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Why choosing a New Year's intention is better than a resolution for 2021

Dr. David Johnson says New Year's resolutions are often aggressively ambitious and with all the upheaval of 2020, it's better to set a positive intention for 2021.

Choosing an alternative approach to the traditional New Year's resolution is the way to go this year, according to Behavioral Health Counselor Dr. David Johnson.

Dr. Johnson is the retired CEO of Navos, a nonprofit mental health organization in south King County. He said 2020 has been a year unlike any other and he has some ideas about how to ease into 2021 and create more positive moments for yourself and others. 

Why that New Year’s resolution isn’t helpful in 2021

A New Year’s resolution isn’t helpful for 2021 because typically resolutions are aggressively ambitious and often made in judgement about what you’ve been doing wrong. Dr. Johnson said with all of the upheaval of 2020, it’s natural to be tired. The way to recover is to be gentle, even nurturing with yourself.

As an alternative to a New Year’s resolution, Dr. Johnson suggested choosing an intention or theme for the year. First, he recommended a few mental exercises to help set the tone. Then, choosing your intention and mindset can come more easily.

Use your senses to get to a more positive place 

Revisiting your memories of a wonderful time and envisioning bright moments in the future are a good way to move your mind toward positive thinking. Dr. Johnson said use these two similar exercises to envision better times:

Remember the past

Dr. Johnson said to think of a really pleasant memory in your life. Go back in your mind to that time and think about all the details you can remember.

  • What did you see and hear? 
  • Was there a scent in the air? 
  • Did you enjoy certain foods or have something to drink? 
  • Who was there? 
  • What did you talk about? 
  • Why did it make you so happy?

Take time to relish your memory. Think about what made you so content about the experience. Name the things you most enjoyed. Take time to understand why you associate pleasure with these elements so much.

Envision the future

Thank about the future and envision an experience you would like for yourself. Consider all of the details you want to have in place.

  • Where are you?
  • Who are you with? 
  • What’s happening?
  • Are there tastes and smells?
  • What are you talking about?

Dr. Johnson said to allow yourself time to envision what you want for yourself and think about how this connects you to joy. Ponder whether there is a connection between your memory of a positive past experience and your vision for a joyful future experience. If there is a common thread or a few common threads -- make note.

Make a gratitude list 

The next exercise Dr. Johnson recommended is the creation of a gratitude list. He said this is a way to recognize and appreciate the positive aspects in your life right now. He suggested you take time to create your list.

  • Start by writing down things you are grateful for, like your home, family, food, etc.
  • Invite loved ones to add to your list.
  • Leave your list out for a couple of days. When thoughts of gratitude come to mind, add them to your list.

Choose your intention for 2021 

Choosing your intention for 2021 means deciding what you want to invite into your life. The exercises above can help you gather some clarity about themes to choose from. Or, your intention for 2021 might just come to you.

Dr. Johnson said in 2021 his intention is "being open to possibilities." He chose this theme because it helps him remain positive and helps him really listen to other people. Being open to possibilities allows for new ideas and energy in his life.

You can choose any intention you like. Some people choose beauty, love, curiosity, or just plain fun. The point of choosing an intention is to bring more positivity into your life and help you share that positivity with others. This can help you form deeper connections and feel more satisfied in general.

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