Creating intentions – New Year

New Year resolutions

New Year’s resolutions are often repeated year after year, inevitably ending in disappointment, falling back into old behaviours. So what would happen if you got rid of the resolutions altogether and started creating and reframing intentions?

New Year’s resolutions are usually categorised into two types: avoidance goals (giving up social media, sugar) or approach goals (drinking more water, walking more). Research out of Stockholm University, Sweden, shows approach goals are more successful than avoidance goals.

Why? It’s because this idea that we need to sacrifice or deny ourselves something in order to do better, or get better, is setting us up for failure. Instead of avoiding behaviours and habits, we can try creating the intention that changes behaviour or habits.

So how will this help you lose weight, reduce social media time or give up sugar? Channelling your energy into reframing your intentions helps; so for example, instead of saying I’m going to give up social media, set yourself the intention of reading an ebook for 20 minutes. Instead of denying yourself chocolate, try reframing as you intend to eat more fruit.

It doesn’t seem to make sense- why do we set New Year’s resolutions if we know from previous years that they will fail? It’s because when there seems to be a separation of time, whether it’s a milestone event such as becoming a parent for the first time, buying a new house or a new year, it feels to us like a new start. It’s a chance to leave the ‘old me’ behind, while the potential of the ‘new and improved me’ lies before us like a brand new page, a clean slate. This is known as ‘the fresh-start effect’.

Okay but say you see through January fine, start slipping in February, then fall off the band wagon in March or sooner. Set backs through any journey of change should be expected and reframed as lessons learned instead of failures. Research from Harvard University shows that the fresh-start effect can be recreated by the way we frame a restart date. Encouraging ourselves to think of another fresh start, enables us to regain a sense of then and now, past and present. We can trick ourselves into thinking we can start a new chapter again. So if you do fall off the band wagon in February, reframe thinking as: ‘I’m going to start eating more fruit again on the first day of autumn’. The change of seasons evokes in us a new start.

While we need patience and resolve to stick to our goals, the fresh start effect can and does often create motivational behaviours. Realistically change is never smooth sailing but we have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

If you’d like support to achieve your goals, at Nova Psychology we have highly skilled therapists and coaches to get you where you’d like to be. Please don’t hesitate to give us a call to get started on your new chapter.


Tania Saunders, Principal Consulting Psychologist at Nova Psychology

About Tania Saunders

Principal Consulting Psychologist at Nova Psychology

Tania Saunders holds an honours degree in psychology and has over 15 years’ experience in supporting individuals with a broad range of mental health and lifestyle concerns. She consults with adults and adolescents and enjoys utilising a range of therapies which she customises for each individual client.

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