New Year's Resolutions Lack Resolve

Anemic intentions and a lack of a plan diminish motivation.

Posted Dec 30, 2015

Although the definition of a resolution may simply be “the formal expression of an intention,” the root of the word indicates it should be more than a mere formality. To have resolve or to be resolute is to be determined, firm in one’s purpose. The thing is, with New Year’s resolutions, I see very little resolve and, at best, the formal expression of  vague intentions.

These vague intentions were captured well by Sarah Stroud (McGill University) in a chapter she wrote for The Thief of Time: Philosophical Essays on Procrastination.  Stroud defined the notion of “anemic intentions.” These are intentions that are much too weak to have any force to them. They lack a plan that demands us to be consistent and coherent in our attempt to fulfill that plan.  Although most plans are initially partial plans, and we fill in the details as we move forward, these partial plans have motivational force in our lives.

This is a key message for each of us as we entertain New Year’s resolutions for 2016. Our intentions may begin as vague goal statements – lose 10 pounds, exercise more, eat more healthily – but to be successful, we need to move from these rather anemic intentions to more specific plans, partial as they may be.

If you have an intention for 2016, try to state it as a “when . . . then” implementation intention, as opposed to simply a general goal intention. For example, if your goal intention is to “exercise more,” your more specific plan might be “when it’s Monday at 9:30 a.m., then I will go to beginner’s Hatha yoga.”  This is a reasonable, well-defined plan to begin to get more exercise in 2016.

A new year brings new hope for a new self or at least self improvement. We’ll be more successful fulfilling our hopes and New Year’s resolutions if we focus on: 1) being specific on the actions we’ll take, 2) going into the new year expecting that we won’t feel like it in January, but with the resolve to take the actions as intended, and 3) offering ourselves forgiveness when we fail at times to meet these intentions, as to err is human, and we are more likely to try again if we forgive and move on.

I wish all of the PT Blog readers the very best for 2016!