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New Year Resolutions vs. Intentions

There goes another year down. In 2021, we continued to experience a global pandemic and all the difficulties that came with it. I’m guessing you’re looking forward to the New Year as much as I am. It's common for people to make New Year's resolutions as they're looking ahead, closing the chapter of one year and opening to the next. I personally never really liked the idea of New Year's resolutions and having recently read an article about the difference between setting intentions for the New Year versus resolutions I’m convinced resolutions are not for me.


I'm a big fan of the podcast Dirtbag Diaries which celebrates many facets of the outdoor community from fishing to climbing. Anyone familiar knows every year in January they publish the Year of Big Ideas episode, where people from all over the outdoor community call and write in, sharing plans for the next year. If you're not familiar, I recommend checking it out. In fact, while you're at it, perusing the many podcasts over the years, I encourage you to check out the year of big ideas 2018. Why do you ask? That was the year the podcast’s creator Fitz Cahall shares his “ode to mediocrity.” You may be asking, why would you celebrate mediocrity? Let me explain. Resolutions can be viewed in all or nothing terms, right along with perfectionism. Conversely, if the perfect outcome is not obtained, shame is likely to be felt as they are so often closely linked. In celebrating mediocrity, one focuses on expectations from self improvement and intention standpoints, rather than perfectionism.


So, as we're looking ahead to the New Year, let's examine our expectations. Let's think about the idea of resolutions versus the idea of intentions. An article I read recently, stated, an “intention is something that you aim to achieve. Intentions have a purpose and are something that you actively work to manifest in your life overtime, leaving room for “hiccups” and self-reflection along the way”. The author goes on to write “this allows us to move forward without having an attachment to the outcome or self-judgment. Intentions are more about the journey and what we learn in the process. Instead of looking to fix ourselves we just fine tune ourselves. A resolution conversely is relatively simple; you either do it or you don’t”. There's that all or nothing thinking again! “Failing” at keeping a resolution can leave us feeling lazy, guilty, undisciplined or unfocused.


In another article, author Peg Streep talks about examining why you’ve made these goals in the first place. She examines intrinsic and extrinsic goals. Intrinsic goals reflect our inner selves and our truest aspiration's. They tend to be ones we actually set our mind to achieving and chances are, they ones we tend to be more compassionate with ourselves about. Extrinsic goals are those we may go after, but they may be motivated by other people, culture (social media) or pressure we may feel to fit in.


In the article, the author looks at 5 things you can do to set goals or intentions for yourself, instead of resolutions.

1. Plot and plan: Write this down, divide your goals into short- and long-term lists.

2. Make sure your goals are congruent with YOUR values only: If you feel your goals are based on external factors, take a second look, they may be for other people.

3. Anticipate setbacks and opportunities to bolster your resilience

4. Be prepared to abandon ship and set a new course

5. Savor your progress and quell self-criticism


In his bestselling book, Atomic Habits, Author James Clear takes it one step further. He states the “best way to be consistent with your goals is to plan for failure. Planning to fail doesn’t mean that you expect to fail, but rather than you know what you will do and how you will get you back on track when things don’t work out. If you’re focused on being perfect, then you’re caught in an all-or-nothing trap. Meanwhile, if you realize that individual failures have little impact on your long-term success, then you can more easily rebound from failures and setbacks. Being consistent is not the same as being perfect.”


So, while you're celebrating and looking ahead to 2022. What are your intentions for the New Year? Do you want to learn how to cook, learn how to draw, learn how to tie flies, spend more time with your family or community, read more books or just get outside more? I would love to hear about your intentions in the comments below.


As for me? My intentions are to embrace mediocrity rather than all or nothing thinking. I intend to:

1. Get outside more

2. Learn how to flyfish.

3. Read 75-100 books

4. Learn how to tie flies

5. Go on a few multiday backpacking trips

6. Meditate 3-4 days per week

7. Get outside more!

8. And lastly, to quote one of my favorite people on the dirtbag diaries, “Learn new sh#t while loving the sh#t out of the sh#t I love”.


Happy New Year everyone, take care of yourselves and others, please be safe out there. See you on the river.





Links to the articles, book and the podcast





Written by Pamela Chapman, LCSW

Pamela (Pam) Chapman, LCSW is a Denver based psychotherapist with a private practice named Embrace the Suck Therapy, LLC. Pam specializes in helping adults who struggle with depression and anxiety, with a particular focus on trauma and PTSD. Pam's favorite clients are those who consider “feelings” the other F word, and who would rather have a root canal than open up about what’s bothering them but know they need to do it anyway. She believes in being uncomfortable by choice and making the decision to face what's happening head on. She uses an eclectic therapeutic style with a lot of humor and a pragmatic reality-based approach to help people dispel the myths about seeking mental health services and begin to feel better.

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