The Top 5 Ways to Set Guilt-Free Resolutions

The word resolutions come from a Latin root meaning, to set oneself up for failure; to over promise. The ancient Greeks named the first Olympic games, The Resolutions. Unfortunately, none of the athletes got around to training that year, so they had to cancel their memberships. It was messy affair since to only way they could get out of their contracts was to lie and say they were moving, although they discovered their maintenance fees were non-refundable.

Humans are hopeful creatures. Western civilization believes in the power of resolve. That innate ability to apply willpower to make significant changes in our life. Even if we fail, we maintain the hope that “next time it will be different.”

Literature and history are littered with stories of resolve leading to success. We tend to admire those who suffered a string of failures and hardship before achieving success. Those stories reinforce our belief that our resolve alone will someday be enough to lead us to the promised land.

Maybe that’s true, but you’ll never see me write up New Year’s Resolutions. The first reason being is that my “new year” begins the evening of October 31st. Reasons aside, why would anyone adopt a set of changes for New Year’s day when still semi-comatose from the holidays? That alone means most people either fail on day one or postpone the promises until the first Tuesday after the holiday (can’t do Monday that’s too hard).

But it’s not just timing. I dislike the implications of a word like resolutions. It sounds negative. It sounds like a list of demands and “to resolve” almost has an air of desperation.

Mostly, it is my experience that resolutions become a list of unreasonable “to-dos.” By their nature, they become a task list. Things to schedule, things do, and things to complete. I guess there is some satisfaction in “visiting twenty new places” or in “reading twenty-five books,” but do those tasks make you a better person? Do they actually fulfill you? Do they help you become the person you wish to be?

I don’t believe so. And I’ve also discovered that life is a bit unpredictable. I’d prefer not to create a list of things-to-do that sets me up to feel bad about myself when I don’t complete them.

Ah, so maybe that is my fault. Perhaps at issue is my lack of commitment and my failure to truly resolve myself to these new year things?

Very possible, but knowing it is true, regardless of the potential internal or external sources, I choose to make intentions rather than resolutions. Is that just a play on words? Am I just calling a car’s trunk a boot?

Not exactly.

When I write my intentions, I do not think in terms of “things to do.” I write them as “things to be.” It’s a subtle difference but an important one.

I never write This year I am going to the gym. That is a vague resolution that misses the point. How many times do I need to go to the gym to get into shape? What level of gym activity to I need for said form? And what the hell does “getting in shape” even mean?

An intention is different. It reads like this: This year I intend to work on my fitness and health. But that seems even vaguer, one might note. In some ways, yes, but in the important ways, it works better for the goals. You see, I have not limited my goal of “fitness and health” to one to-do, aka the gym. Keeping that intention in mind, I can do many things to achieve it—the gym, a walk, eating right, sleeping right, drinking enough water. I don’t know if “going to the gym” will, alone, get me “in shape,” but with fitness and health intention, I have many more options and am much more likely to succeed. I can make small choices every day to work toward that goal.

Here is another resolution. This year I will finish my novel X. So technically speaking, you’d have until December 31st to complete the book. The problem as I see it is, “finish novel X” and “finishing it well” can be two different things.

There are of course other issues. What if you discover a different, better story to write? Have you failed? What if to write the best novel X you need more than a year? What if the pressure to finish becomes a burden that sucks the joy out of writing it?

What I do know is that it is not your intention to simply finish novel X. You intend to write a great story, one you are proud of, and one a reader will enjoy.

The intention that you pen for your writing goals should be general enough to account for life and specific enough to hone in on the “thing” you see as the “challenge.”

This year I intend to commit quality time to my writing.

This year I intend to write the best story I can.

Can you still fail at your intentions? Certainly, but they give you adequate room for modifications you can live with and still feel good about yourself.

Here’s an example: If you resolve to finish Novel X, the clock is ticking. You feel pressure if three months pass and you’ve done nothing, even if the reasons for such are sound (work, illness, school). You can’t do anything about it except rush to finish.

In the same scenario, if you intend to commit more quality time to writing and find you haven’t, it is an easy fix. The next day just devote some quality time to writing. Now instead of being three months behind and thinking, “I’ll never get this done,” you’ve instead, in a single day, have reinvigorated your intentions. In other words, intentions are not bound by calendars and clocks.

The same applies for “going to the gym” versus intending better health and fitness. Just because I’ve failed to make it to the gym (due to sickness, the job, the kids, the weather) doesn’t mean I cannot still fulfill my intentions. I can trade off the gym for a salad and planks on one day. I can go for a walk in place of the treadmill. I can eat and avocado instead of a Big Mac.

Intentions are more flexible than resolutions because they focus on the “way we want to be” not on the “things we need to do.” Being a certain way means creating habits and habits are far more powerful than willpower.

But you may disagree, and you may still desire a resolution list. Fair enough. And because we still want to help, SK and I have created a little video to assist in your resolution writing. It’s named:

The Top 5 Ways to Set Guilt-Free Resolutions

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