Skip resolutions for something better
19 December 22
Reading time: 5 minutes
In more predictable times, many of us hope to improve our habits and build on past successes.
With the last few years being the way they were, we got out of the habit of setting New Year’s resolutions. But is that such a bad thing?
Studies show there is in fact a ‘fresh start effect’ that comes with each new year, when we look ahead with hope.
“If we have hope, we have a reason to take action,” writes habits expert James Clear in his book Atomic Habits. “A fresh start feels motivating.”
Turning the page allows us to leave last year behind, as well as take a bird’s-eye view of the year ahead. It’s time to open up a whole new chapter.
But perhaps it’s time to think a bit differently about resolutions.
The best of intentions for 2023
Setting intentions instead of resolutions can be helpful. Much like mindfulness, they are all about the here and now instead of being focused on a far-off future.
So how do you want to live right now? In this present moment, what is a positive intention you can choose to influence your entire year ahead?
For example, you might choose an intention to be more giving or to grow more. This may be as a person or with your money.
Just as you might say, “I intend to show acts of kindness today”, you might also say “I intend not to rely on credit so much” and avoid having more than one Buy Now, Pay Later loan going at a time.
Intentions are about our process right now, and not so much about the outcome. Our process is something we can control and influence – whereas the result is not entirely within our power.
Think of yourself as an athlete who, while they can’t control the outcome of the competition, can choose how much effort they put in to training. Their intention, in every moment, is to give their absolute best.
How to put your intention into action
Here’s the thing about intentions, though: they need a plan of action to make them work.
“We tell ourselves, ‘I’m going to eat healthier’ or ‘I’m going to write more,’ but we never say when and where these habits are going to happen,” Clear writes. “We leave it up to chance and hope that we will ‘just remember to do it’ or feel motivated at the right time.”
So when precisely will we do this? Where exactly?
Clear recommends filling out a simple formula to help put your intention into action:
“I will [behaviour] at [time] in [location].”
So if you are aiming to use credit less, you might say, “I will use my debit card on Thursday in the dairy.” That way intentions become regular habits.
And the Word of the Year is…
Sometimes New Year’s resolutions are just a bit too demanding. There’s no room for failure. Having a theme or word is a gentler approach, more forgiving. So instead, you could give 2023 its very own theme.
What’s your word of the year? Picking one and living with it – like ‘empathy’ or ‘resilience’ – can capture your aspirations for the year to come. It may also be something you need to focus on to bring your game up a notch.
Melinda Gates has advocated this approach, which has been picked up by many and gained momentum. In recent years, she’s chosen ‘gentle’, ‘spacious’, ‘grace’ and ‘shine’.
Closer to home, Australia-based money influencer Emma of The Broke Generation also picks a word each year – she once chose ‘fun’, for example.
“The purpose of the word, really, is to have a constant throughout the year to continually keep you on track to what you really want, to stop you getting led astray by external influences or your ego or a big ol’ bout of imposter syndrome or self sabotage,” she writes.
Setting a word of the year is a positive alternative to New Year's resolutions, especially when the future’s unpredictable.
Setting goals for now and then
One more alternative to New Year’s resolutions is setting a target. The short-term stuff is easiest to picture, such as your next holiday, next birthday, next gadget, next festival. It’s easy to visualise where you want to be.
When you get some momentum with the short-term stuff, you can start to look ahead even further to the medium (4–9 years) and long terms (10 years plus).
Medium-term goals take a bit more forward thinking, but are doable: building up your emergency fund, or shedding your debt to save a house deposit more quickly.
Long-term goals are worth having a crack at too. Planning to buy your house with KiwiSaver is a good example. Remember, time is on your side, so you can achieve much more than you’d ever anticipate.
Our goal planner gets you started spreading your goals through each of those three timeframes: short, medium and long term.
After the last few years, we all need to turn the page. So whichever alternative to New Year’s resolutions you take – intentions, words or setting targets – may they jumpstart your 2023 like never before.