Resolutions vs. Intentions: Neuroscientific Perspective

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Dr. Sara Smith Resolutions vs intentions: Understand the differences in their impact on personal growth and self-improvement. Dr. Sara Smith explains.

By Dr. Sara Smith

Resolutions and intentions may seem like similar concepts, but they have distinct differences that can greatly impact our success to personal growth and self-improvement.

Resolutions, traditionally made at the start of a new year, often involve setting specific goals or targets. They are often focused on achieving a desired outcome or making a change in behavior. For example, a common resolution might be to lose weight, quit smoking, or save more money. Resolutions tend to be more concrete and hard action-oriented, with a clear end goal in mind.

Intentions, on the other hand, are more about cultivating a certain mindset or way of being. They are rooted in our values and guiding principles, and they provide a framework for how we want to live our lives. Intentions are less focused on specific outcomes and more on our overall sense of purpose and presence. They are about the journey rather than the destination.

When we set resolutions, we often approach them with an “all or nothing” mentality. We strive for perfection and can be hard on ourselves if we don't achieve our goals exactly as planned. This can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and disappointment if we fall short.

Intentions, invite us to embrace the imperfections and uncertainties of life. They allow for flexibility and self-compassion, recognizing that growth is a process and cyclical path. Instead of resolutions, more people are embracing intentions. But what's the difference, and why does it matter? Let's delve into the neuroscience behind this shift.

Resolutions: The Problem-Focused Approach

Traditionally, resolutions are about identifying problems in our lives and devising plans to fix them. Whether it's losing weight, quitting smoking, or managing finances better, resolutions often stem from a place of self-critique. However, neuroscience reveals a flaw in this approach.

Research in cognitive psychology suggests that focusing on problems amplifies them in our minds. The brain's Reticular Activating System (RAS), which filters information and decides what to focus on, intensifies our awareness of the issues we're trying to resolve. This phenomenon is akin to trying not to think of a pink elephant – the more you try, the more prominent it becomes in your mind.

Intentions: The Growth-Oriented Approach

In contrast, setting intentions is about growth and positive change. Intentions are less about fixing what's wrong and more about enhancing what's right. This approach aligns with the concept of neuroplasticity – the brain's ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life.

Setting intentions involves envisioning how we want to feel, behave, and interact with the world. This positive focus can reshape our neural pathways, encouraging a mindset of growth and possibility. When we set intentions, we're not denying our problems; instead, we're choosing to grow beyond them.

The Science of Positive Thinking

The power of positive thinking isn't just motivational jargon; it's rooted in science. Studies show that positive emotions broaden our sense of possibility and open our minds up to more options. This phenomenon, known as the broaden-and-build theory by psychologist Barbara Fredrickson, suggests that positive emotions expand our awareness, allowing us to build new skills and resources.

When we set intentions rooted in positive emotions and aspirations, we're essentially priming our brain to recognize and develop the resources we need to achieve them. This approach is more aligned with our brain's natural learning processes.

Embracing Intentions for a Successful Future

As we move through this year, I encourage you to shift from resolutions to intentions. Think of it as setting the GPS for your life's journey. Instead of focusing on what you need to avoid, focus on where you want to go and what you want to feel. This shift in mindset can profoundly impact your emotional, mental, and even physical wellbeing.

Remember, intentions aren't about achieving perfection; they're about progress and growth. They're about aligning with your deepest values and allowing yourself to evolve in a direction that brings joy, fulfillment, and wellbeing.

So, as you ponder your goals for the year, ask yourself: What intentions will guide you to your best self? How can you align your actions with your deepest values and aspirations? The answers to these questions can set you on a path of meaningful and lasting change, backed by the power of neuroscience.

Dr. Sara Smith is a Physical Therapist, Life and Business Coach, and speaker committed to helping individuals achieve work-life balance and success. Her approach combines the latest in neuroscience with timeless wisdom about the power of Awakening Your Core Wisdom and intention setting.

Further Reading

Reticular Activating System (RAS): The concept of the RAS focusing on issues we're trying to resolve is a well-known principle in neuroscience. For more detailed information, you can refer to "Principles of Neural Science" by Eric R. Kandel, James H. Schwartz, and Thomas M. Jessell.

Neuroplasticity: The idea that the brain can reorganize itself by forming new neural connections is a fundamental concept in modern neuroscience. Norman Doidge's book "The Brain That Changes Itself" offers an in-depth exploration of this topic.

Positive Thinking and Neuroscience: The impact of positive thinking on the brain and its alignment with the brain's natural learning processes can be further explored in books like "The Happiness Advantage" by Shawn Achor, which discusses how positivity can affect success and performance.



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