A gentler approach to goal-making
Abandoning resolutions doesn’t mean you have to give up on 2022 entirely.
Like many people, I didn’t make any resolutions for 2022. I didn’t vow to eat healthier, call friends more often, or write a book. Would I be proud of myself if I achieved these things? Sure. But I’d also be tempted to beat myself up if I didn’t.
When we think about making resolutions or goals, we imagine doing those things under the best circumstances possible. We picture ourselves meditating daily, in a perfectly peaceful and quiet home. We promise to work out three times a week, without fail, assuming that no injury or illness will get in our way. We vow to cut out caffeine, believing that a good night’s sleep will always be available to us.
If the past two years have taught us anything, though, it’s that we can’t count on ideal circumstances. That’s why I think so many people have decided to abandon resolutions entirely. If 2022 will inevitably be another challenging year, why should we bother trying to improve? We believe that we’re protecting ourselves by preemptively lowering our expectations.
In an essay for The Atlantic, Faith Hill wrote that the annual cycle of making resolutions feels “intolerable” this year. “How 2022 will unfold is so uncertain that choosing new goals feels like setting forth in a snowstorm, squinting into a great blurry expanse,” she said.
“So I’ve resolved to not make any resolutions this year,” Hill added. “And I don’t think you should either.”
By all accounts, this approach makes sense. Many resolutions set us up to fail, by being too ambitious, unclear, or unrealistic. In fact, researchers have found that almost half of all people abandon their New Year’s goals by February. Resolutions are also flawed in that they are based on the premise that we require improving. The ubiquitous idea of “New Year, New You”—rooted in capitalist ideals, like so many other cultural catchphrases—assumes that the regular old version of us is deficient, bad, or outdated.
So yes, down with New Year’s resolutions! Of all years, 2022 is a good one to go easy on ourselves. To accept the circumstances we’re faced with and to be content with who we are.
I have to admit, though, that the idea of abandoning goals entirely makes me sort of sad. After all, personal growth is a uniquely human trait, and—when done properly—setting and aiming for new heights can be an effective way to boost our moods and circumstances.
That’s why I’m taking a different approach to resolutions this year.
Along with my newsletter editor and bestie Becca, I’m naming a personal intention each week in 2022. Each Monday, Becca and I will share our weekly intentions in a Google doc that’s designated to keep track of our goals throughout the year. We’ll write a brief reflection on how we did with the previous week’s goal, and set a new intention for the week ahead.
Becca and I experimented with this weekly practice in the latter half of 2021 and it was an encouraging exercise. I’m excited to see what happens when we try it for an entire year.
Plenty of people have written about the benefits of intentions versus resolutions. Unlike resolutions, intentions are rooted in compassion, kindness, and grace. They are driven by personal values—the things that are most important to you, instead of the things you think you should be doing. They’re a guidepost, not a blueprint.
At the top of our document, Becca and I have included some key reminders to ourselves. First, we’ll choose just one intention per week, something small and doable. Second, we won’t beat ourselves up if we don’t achieve our weekly goal.
If we meet our intention? Great! If we don’t? No problem. There’s always next week.
The most important thing is to be kind to ourselves—in both setting the intentions and trying to do them. The intention itself is a gift, a reminder that we can focus on what we want any given week to look like, even and especially in an otherwise chaotic time.
This week has already started with less-than-ideal circumstances beyond my control. In particular, I started feeling under the weather, had trouble focusing on and finding time to write this essay, and had to shift a bunch of meetings to schedule a just-in-case COVID-19 PCR test.
None of these things felt good. Feeling crummy is not how I hoped to begin the year. A frantic, time-crunched approach to work is not how I wanted to start 2022. And worrying about COVID was something I did plenty of in 2021, and was happy to leave in the past.
This is exactly why I’m glad to have a loving intention to guide my days ahead, instead of a strict resolution to follow. The intention I choose this week can help ground me in a time that’s already feeling pretty stressful.
Last week, I aimed to get outside each day, no matter the weather. (Something I managed to do!) This week, feeling the pressure of work and health stress, I want to choose something simple that allows me to worry less and feel better. With that in mind, I’ve made a promise to myself to go to bed earlier this week. It’s not a sexy or revolutionary goal, but it’s what I need at this moment.
If all goes well, our 2022 intentions document will be proof of a year well-lived. It will be a place where we set goals, rooted in kindness and love, and aimed for those things, simply because we want to be kind to and love ourselves. It will be an opportunity to practice forgiveness, flexibility, and optimism during a time when we might feel tempted to give in to negativity.
We have no idea what this year will throw at us. But we can always take things week by week.
Perfect timing - as so often with your newsletters Katie. We had our first 2022 (virtual) meet up with our volunteers today and the group was pretty much split over whether to return to in-person, continue online or a blend of the both but your advice to just plan one session at a time rather than try looking too far ahead met with unanimous support - thank you! They also liked the idea of small achievable intentions so sending them all the link to this issue, I'm sure it will be enjoyed.
Yes! I do hope your test is negative and whichever way it goes that everyone recovers easily and quickly. I actually bought this little monthly journal called a "Silk & Sonder" from a FB add in late December. It has intentions for each week and "one thing" for each day. I love this so much! Then I learned about WOOP which is a cool way to take that intention, imagine what it might feel like if you did it, then imagine one thing that might get in the way and how you might deal with it if that thing came up. Using it for just one small thing for a day (5 min exercise) feels so doable. And on the podcast I listened to she really talked about it being a 5 min thing, feeling based and let it go the next day whether it happened or not. (https://www.happinesslab.fm/season-1-episodes/dont-accentuate-the-positive)