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The Power of Intentions: Rethinking New Year's Resolutions for Effective Leadership

Setting Intentions to achieve goals

As the clock strikes midnight on New Year's Eve, the air is filled with resolutions – promises to hit the gym, eat healthier, or learn a new skill. Yet, studies suggest that only about 9% of people actually achieve their New Year's resolutions. In fact, 80% of individuals forget their resolutions by February and only 46% stick to their resolutions after 6 months. The tradition of setting resolutions has its flaws, prompting a shift towards a more mindful approach: setting intentions. The "Power of Intentions: Rethinking New Year's Resolutions for Effective Leadership" explores the effectiveness of New Year's resolutions versus intentions and how leaders can leverage these concepts for personal and professional growth.


The Pitfalls of Traditional Resolutions

New Year's resolutions, while well-intentioned, often suffer from a set of common pitfalls that can hinder their success. The pressure of conforming to societal expectations and the tendency to set unrealistic goals can lead to feelings of failure and disappointment. Moreover, resolutions often lack a deeper connection to one's values and purpose, making them more susceptible to abandonment when faced with life's inevitable challenges.

The Power of Intentions

Intentions are the deliberate, conscious, and values-driven commitments individuals set to guide their actions, behaviors, and decisions. Unlike strict resolutions that often focus solely on achieving a specific outcome, intentions encompass a broader and more flexible approach to personal growth. They stem from a place of authenticity, reflecting one's deepest desires, aspirations, and core values. Intentions serve as a compass, directing individuals towards the kind of person they aspire to be and the life they want to lead. They are grounded in mindfulness, emphasizing the present moment and the ongoing process of self-improvement rather than a finite endpoint. Intentions acknowledge the complexities of life, allowing for adaptability and resilience in the face of obstacles, thereby fostering a deeper sense of purpose and fulfillment in various aspects of life.

Neuroscience of Intentions

The neuroscience of intentions sheds light on the intricate processes within the brain that differentiate them from resolutions. Intentions, being more focused on the journey and aligned with personal values, engage various brain regions associated with motivation, reward, and goal-directed behavior. When individuals set intentions, the prefrontal cortex, responsible for decision-making and planning, plays a crucial role in encoding and maintaining the commitment. Additionally, the limbic system, particularly the amygdala and hippocampus, becomes activated, linking intentions with emotions and memory. This emotional connection enhances the salience and significance of the intended goals. In contrast, resolutions, often framed as strict, all-or-nothing mandates, can trigger stress responses in the amygdala and hinder the brain's ability to adapt to setbacks. By understanding these neurobiological underpinnings, we gain insight into why intentions, with their emphasis on purpose and flexibility, may elicit more positive and sustainable responses within the intricate neural circuitry of the human brain.

Psychological Insights

Unlike neuroscience which focuses on the neural circuits, brain regions, and mechanisms involved in the formation and execution of intentions, the psychology of intentions examines the mental processes, motivations, and cognitive mechanisms that supports an individual's deliberate actions or goals. It explores how intentions shape behavior, focusing on the psychological factors influencing the formation, maintenance, and execution of intentions. The psychology of resolutions can be associated with external pressures and societal expectations, potentially leading to a disconnect between the goal and personal values. Intentions, on the other hand, align more closely with intrinsic motivation, emphasizing the journey and personal growth rather than a specific outcome. Psychologically, setting intentions allows individuals to cultivate a positive mindset, fostering self-compassion and resilience when faced with challenges. Intentions are more adaptive, as they permit adjustments and learning along the way, contributing to a deeper and more meaningful psychological connection to the goals individuals set for themselves. Overall, the psychology of resolutions often involves external validation and an all-or-nothing approach, while intentions prioritize internal motivation, flexibility, and a more holistic view of personal development.

Leadership and Goal Cultivation

Leadership and Goal Cultivation

Effective leadership involves more than just directing a team or organization; it requires a deep understanding of the power of intention setting. A visionary leader doesn't merely navigate the present challenges but charts a course for the future by setting clear and inspiring intentions. These intentions serve as a guiding light, aligning the team's efforts and energies toward common goals. Leaders who excel in intention setting create a shared sense of purpose, fostering a cohesive and motivated team. By articulating a compelling vision, leaders empower their teams to see beyond obstacles and work collaboratively toward a common destination. Intention setting goes beyond mere goal-setting; it involves infusing actions with purpose and meaning. When leaders are intentional in their communication and decision-making, they create a culture of accountability and commitment within the organization. This approach not only enhances productivity but also fosters a sense of fulfillment and pride among team members, driving sustained success for the entire organization.

