Setting Healthy Goals and New Year's Intentions

Linda Danh-Do, RDN, MCHES, CLEC

If you’re like me, you love this time of year as it’s often centered around family, friends, and joyful festivities. At the same time, the holiday hustle and bustle can leave us feeling like the year just flew by. As we prepare for the new year, there could be lots of chatter about setting new year’s resolutions. It’s a great tradition, as it allows us to pause, review the past year, and think about positive changes for the next year. Although most of us set goals to be healthier in the new year, many find challenges in reaching or maintaining their resolutions. I like to take a different spin and set new year intentions. 

Resolutions vs. Intentions

  • Resolutions offer a solution to a problem, but this can trap us into the “all or nothing” mentality. It can leave us feeling defeated or saddened when we don’t meet them. Intentions are plans with more flexibility. This decreases the pressure and can inspire us to take more action. 
  • Resolutions focus on change, possibly from something negative. Intentions highlight your strengths and what can be done. It doesn’t quite assume that what we are doing is wrong, but it can motivate us to live better. 
  • Resolutions are straightforward, but they don't consider the “what if’s.” Intentions allow us to stop and reflect on progress as well as challenges. Priorities and values can change over time. As this happens, you give yourself the grace to adjust goals. 

Setting Healthy Goals and Intentions

Most new year goals are related to weight loss— whether it’s exercising more or improving diet habits. These goals are also often measured by a number on the weight scale, which may not be the only representation of overall progress. As you build your new year intentions, look at your progress from different lenses and consider non-scale victories. If you are accustomed to goal setting, you may find that setting specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound goals (also known as SMART goals) is still helpful. It provides a roadmap to goals and keeps it moving with accountability. The downfall is that it can sometimes lead to just us checking off a box from a checklist. Adding intentions can help us look inward and reflect on our emotions and values more often as we build habits to reach our goals.

To build these habits, just think about three things:

  1. Make it SMART—- think about what you want to achieve and set a plan.
  2. Use “I am” affirmation statements— trust in your abilities and link an affirmation to your goal. You can become your biggest cheerleader when times get tough.
  3. Use “I will'' intention statements— think about your core values and your “why’s”. Think about the gradual habits that you intend to make to help you there.

Here’s an example:

Personal goal: Become more active.

Making it SMART:  By December 31, 2023, I will be achieving 10,000 steps at least 5 days each week.

Affirmation: I am capable of moving more than I believe I can. 

Setting an intention: I will add more movement daily. 

Why: I sit at a desk most of the time, leaving me feeling achy and tired by the end of the day. I intend to move more to help me feel better each day.

Ways that I plan to add movement: 

  • Step away from my desk every 1-2 hours.
  • Walk the kids to school in the morning.
  • Walk to the mailbox after work.
  • Wear my fitness tracker to see what my baseline steps are. I will gradually increase by 2000 steps each week until I meet my goal.
  • Play a dance game with my kids.
  • Sign up for a fitness class at my community center - I will try it out!

Also, be careful with trapping yourself with statements like “I am going to walk outside everyday”. It doesn’t consider that your schedule may change or how the weather may look in the future. Intentions help you to be open to new outcomes but still allow you to celebrate those small victories along the way.

So what do you think? Does setting new year’s intentions resonate with you in any way? 

Cheers to a happy, healthy, inspired, and intentional new year! 

Linda Danh-Do, RDN, MCHES, CLEC

About the Author

Linda is a Registered Dietitian, Master Certified Health Education Specialist, and a Certified Lactation Educator Counselor. She has over 11 years of health education and nutrition counseling experience working in health plans, community programs, outpatient hospitals, and clinics. For her, the best part about being a dietitian is that she gets to meet people who may have different backgrounds and experiences. She enjoys learning their stories, partnering with them, and exploring healthy eating methods from a non-diet and mindful approach. In her free time, she enjoys sightseeing, spending time with family, and learning about interior decorating. 

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