Effective New Year’s intention setting for parents

New Year’s resolutions. They generally don’t work out. The goal is usually too big to be attainable quickly and it is easy to forget about the journey to the goal. Success takes planning but plans are not usually part of the intention setting. The grand finale is usually what we set our eyes on for our New Year’s resolutions rather than a blueprint for the journey and thinking about how we want to feel along the way.

We may also pick the wrong language for the goal. We may decide that we want to lose 15 pounds when we should really focus on changing unhealthy habits to healthy ones. For example, we could figure out why we stress eat and what other outlet we can find to relieve our stress.

Instead of setting a New Year’s resolution, let’s use the beginning of 2020 to set intentions and plan how we will make this year even better than the last. Let’s plan for positive changes in our lives. Let’s set realistic expectations. Let’s make a plan for how to realize our goals, step by step. Let’s remember how we wish to feel along the way, day by day.

Getting started with New Year’s intention setting

0. Before you start, find a partner in change.

This is someone you can talk to, plan with, bounce ideas off of, get encouragement from. It is easier to accomplish a goal when we have someone in our corner. This person may or may not have the same goal but you can both add power to your intentions by holding one another accountable and cheering each other on.

1. Take time to self-reflect.

It all starts by thinking about the past and learning from it. How did the last year go? What did you enjoy about the year? Which moments made you happiest? What were your best memories? What would you have done differently? Recognize the good and be grateful.

Don’t be afraid or ashamed of the not-so-good. Learn from it and be gentle as you consider how you will do things differently this year and then leave it in the past.

2. New year, old habits.

The best place to start is with the things you want to change or areas where you want to improve. Are there any habits or patterns you would like to drop? For instance: Going to bed too late, stress eating, drinking too much coffee, skipping breakfast, not drinking enough water. Sitting too much and not walking enough. Not savoring success. Playing on your phone during dinner instead of talking to your family. Scheduling every second of every day with busyness. Being impatient with yourself, your partner, or your child.

List out the habits you want to drop. Order them from easiest to most difficult. Start with the easiest. Try to flip the old habit into a new, more positive intention. So for example: “sitting too much” becomes “I will get up more often to stretch and perhaps take a 5-10min walk during my workday.” “Going to bed too late” becomes “I will commit to a time that I turn off my screen and to a time I turn out my lights to fall asleep at a healthful time each night.”

This is also a good time to assess the relationships in your life and identify the relationships that are toxic or that you no longer want to be in. For these types of changes, your change partner will be very important.

3. New year, new habits.

You can focus purely on dropping old habits and you will see large positive changes. Or, if you have done the hard work of simplifying/dropping old habits, you can think of adding. What are 1-2 habits you would like to develop? Write it down. Are these habits realistic? Think to yourself: “Will I ever be able to work out every day? Is making sure I walk every day and working out three times a week the right habit to target instead?”

Now make a plan. Habits do not start out as habits. They start as a conscious effort. How will you build up to your new habit? How will you track your success and reward yourself?

4. Setting yourself up for success.

Set up regular check-ins with your change partner. Be honest. Leave your ego and your guilt at the door. Don’t be afraid of failure. Failure + learning are stepping stones to success. Practice self-compassion and recognize your accomplishments (check out one of our favorite videos below for some great motivation). Even if you have only done step 1, you have made positive change. Thoughtful, honest, and compassionate self-reflection is the first step. Be easy on yourself if one day you didn’t do as well as the day before. Success isn’t linear. Remember how you wish to feel (self-compassionate, free, loving, caring) and keep going.

Enjoy yourself. Change can be difficult. It can also be exciting and fun. Give yourself permission to have fun, to laugh at your missteps, to rest on a day you are tired and want to take a nap instead of going for a walk.

As a parent, realistic expectations and stepping stones are key. Drastic change is hard because routines change slowly for families and there are more surprises or unknowns.