I renew my year with intentions not resolutions.

July 1 – the start of a new “fiscal” year for me. Most people make New Year’s resolutions in January, but not me!   

For one thing, I don’t believe in resolutions; I believe in setting intentions.  Resolutions are concrete; we either stick to them or not. And most often, when we fall off from our resolutions, we stop working toward fulfilling them. 

That’s why I prefer to set intentions. Setting intentions allows us the ability to give ourselves grace, to build in “cheats” or what Marissa Sharif (Asst Professor of Marketing at Wharton) calls emergency reserves. 

Sharif and her research partner, Suzanne Shu from UCLA, “discovered a goal-setting hack that improves success rates. A plan that aims high but also allows one to trip up along the way is a compelling goal construct that causes people to stick with the goal longer, helps them reboot when they miss a goal milestone and provides a higher likelihood of reaching the goal.”

You can read more about their work here. https://anderson-review.ucla.edu/emergency-reserves/

I recently began to think of likening this to “cheat days” on my otherwise healthy diet. In the past I have tried to eat healthily, setting a New Year’s resolution to reduce my salt and sugar intake, but who can resist a good chocolate-covered caramel with sea salt? When I would indulge, I would feel guilty and then give up totally. 

However, once I reframed my thinking and started to think about my intention of eating more healthily, building in reserve days for when I can eat my caramels, I no longer felt like I wasn’t progressing towards my goals.  

So each July, I set intentions with built-in emergency reserve days. I then revisit them in September and then again in January. Short-term goals to meet my intentions are much more effective for me. 

As we are again in July and as I sit to write my 2023 – 2024 intentions, I reviewed last year’s.

One of the intentions I set last July was to make it through the books piling on my nightstand or this year’s “must read” (stored on my Kindle) list before I allow myself to walk into another bookstore. 

The problem was that I wrote this as I sat in my sunroom, drinking my cup of coffee and enjoying the quiet before my family descended on me, wondering what was for breakfast.  When I finally made it up to my room (after making crepes, gluten-free crepes, and a protein smoothie – and having my 2nd (ok 3rd) cup of coffee, I realized that there was no way I was going to make it through all those books before a new one was introduced to me that I just had to have/read!

So I quickly revised that intention with a few emergency reserves allowing myself to choose one or maybe two of the books to listen to on Audible while making my way through the stack of books.  I always resisted audiobooks, but I really enjoy listening to podcasts, so why not try?  

I decided to tackle the most complex book first, Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein.  While I am not sure Mr. Epstein intended this to be a parenting book or a book about how to set yourself up to reach your dreams (or get into college) – that is the way I read it.  I mean, listened to it.  

I couldn’t get enough; everywhere I walked, drove, or even when I sat on my porch with my coffee – or wine – ok, wine – I listened.  I fell in love. I will not be giving up my books anytime soon, the feel of the paper in my hands, and my highlighter and sticky notes ready to go, but I tried something new and liked it, probably because  I did it on my own terms when I was ready.

So, it’s not surprising that I’ve realized my kids have much more success with new habits and new intentions when it’s on their terms, and when they are ready! Let’s face it; our teenagers want to be in control of their lives.  Most of them (ok, some of them) do listen to what we tell them, what we suggest, and what we think is best.  AND most (ok, some) will take our opinions, weigh them and perhaps try them. AND most of them will do them in their own time frame, on their own terms. Our teens need the freedom to explore and discover new things at their own pace and in their own way. When we allow them the autonomy to make choices on their own terms, it can lead to more successful and fulfilling outcomes.

As we head towards August, back to school season, and the heat of the college admissions cycle, let your kids set their goals, timelines, and how they will tackle their goals.  Perhaps instead of telling them what to do, ask them what their plan is to get their applications done before heading back to school. And then you can follow up with a “How can I be of help?” Perhaps introduce the idea of emergency reserves.

Allow them to start and pivot as they realize that perhaps their goals/resolutions are not fitting exactly right. Allow them to set their own start and finish dates – as well as rewards and consequences for not adhering to them. Their way may not be how you would approach this process or on your timeline, but trust me; it will save you a lot of yelling and door slamming, And, ultimately, it will lead to more fulfilling outcomes for them.

September 1 will be here soon enough.  My own son will be starting his senior year and will begin his journey on the ever-changing andwinding path of college admissions.  My intention is to allow him and myself to navigate this process on our own terms, striving for growth and success in our own unique ways. However, if I do step in and share my thoughts on how he should be doing things, I’ll just chalk it up to one of my “emergency reserves!”

What’s your plan?
How can I be of help?
Grab the Official Guide to Talking About College with Your Teenager

This guide is full of tips and the approach I believe we ALL need when it comes to talking about college as a family. Trust me, when I say I know because I’ve been right where you are, it comes straight from my experiences!