Setting Intentions

1.     Reflect on Core Values: Begin by reflecting on your core values as a leader. What principles are non-negotiable for you? Understanding your values will serve as a foundation for setting intentions that resonate with your authentic self.

2.     Define Long-Term Aspirations: Consider your long-term aspirations for both yourself and your team. What achievements and growth do you envision? Clearly define these aspirations to provide direction and purpose for your intentions.

3.     Connect Intentions to Purpose: Ensure that your intentions align with the overarching purpose of your leadership role. How can your actions contribute to the greater mission and vision of the organization? This connection enhances the significance of your intentions.

4.     Prioritize Areas for Growth: Identify specific areas for personal and professional growth. Whether it's enhancing communication skills, fostering a more inclusive work environment, or improving decision-making, prioritize the areas that will contribute to your effectiveness as a leader.

5.     Frame Intentions Positively: Phrase your intentions in a positive and affirming manner. Rather than focusing on what you want to avoid, articulate what you want to cultivate and achieve. Positive framing fosters a constructive mindset and enhances motivation.

6.     Be Specific and Measurable: Make your intentions specific and measurable to track progress effectively. Define clear benchmarks or indicators that will help you gauge your success and adjust your approach as needed.

7.     Embrace Flexibility: Intentions should be guiding principles, not rigid mandates. Embrace flexibility and be open to adapting your intentions based on evolving circumstances. This flexibility fosters resilience and a capacity to navigate challenges.

8.     Communicate Intentions Transparently: Share your intentions transparently with your team. This not only builds trust but also invites collective alignment. Encourage open dialogue about intentions, fostering a culture where team members feel comfortable sharing their own aspirations.

9.     Create Rituals for Reflection: Establish regular rituals for reflection. Set aside time to assess your progress, celebrate achievements, and recalibrate your intentions based on evolving circumstances. Reflection reinforces self-awareness and continuous improvement.


While New Year's resolutions may be a time-honored tradition, the shift towards setting intentions offers a more nuanced and sustainable approach to personal and professional development. Leaders, in particular, can contribute to the success of their teams by embracing intention-setting, fostering a growth, and creating a supportive culture that values continuous improvement. In creating a supportive culture of success, it’s essential to recognize the subtle distinction between intentions and goal setting. Goal setting primarily revolves around the "what" — the specific, measurable outcomes or achievements one aspires to reach. Goals provide a destination, a clear endpoint to strive for. On the other hand, intentions delve into the "how" — the underlying values, mindset, and approach that shape the journey toward those goals. Intentions guide the actions, decisions, and behaviors that lead to goal attainment. While goals provide a target, intentions illuminate the path, emphasizing the importance of the process, personal growth, and the alignment of actions with core values. This nuanced interplay between what we aim to achieve (goals) and how we navigate the journey (intentions) forms a holistic framework for purposeful and sustainable personal and professional development. As we embark on a new year, let us reevaluate our approach to goal-setting and embrace intentions as a powerful catalyst for lasting change.

Maria Dowling, Psy.D., M.S., MBA

Founder & CEO of MD Consulting Company

Dr. Maria Dowling is a seasoned professional with over 20 years of expertise spanning neuroscience, psychology, leadership development, and business consulting. Her area of specialization encompasses business strategy, the human dimension of business operations, and organizational and leadership development. Dr. Maria is also a keynote speaker and transformational trainer; working with individuals and organizations to provide quality and engaging masterclasses, workshops & seminars.


This blog article is intended for information only. Please note that some of the content may have been created by AI and it is not intended to substitute for professional advice in psychological, legal, or business matters. The information shared might not always be completely accurate or up to date due to the evolving nature of the topics discussed. Readers are encouraged to seek the advice of qualified professionals for personalized guidance and to verify any information before making decisions based on the content provided herein.  


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