As the calendar makes the inevitable transition from one year to the next, there is an annual ritual that takes place at the start of every January: making resolutions for practicing healthier behaviors in the coming year. While the transition to a new year happens with a guaranteed level of certainty, what is not guaranteed is whether you or many other fitness enthusiasts will have the ability to live up to your well-meaning resolutions. No one wants to start any venture with a thought of guaranteed failure, especially not when it comes to establishing new behaviors that could lead to a healthier life—yet that is often what is happening when many people make exercise-related resolutions for a new calendar year.

If you’ve ever failed to follow through on a New Year’s resolution to get more movement, then it might be worth considering that the use of the word resolution itself could be a cause of that failure.

Let me try to explain: One time many years ago, I was training a client at the end of December and having the obligatory conversation that happens during this time of year when I asked him, “What are your New Year’s resolutions?”

Admittedly, I was expecting the usual “lose 10 pounds” or “add 25 pounds to my bench.” Instead, my client paused, looked at me and replied, “I don’t do resolutions; I do intentions. I find that if I intend to do things, then I have a better follow-through than when I resolve to do them.”

The more I thought about my client’s response, the more I realized that this type of approach to the new year—making a list of intentions as opposed to resolutions—could help set people up for success.

Let’s take a look at the word resolution. According to, it means, “A firm decision to do or not to do something. Or the action of solving a problem or contentious matter.” In short, a resolution means committing to a decision to solve a problem. In the case of many, this means working out more to change something about their body or overall physical ability.

In my two decades of working in health clubs, I have seen many people start January with a resolute commitment to move more. However, as soon as there was a minor change in plans, it became easy to scrap the whole program and stop coming to the gym altogether. It turns out there may be some psychology involved in just the use of the word resolution. If someone resolves to go to the gym five days a week (in other words, makes a firm commitment) and doesn’t make it one day, that single absence could be perceived as a failure. Failing to make one workout could lead to a feeling of failure in which it would be easier to skip ensuing workouts than to go back after missing just one. How many times have you experienced that? You make a firm commitment, then one little deviation like a late night at work leading to a missed workout leads to a mindset in which it’s easiest to continue to skip going to the gym instead of admitting failure of a missed workout and having to start again.

Having an intention is a different mindset. According to, an intention is “a thing intended; an aim or plan.” When someone has an intention, the mindset is a plan that could happen as opposed to a commitment that has to happen. Think about that: If you intend to do a workout, then when the workout happens, you will feel successful. But if the workout doesn’t happen, then it means the plan didn’t happen and there is a chance to try better tomorrow as opposed to feeling like a failure for not following through on a commitment.

The following is a list of suggested intentions. It is by no means exhaustive but should give you an idea of the types of intentions that can help you establish an approach to movement that results in it becoming a long-term habit:

  1. Take at least two group exercise classes per week.
  2. Take at least one yoga class per week.
  3. Make an effort to stand at least once every hour during the day.
  4. Take at least one 15-minute walk every day.
  5. Improve sleep hygiene and go to sleep earlier.
  6. Try at least one new type of exercise: TRX, kettlebell, barre, indoor cycling or Pilates.
  7. Make the effort to do food preparation every Sunday in order to have healthy options for the week.
  8. Drink more water while drinking less soda (or alcohol or coffee).
  9. Eat out fewer times per week. (This can help save money as well as controlling caloric intake.)
  10. Make it to the health club at least two times during the week and once during the weekend.

The above list all are plans to practice healthier behavior. If you don’t achieve everything on the list, then it’s not that you failed a commitment, it’s that you didn’t accomplish all your plans. When working from a list of intentions, you can congratulate yourself for achieving certain plans on the list, which helps to establish a mindset of success and which is the first step for achieving long-term success for any goal.

Photo credit: Mathew LeJune, Unsplash