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Set a Word of Intention for 2021 Rather than a Resolution

If 2020 taught us anything it is that we must remain flexible. Things change, sometimes on a global scale, and we have to adapt to our shifting environment. Perhaps this is why New Year’s resolutions are so hard to keep. Resolutions are, by definition, firms decisions to act or not act in a very specific way. We set them in a certain set of circumstances which will surely change day to day. To help you reach your goals, and remain flexible, set a word of intention for 2021 rather than a resolution.

Why do resolutions fail?

The majority of New Year’s resolutions fail by February. According to U.S. News & World Report, the failure rate for New Year’s resolutions is about 80 percent, and most lose their resolve by mid-February. But why does this happen?

There are, of course, many reasons why resolutions fail but some of the most commonly cited ones are:

  • The goal is not well defined or not specific enough
  • It is not realistic or attainable
  • The framing is negative or aversive
  • You don’t really want it
  • Resolutions lead to feelings of failure

Resolutions lead to feelings of failure

To me, this is the most common problem with goal setting. In general, I don’t believe in formal structured goal setting in many cases. It’s funny because I am type A woman, have spent my entire career in business and management, and am achievement focused. Formal goal setting, however, is flawed.

A friend once told me “goals are counterproductive”. I argued fiercely that his statement was ridiculous and that formal goal setting is a path to accomplishment – THE path to accomplishment. As we talked, I realized he was right.

The fundamental problem is that formalized goals are fraught with failure.

“SMART” goals are stupid when used for personal motivation

Let’s say I set a New Year’s resolution, a goal, to lose 1 pound per week for 20 weeks by going to the gym three times a week, eliminating snack foods after 7PM and drinking 24 ounces of water every day. Anyone who has studied formal goal setting would call this a well developed goal. It’s “SMART” – specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound.

But, each of these indicators of a SMART goal is also a path to failure. What if I don’t lose any weight my first week? Or put on a pound in week three? That may feel like failure. Or if I slip and have a couple of cookies at 8PM one night or forget to drink my water. What if I lose 1 pound per week for only 15 weeks? Is that failure? It could feel like it.

By setting such concrete goals, your are creating too many points of potential failure which can leave you feeling unmotivated or dissatisfied. While SMART goals are a wonderful tool to measure the achievement of other people’s goals in a work setting as a supervisory function, I don’t believe they work for personal motivation.

What is a word of intention?

To set a word of intention, you need to first understand what it means.

A word of intention is a hope for your life. Dictionary.com defines an intention as “a thing intended; an aim or plan”. Compare this to a resolution. It’s softer, more flexible, kinder. It’s also more universal. A resolution applies to a specific and singular goal – I resolve to lose 20 lbs. in 2021. An intention, on the other hand, applies to a lifestyle choice – I intend to be authentic, or a dreamer, or I intend to be present. These, and many other words of intention capture a vision for your life rather than a concrete goal.

How do I chose a word of intention?

Choosing a word of intention takes some thought. Ask yourself the questions below and see how I answered the questions for myself.

What is it I want to accomplish in the coming year?

This question gets at broader goals. It will help you to identify priorities in your life.

I’d like to finally prioritize my health. I need to exercise more, lose weight, become stronger. I’m not getting any younger. I need to start now!!

If I were to set a resolution, what would it be about?

I like this question because it hones in on the things that tend to be just outside of our reach. When we identify a New Year’s resolution, it is usually something we’ve found elusive and important enough to be worthy of being called a resolution.

If I were to set a resolution, it would be to lose 30 pounds in 2021.

How do I want to grow in the next 12 months?

This forces personal reflection. By framing the question in terms of growth you are positive facing. Other words, such as “change” suggest there is something wrong with you to begin with – and that isn’t the case!

I want physical fitness to be a part of my lifestyle.

Who do I want to be at the end of 2021?

Establish a concrete vision. How do you hope to feel physically? Emotionally? Intellectually? Think about who you want to be in terms of your personal and professional life. Envision you twelve months from now – what do you want to see?

I want to be an active person.

Once you’ve answered these questions, look for themes. My themes are health, wellness, weight loss, and exercise. Consider your themes. What word, or short phrase, encompasses your themes?

How do stay committed once I set a word of intention?

You have to create ways to keep your word of intention front and center in your life. It should become a part of your day to day.

I had mine stamped on a washer to use as a bookmark. You can also put it on a bracelet, necklace, a ring, or a piece of art. Head over to Etsy and type “word of intention” into the search bar and you’ll find plenty of options.

Put it somewhere you’ll see it. I printed mine and framed it in a couple of simple frames, one for my nightstand to remind me every morning and evening, and one for my desk so I see it everyday.

Write about it. Research your word

Establish a mantra using your word of intention. Use your mantra to help you focus or when you need to ground yourself. Keep it present in your mind.

Living your intention

Choosing an intention rather than a resolution is a way to be kind to yourself and set yourself up for success. Remember that a word of intention is about your entire lifestyle. It should permeate your world, not exist in isolation somewhere.

The word I’ve chosen for 2021 is “Movement”. For me, this word captures my intention as I defined it in the questions above. Someone once said to me that “Movement is the fountain of youth.” I believe that. Movement is exercise, better health, weight loss and activity. It’s walking and yoga but it’s also playing with my grandson, getting up and stretching at my desk, and taking my dog in the backyard for a game of fetch. Movement will help me to achieve my vision of who I want to be twelve months from now.

Movement is my word of intention for 2021. What’s yours?


I’ve put together this list of over 80 inspirational words to help you get started finding your word of intention for the new year.

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