Intentions in the New Year: Start by knowing what will motivate you to follow through

We are approaching that magical time of the year where we decide we need to change almost everything about ourselves.  Yes, it is New Year’s Resolution Time! We see January 1 coming, and we start to think about what we will resolve to change this next year.  A resolution is a firm decision to do or not do something – similar words include intention, decision, intent, aim, and aspiration.  As a person who studies and helps others navigate changes in life, I love the feeling of January 1.  The fresh start; a chance to right what hasn’t been going well in life.  But we know how this tale likely ends.  Not well and we end up with a firm decision to go back to how life was before.  

Instead of thinking of these New Year resolutions as intentions, maybe we should consider thinking about them as rules. Rules are an easy concept for us to grasp because our world is built around rules.  This quote by Jim Collins runs through my head a lot; “The purpose of bureaucracy is to compensate for incompetence and lack of discipline.” We need rules when we lack the discipline.  No eating after 8PM, no daily Starbuck’s run, no sweets and carbs on Tuesdays.  This time of year, you see all sorts of crazy rules popping up that people make for themselves.  Sadly though, these new rules are sometimes not as effective as the rules in society we have grown accustomed to following like traffic lights and laws. 

This leads us to, “how do we get these new rules we have set for ourselves to stick?”  First, I believe you need to have a firm understanding of yourself and how you respond to rules.  Gretchen Rubin, who authored The Four Tendencies and many other books on behavior change, talks about our tendencies towards following rules and expectations.  She identified 4 main tendencies when it comes to how we respond to inner and external rules or expectations.  Here are the tendencies – think about what sounds familiar here:

Upholder—accepts rules, whether from outside or inside. An upholder meets deadlines, follows doctor’s order, keeps a New Year’s resolution.

Questioner—questions rules and accepts them only if they make sense. They may choose to follow rules, or not, according to their judgment.

Rebel—rejects rules, from outside or inside. They resist control. Give a rebel a rule, and the rebel will want to do the very opposite thing.

Obliger—accepts outside rules, but doesn’t like to adopt self-imposed rules.

Which one are you?  Not sure?  Think about the last time you made a new rule for yourself.  How did it go?  Did you follow through on your own? You might be an upholder. Did you need an accountability buddy to keep you going? You might be an obliger. Did you flat out reject the rule because you decided it didn’t make sense? You might be a questioner. Is all this talk about rules making you want to run away screaming? You might be a rebel.

I encourage you to first identify your tendency and then as you think about the changes you are considering this New Year, think about how you need to set up this change to complement your tendency.  If you are an Obliger and you are starting a new fitness habit, you likely need a trainer or at least a buddy to do this with you.  Questioners, give yourself time to research and prove to yourself that this change is valid for you.  Upholders, you have already checked out of this conversation because you got this – but be careful not to have too many expectations.  Rebels, there is hope for you too but your road is harder.  Check out Gretchen Rubin’s website and her book The Four Tendencies.

She has tremendous resources to help all types understand how you can be successful in making changes in your life.  Happy New Year! 


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Tip shared by Jessi Chadd, a certified financial planner (CFP®) and a certified financial transitions specialist (CeFT®). Jessi lives at the intersection of wellness and wealth and enjoys helping people be well in all areas of their life including their finances. For more information on how you can improve your financial wellness, please reach Jessi at Jessi is a co-organizer for Priority Fit Camp. Each week, we publish a health and wellness tip that is shared at the Priority Fit Camp community workout. The free group class happens every Saturday at 7:50 a.m.  

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