The path to hell is paved with good intentions

“Oh I love the idea of that!”

The start of a new year is always a time of good intentions. Just in my last post, I talked about making 2021 the year of engagement. The thing is, good intentions may be fun, easy, and feel good. But they rarely survive contact with reality.

I would argue, though, that good intentions in themselves are not the problem. We are right to have good intentions that inspire us. The real problem lies in how we set these intentions.

Let me know if any of these intentions, or variations of them, sound familiar: “This year, I’ll get fit.” “From now on, I’ll get up early”. “I’ll finish a book a week” – and so on. Tragically, the only thing that tends to come out of these good intentions is that we drag ourselves down by watching us fail at them every day.

This is why I like to call these types of intentions “grand gestures”. Because they are ultimately just false pretenses, ultimately without substance or meaning. And they are insidious, exactly because they appear so great and amazing in our head. Sounds harsh, I know. But if we want to act on our intentions, we need to be honest with ourselves first.

Being honest with ourselves means making intentions that are more than happy soundbites. It is important to realize that to act on our intentions, what we really need to do is to change our habits. You know, the things we do mostly unconsciously every day, but that ultimately determine who we are.

To change habits, however, we need the opposite of grand gestures. We need small but sustainable action that eases us out of our entrenched behavioral patterns, step by step, day by day.

How can we do this? By turning our intentions into something concrete, easy, and repeatable.

For example, instead of trying to “get fit this year” and going on a three-hour run you will never repeat, why not make an intention to leave the house in running clothes every day? This is an easy and concrete goal that you can repeat every day – and chances are that while you’re out there, you will go and run for a bit, too.

The trick is that now, even if you stop after running for 5 minutes, your intention was a success. You can go home knowing that you did what you set out to do. And you will do it again, because who wouldn’t want to build on success? Before you know it, you may even look forward to getting out of the house every day.

How have you been faring with your intentions so far?

32 thoughts on “The path to hell is paved with good intentions

  1. Great post! I’m a huge believer in a “baby steps to big success” kind of mindset and it is also the one that works the best for me of course: for many things that I want to do I remind myself that a little is still better than none at all, and everything becomes more manageable and I don’t beat myself up anymore 😊
    What I have been doing for a year or so now is to track how I’m making progress on my goals with concrete, actionable steps (kind of saying “I will study 30 mins every day” instead of “I will become fluent in 5 months”)! It takes discipline and prioritizing but it is often worth it! 😊

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  2. My main personal focus is my physical and mental health this year and I think I am doing well so far. I want to grow my blog and brand and I have achieved a lot in the first week or so, so I am happy. Thank you for sharing. Happy new year. I hope this year is a great one for us all.

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  3. Well, Markus, my good intentions (changing my bad habits) are on a rolling basis i.e. ongoing from year to year. So, they come and go depending on the level of success. One thing I have learnt – putting a time line on something regarding a personal attribute doesn’t work. This might be due to the number of repetitions required for a good habit to emerge, which is why I can see the “running clothes” approach might actually pay off. Successes of late include: being in the garden most mornings for one or two hours. It has only taken me about 20 years to get back to it 🤣, cooking dinner outside in summer (a very big tick), improvements to the house and following through with health checks etc. Things on the emerging list: going on consistent walks, working less and be less grumpy!

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    1. It seems you have made a lot of progress already. Congratulations on your latest successes! Maybe just aiming to leave the house can help with consistent walks? I’ve also been trying to leave the house more regularly, but right now winter tends to get in the way. Also, you don’t seem grumpy at all! But if you feel like that sometimes, maybe it has something to do with working too much?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is great. I love the idea of intentions instead of resolutions.

    So far, I’m doing okay with my intentions for 2021. I’ve been keeping up with my workouts, avoiding candy until my work day is over, and fitting in mindfulness or meditation most days.

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  5. I’ve held off on any 2021 intentions until after January 20th, Inauguration Day. That being said, I agree with you. Do a little thing, intentionally– and call it a success. No need to make things complicated.

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  6. I think I have been the laziest by nit even trying to make any new year resolutions 🙈🤦‍♀️
    In my defence, I just had my birthday two days back and I’m still in the inertia of celebrating it and spoiling myself lol. But I have some vague goals in mind, that I hope to make more specific and start working on soon. Very soon. 🤫🤩

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  7. I haven’t made any “resolutions” this year because I don’t quite believe they work. Nothing changed from the 31st to the 1st. With these good intentions, I think the only way they become realistic is if we just act on them

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    1. Haha very fitting and a great example! Isn’t it interesting that by reading 1/10th of a book a week you failed at your stated goal of “read a book a week” – but if your goal was “make progress on reading a book every week” or even “open a book every day”, then reading 1/10th of a book a week would have likely meant success?

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  8. I agree with this post. While it is great to have such lofty goals, they seldom translate to daily life. I like to think of incrementalism and sustainability when making changes. I have many goals to achieve, but sustainable baby steps can help me make progress. Thanks for your post, and have a great day!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Ahhh yes. The standards we set for ourselves are useless if they are unrealistic. For example, a friend of mine, who would be labelled the ‘jock’ kind made a resolution to read….2021 books this year. When in the past year, they survived on online notes for Literature. 😂

    Awesome post!

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  10. I’m doing great with New Year’s resolutions. I haven’t made any in decades and am much happier for it. I admire those who do and who are successful at it. I like your idea of building on success.

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