Starting the New Year with the Best Intention

Blog by: Dr. Nicola McCaffrey (DClinPsy.) Clinical Psychologist

Whether you’re prone to making New Year resolutions or not, as January rolls around new beginnings and fresh starts soon follow. New Year’s resolutions aren’t like ordinary goals. They are far more powerful because the end of one year and the start of another symbolises another chance to achieve those things we have always dreamt of, or perhaps to lose a few unhelpful and unhealthy habits we have cultivated along the way. It is probably quite fitting that after a season of indulgence we resolve to change our habits in the New Year.

Have you ever looked back at your resolutions from years gone by and realised that your list doesn't change much year on year? At the very heart of our resolutions lies the desire to be happier. We often think that this can be achieved if we lost weight, had more money, or even get the latest in fashion accessories. But is that really true? Take a moment to think about when you felt at your happiest and most contented over the last year. I am going to hazard a guess that this involves people, connection, laughter rather than things.

No sooner have we made our resolutions and announced them to the world on social media, than we find ourselves struggling to stick to them and even looking for loopholes in the contracts that we made with ourselves in order to give them up. Research indicates that 54% of people are no longer practicing their New Years resolutions after six months. A few stressful days or long work weeks and our good will and determination start to slip and give way to our old habits and routines. The truth is that life happens. Challenges present themselves in spite of our resolutions. Reasons beyond our control get in the way, and despite our best efforts, we struggle to fulfill our promises to ourselves. This does not make us failures, it makes us entirely normal! Stress triggers our automatic behaviours which we have cultivated over the years and we quickly revert back to safe and familiar ways of living. Often we do not even notice this gear shift and are completely unaware we are doing it. Being mindful at these times can be the difference between sticking and slipping. Mindfulness develops our awareness of ourselves and helps us to make deliberate choices, rather than allowing ourselves to simply fall back into our old behaviour loops. It also teaches acceptance and letting go. So if you find yourself in that 54% the trick is to simply accept, forgive, and commit to moving forward.

How can you make the most of the momentum the New Year brings? And how do you keep these promises that you have made to yourself once the dark months have made way for the Spring?

We should perhaps start this New Year thinking in terms of intentions instead of resolutions. Intention comes from the Latin intendere, “to turn one’s attention,” and intentionem, “a stretching out.” Where resolutions are absolute and firm, intentions are flexible. They are about where we direct our attention in our lives. They are about being mindful. Take a moment for yourself right now and consider what you would like to achieve in the coming year. Which areas of your life deserve more attention?

Remember it is not that our goals are unachievable, perhaps we are simply not starting from the right place to succeed. In order to achieve anything we need to be aware. Only with awareness can we effectively manage our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to consciously move toward our goals.

Wishing you all health and happiness this New Year!


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