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Living with Intent: Clarifying Your Values for the New Year

Person stands on a ledge of a mountain, enjoying the sunset over a river valley Every January, I like to ask people if they set intentions for the new year. Whether or not they set goals, this is a time when many people reflect on the past year. When it comes to goal-setting, I like this example: Let’s say you’re taking a road trip to Oregon to visit a friend. You can plan your trip by looking at maps, estimating stopping points, packing appropriately for your activities, and creating a general timeline to reach your destination. Or you could just hop into the car, start driving, and see what happens. Which sounds like the more satisfying plan? Invariably, the people I pose this question to say planning would be a more useful way to reach the destination. “Agreed. So why wouldn’t you go into a new year with some forethought about where you want to go?” I ask.

Countless people make New Year’s resolutions every year, but most resolutions are bound to fail. In fact, according to one popular estimation, only 8% of New Year’s resolutions are kept! Most people expect quick results, but real change can be slow. Setting overly ambitious resolutions and restrictive goals can lead to disappointment and failure. True change generally requires setting a positive action plan that has value.

Values give significance and meaning to our life. They are what we stand for. Values are concepts such as honesty, friendship, adventure, love, and family. Like a compass, values give our life direction.

Goals are different than values. Goals are objectives and aspirations that have an end; they can be achieved. But while we can set specific goals, there’s no promise that we will achieve them. For example, if your goal is to get a new job that is more challenging, you may not find the perfect fit in the next 12 months. But if you are focused on core values (in this case, challenge), you can feel satisfied with proactive behaviors such as updating your résumé, sending out applications, and going on interviews.

Which direction do you want your life to go in the new year? That can be a complicated question to answer, so clarifying your values is a helpful first step. When clarifying values, some helpful questions to ask are:

As we start another new year, let’s resolve to live with intent. Determining core values can help us see where we’re going.

  • What is most important to me?
  • If I were to look back at my life when I’m 80 years old, what would I regret not having done?
  • What brings me a feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment?
  • If I were being the person I want to be, how would I be acting?
  • Are my behaviors and choices in agreement with my values?
  • If my friends were to describe me, how would they say I spend my time?

Once we have determined the personal values that are intrinsic to us, we can start to move toward them with proactive behavior. Proactive behaviors are actions that move us toward a value. For example, if I’m planning that trip to Oregon and adventure is one of my core values, I would take time to scout out some points of interest between here and there. If I come across something interesting, I can book a hotel in that area for a night or plan to spend a few hours there exploring. These adventurous side trips while en route to Oregon would be considered proactive behaviors that move me toward my value of adventure.

As we start another new year, let’s resolve to live with intent. Determining core values can help us see where we’re going. Proactive behaviors can be gratifying and enriching ways to move toward our values.

How will you find and use proactive ways to intently move forward this year?


  1. Gerson, M. (2016, January 5). New Year’s resolutions: Focus on values. Retrieved from https://columbuspark.com/2016/01/05/act-values
  2. Gregoire, C. (2016, December 28). New Year’s resolutions are bound to fail. Try this instead. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/new-years-resolutions-psychology_us_5862d599e4b0d9a59459654c
  3. Parr, A. (2017, January 6). An acceptance and commitment therapy approach to New Year’s resolutions. Retrieved from http://csamsandiego.com/blog/2017/1/6/an-acceptance-and-commitment-therapy-approach-to-new-years-resolutions

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Damara

    January 5th, 2018 at 12:14 PM

    And what if you have no more goals? What if you’ve done everything on your Bucket List and have no regrets? What are you supposed to do when you don’t particularly want anything? Is it enough to be content?

  • Andrea Risi

    January 8th, 2018 at 9:17 AM

    Great questions, Damara! I would ask, what are your values and how are you moving toward them? Values are never really attained (as goals are), but continuing to move toward values can bring meaning and satisfaction to our lives.

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