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Break your resolutions

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If you have a habit of setting resolutions for the new year, it’s time to re-think the process.break the chains resized 600 The biggest problem with resolutions? They set you up for failure. Here are the two main ways they do this:

  • They inevitably create the thought, “I must do this. If I don’t follow through, it means I’m ____________ (a loser, a jerk, fill in the blank with your own judgmental label.)”
  • They tend to be something that is too big of a step or too much out of your daily norm to be achievable. For example, you resolve to go to the gym five days per week and work out for two hours per visit when you haven’t exercised in the last three years.

Now, I’m certainly all for taking responsibility for yourself and making changes where needed. But I think it’s really important to go about change in a way that is realistic and doesn’t have you feeling like a schmuck if you fail occasionally.

Break it down

Those of you who have read my blog for awhile know I am a fan of etymology – word origins. Let’s look at the original meaning of “resolution”:

Early 15c., “a breaking into parts,” from L. resolutionem (nom. resolutio) “process of reducing things into simpler forms”.

So, resolution actually means to break things down to make them simpler. The definition of resolution meaning “to hold firmly” didn’t appear until more than a hundred years later.

If it works best for you to have a goal to work toward, be sure to break things down and make it simpler for yourself. So, using our exercise example, perhaps you want to start by going for a walk every day to prepare your body for more vigorous exercise rather than immediately jumping into a gym schedule that is impossible for your body to tolerate.

Set an intention

My friend and colleague, Annis Cassells, wrote a nice piece about this on her blog the other day and I encourage you to check it out. An intention is a way of seeing yourself making the change as though it is happening right now. The language differs like this:

Resolution: I will go to the gym five days per week and work out for at least two hours each session.

Intention: I am healthy and fit.

Notice how the resolution boxes you into an all-or-nothing mindset and is set in the future – I will. The intention helps you see yourself as meeting your goal right now – I am. The more you tune in to this intention, the more you will make choices that help you come in line with it.


Takeaway points: Resolutions box you in and inevitably lead to failure and negative feelings about yourself. Making things simpler and setting intentions for yourself can generate the same results you were after with the resolutions, but go about it in a much gentler, more realistic and effective way.

 Do resolutions work for you?


 Photo credit: Gigi Ibrahim


Need help setting your intentions or breaking things down to make them simpler? I’m available for a therapy appointment! Call me at 650-529-9059 or email me for an appointment or a free 30-minute phone consultation.



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Bobbi Emel is a therapist who helps people in Los Altos, Palo Alto, Mountain View and the greater Bay Area manage their stress and develop their strengths.
She is effective in helping people dealing with anxiety, worry and grief; and also those who want to improve their effectiveness and performance.