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Health Matters: New Year’s resolutions vs. New Year’s intentions

By Kiersten Ahlm

The holidays are here, which means 2023 is just around the corner. With the new year, we often look towards making those pesky resolutions. Some people get excited about this, but most of us haven’t had a whole lot of luck with them. I know I am one of the latter. Though I too have been excited in the past about making resolutions, I haven’t had a whole lot of success in maintaining and had most likely forgotten them by February.

A few years ago, I learned about the idea of setting intentions, in place of resolutions. This idea spoke to me. Although I liken resolutions to a sort of boot camp, intentions are more of a yoga retreat. A softening into oneself. But I know some people prefer boot camp over yoga retreats so let’s explore both.

There are several reasons resolutions don’t stick. But let’s focus on some of the reasons that we have a little more control over. The first one is that most people don’t make their goals specific enough. In health coaching, we work with S.M.A.R.T. goals goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.

For example, say you set a resolution to get in shape, so you decide you need to go to the gym every day. But if you haven’t seen the inside of a gym since the Clinton administration, this is probably not feasible. You might have success for a week or two, but by January 21, you’ll be a gym owner’s ideal member one that pays their monthly fee but doesn’t actually show up.

A S.M.A.R.T. goal would look more like “I want to be able to run five miles, without stopping, by June.” This is specific, measurable, relevant to wanting to get in shape and time-restricted. To make it attainable, you break it down into small action steps, by gradually increasing your mileage.

Another reason resolutions fail is that they are often extrinsically motivated. Back to the getting in shape resolution if your “why” is so that you can “look good” this will probably have a shorter shelf life in terms of satisfaction. On the other hand, if your “why” of getting in shape is so that you can keep up with your grandchildren, this will be the gift that keeps on giving.

Now let’s talk about intentions. Intentions are inherently intrinsic and work from the idea that everything we need is within us it just takes reconnecting with ourselves to access where our lives could use more enhancement. And this, I believe, is what makes them more sustainable.

So how do you set an intention? It’s not as cut and dry as setting a resolution, but I find it more enjoyable. I find a quiet space, and maybe I’ll make a cup of tea and light a candle to set the mood. I reflect on the past year, thinking about what went well, and, of course, the areas that might need a little more work. This helps me figure out how I can maybe apply certain practices that have allowed me success in some areas to those areas that need a little more love. Another great thing about setting intentions is that it becomes habitual throughout the year, which leads to a more conscious way of being.

So, there are benefits to both. And it doesn’t have to be one or the other. They can even work in tandem with each other. For example, you can set a resolution to lose a certain amount of weight and an intention to learn to listen to your body more. This intention might make you more conscious of how certain foods make you feel, which in turn might help you slowly eliminate certain foods, which in turn could help you lose that weight. Whichever path you choose, be kind to yourself in your process. We are all human beings doing the best we can with what we’ve got. Have a happy and safe holiday season!

Kiersten Ahlm is an integrative nutrition coach who specializes in blood sugar balance. To find out more about her services, check out her website at


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