Resolutions are so 2012: 6 steps for setting New Year’s intentions

Dr. Melissa Shepard Smiling in white lab coat

By Dr. Melissa Shepard


I’m going to cut to the chase: New Year’s Resolutions don’t work. And not because you’re lazy or a failure: there is compelling scientific evidence that suggests that traditional NY “resolutions” actually set us up to fail: often they are lofty (“I’m going to go to the gym every day this year”), unspecific (“I’m going to get organized in 2022!”), too rigid (“I’m going to wake up at 6am every day!”) or require lots of planning and forethought (“I’m going raw vegan starting January 1st.”) Don’t get us wrong, you can set goals! As long as you’re setting them right, goals are a great way to stay focused on what you want, create happiness from achievement, and boost your confidence. But we’re here to advocate for setting an intention for 2022. Here’s why:

  • Intentions give your goals purpose

  • Intentions incorporate your personal values

  • Intentions apply to your whole life, not just certain aspects of it (work, nutrition, finances, etc.)

  • Intentions are easy to remember

  • Intentions are intuitive

A New Year’s intention is a determination of how you want to be, act, and live. It’s kinda like determining the flavor you want your year to have. It’s your goal post and your lighthouse: it pushes you forward and centers you simultaneously. Here are the steps to setting your perfect New Year’s intentions:



1. Reflect.


Map out your 2021. Personally, I like to go back to the tried-and-true 4th grade method of making a bubble chart. I make “2021” the first bubble, then create branch bubbles for the biggest aspects of your year (Job, family, relationship, finances, health, hobbies/interests, etc.) Create smaller bubbles for subcategories of the bubbles and so on. Once your map is finished, reflect on your year: which bubbles made you happiest? Which ones do you wish you had focused more/less on? Which ones caused you the most stress? Where can you make positive changes? Star any bubbles that come up when answering these questions. I’ve included my bubble map below if you need a visual to work off of.


2. Determine your values.


Looking at your starred bubbles, start making a list of words that describe these bubbles. For example you may write down “connection” next to family if you want to call home more, or “nutrition” next to health if you’ve gotten into a good cooking routine. Don’t be afraid to write the same word twice: that’s an indication it’s important in your life. Once you have your list, see if you can whittle it down to a handful of all-encompassing values. Consider how these values will play a role in your daily life in the coming year. Again, I’ve included my process below!


This is a great activity to do any time, and we have a whole article about it if you want to learn more!

3. Synthesize.


On a new page, space out each of your values at the top of the page, leaving room for a bulleted list underneath. In that space, jot down actions that support your values. You can reference your 2021 bubble chart and start brainstorming any new actions or goals you’d like to start. To optimize your outcome, make sure you’re setting SMART goals. Edit and consolidate your list as much as you want. Maybe you’ve thought of a goal that doesn’t fit under your current values – that’s okay! Set it off to the side for now.


4. Formulate your intentions.


Use recurring themes in your lists of goals & actions to create intentions. These intentions should be specific enough to remember but general enough to allow for flexibility. Most of all, they should be exciting! Maybe your “health” list becomes “prioritize mental wellness”; maybe your “connection list” becomes “connect with others”; maybe your “creativity” list becomes “work on my art.” Basically, you’re turning the things that matter most to you into your intentions. That one random goal you set aside? Make it an intention: “go to the gym more” becomes “Prioritize moving my body.” Start a new page and refine your list.


5. Plan. But not too much.


Get out your calendar and look at the next month: start scheduling some of your goals. Make them simple and easy: “call mom,” “Yoga @ 6:30 pm at the YMCA,” “go over family budget with spouse.” Don’t go past month one, instead start incorporating intention-setting into your monthly routine. Set aside an afternoon at the end of January to plan for February.


6. Go with the flow.


Reflect on your intentions often and keep them in a visible place in your home or office, or on your phone. Change your intentions as much as you want: they will change naturally, don’t fight them if they’re not serving you any more.


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If you need help managing anxiety, check out my Anxiety Bootcamp course.

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