off more than you can chew.

Mary Nelle Osborne headshot
Mary Nelle Osborne, EdD, MA, ATR, manager of recovery services, Peninsula

Osborne says intentions do not have to be about doing “more,” but rather shifting the focus and making small adjustments to improve quality of life. That includes avoiding or unrealistic goals that seem “too big.” For example, losing 50 pounds in three months is a daunting task. But if the intention is to increase your physical activity, you might start small by fitting in 30 minutes at work or at home, and then expand the commitment to exercising three times per week.

“Keep it simple,” says Osborne. “Be honest with yourself about what you are willing to take on. Break up ‘big’ goals or milestones into smaller ones, like going longer without smoking tobacco, until eventually you can quit. Or ask, ‘what is one step I can take toward the larger intention that will move me toward where I want to be?’”

3. Examine your mindset.

If you don’t have time or energy to add any new habits, start by intentionally focusing on doing tasks mindfully. One example is to take a stretch break every 30 minutes while sitting, or change to a standing desk if you sit all day. Then use technology to help remind you to move, stand or stretch. If you want to increase quality time with friends and also want to increase physical activity, pair the two and ask a friend to go on a walk once a month. Make a regular “walk date.” Fine-tune your mindset to help break away from feeling like you are stuck or “in a rut.”

4. Give yourself grace.

Show yourself compassion just as you would do for a friend. “Don’t be too hard on yourself if you backslide from progress on your intentions,” says Osborne. “Just get back on the path – that shows resiliency. We beat ourselves up over unachieved ‘resolutions, so it’s important to be realistic and not sink into a cycle of counting our failures.” What if you count all the things you’ve we continued to do well, counted as positive the times you’ve gotten back on track? What if you give yourself credit for being tremendously brave in continuing to look for things you are interested in doing or trying? That mindset would support progress in making changes, rather than focusing on defeat and becoming your own worst critic.

5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Examining and talking about your mental health needs is important. It’s hard to face some things alone, and it takes courage to ask for help.  Support groups and therapists are available to help. For example, if you are trying to cut back or stop drinking alcohol, you may need the support of a physician, mental health treatment facility or outpatient resources. With support, even if you slip, you are still successful because you can learn what caused the slip. With help, you can put a plan together to avoid pitfalls and spend fewer days backsliding and more days improving. Eventually negative, unhealthy habits will have less of a “pull,” and success will be achievable. 

By stating  intentions aloud, you are more likely to start the path to better overall health. Share your intentions with a friend or support person, and you are more likely to be successful in achieving them.  

In summary, Osborne advises people to “set intentions to improve and be mindful of the way you live and the things you want to change. Then, give yourself the grace and kindness to take small steps on that new path in a new year.” 

For more information about Peninsula Recovery Services, please visit www.peninsulabehavioralhealth.org.