New Year – new goals? As we approach the end of one year and look to the next, it’s often the time when we start taking stock of the year and planning for the coming year. If you didn’t achieve your goals, there would inevitably be feelings of failure, followed by a quick justification. That’s IF you are being nice to yourself. But, have you ever considered setting intentions versus setting goals?
For many, the previous year’s unattained goals can turn into a mini-internal tirade about being undisciplined, weak, or much worse. (We tend to be harsher on ourselves than we are with others). Another reaction, one I got good at, is numbing out. You just stop – stop caring, stop trying, stop planning and simply exist.
Yes, maybe you need to give yourself a little nudge now and then, but perhaps you need to reconsider your goal-setting ways and look at things differently. There are many articles you can read online about setting realistic expectations, reassessing, creating dream boards etc. but have you ever considered focusing on setting intentions?
Setting Goals vs Setting Intentions
There is a difference. Many of us tend to overreach with goals. If this weren’t the case, there wouldn’t be books, articles, and a gazillion posts on Pinterest about how to set realistic and attainable goals. Goals are great and necessary, but it is a skill and something you need to learn to do. When we set goals, we tend to channel our inner Rick Astley and think we are ‘never gonna’ (those of you born pre 2000 will know what I’m talking about), and the lyrics go a bit like this–
♫Never gonna give you up
Never gonna let you down
Never gonna run around and desert you …♫
The thing is… you are gonna! You are gonna have challenges; you are gonna have ups and downs, and, sometimes, you are gonna need to abort your goals and desert them. Instead of seeing it as a failure, take some time to reflect. Consider first if the goal was unrealistic, and if it wasn’t, what influences were at play?
The fact of life is that there will always be something, but how do you deal with that something is what knocks you off course or simply creates a detour. Having goals are great, and I’m not saying you should do away with them, but it isn’t as simple as making a list. The building blocks of a goal are intentions. Intentions are the secret sauce.
How Does This Work in Real Life, You Ask?
Since health and wellness is my focus, let’s use lunch at work as an example. You want to stop buying lunch at work every day because you want to eat healthier meals, save money, eat less junk food and, as a bonus extra, reduce your environmental footprint by using less plastic. One could argue that these are both goals and intentions, you intend to do all of this, and technically yes, you do, but goals are results-based, whereas intentions are action-based.
make your lunch every day
use less plastic
So, you know what you want to achieve; the question is how you intend on achieving them –
What are your intentions?
Simple, you say, I will get up 30 minutes earlier and make my lunch. Or I’ll make a bigger dinner and dish up the extra for lunch the next day. Or I will meal prep on Sundays and make my lunches for the week.
One and all great strategies – BUT. What are you going to do when you only get to bed at midnight, and you cannot get yourself to get up at 5:30 and make lunch? Or, what if you ate out with clients the night before and there is nothing to set aside for lunch the next day? Or you’ve spent your Sunday sorting out the burst geyser?
The Beauty of Intentions
When things are going wrong, goals can seem or feel like a world away and unattainable. The more challenges we face, the more distant the goal can seem until we eventually give up. Intentions are about the journey; they focus on the spirit of your goal. Not making your lunches due to an unavoidable circumstance in no way undermines your intentions.
Your intentions remain and can be attained in other ways. So today, you managed to take an apple and top it up with something small from the local health store. You also managed to eat at the health store. You honoured your intentions of eating healthier, using less plastic by not doing take away and saving some money by taking an apple to supplement your meal.
Another benefit of intentions is progression. When we focus less on a single goal and more on our intentions, we can’t help ourselves; we progress. Each day, we reaffirm our intentions and commit to them, and before we know it, we are getting through an entire week of keeping to the spirit of our intentions. Then two weeks, a month and dare I say, a year!
Long term consistency trumps short term intensity
– Bruce Lee
We generally set goals because something must change. Whether that means moving to a new home or eating a healthier diet, it will inevitably boil down to giving up or doing more of something. Change is challenging and very uncomfortable for most of us, which is another reason why setting intentions can be so effective. It’s a consistent effort toward a more significant cause; it’s not all or nothing and torturous lists. While I love lists, I just don’t see this as helping, which is why a few years ago, I changed strategy. I still have lists, but they are far more thought out, and nothing like that time I was clearing out a cupboard and found a list of goals I made in 2005 only to realise it was the same as that year’s list. Talk about soul-destroying.
James Clear writes about goals being set by winners and losers. In his book Atomic Habits, he correctly points out that goals are merely a destination. It is the small things you do on a daily basis that add up. His focus is on the process rather than the goal. This is an excellent next step once you have figured out your intentions. To help you with setting and keeping your intentions I have created two free resources, see the links below.
Setting Intentions Workbook
Living With Intentions Journal
If you are wanting to start setting intentions and/or keep a journal, follow the link below to sign up or log in to access
these documents and many more.
(PS: you are welcome to unsubscribe once you’ve done the download, no hard feelings)