Setting Goals Versus Setting Intentions

Apr 22, 2019

There is an important difference between setting goals and setting intentions, and it runs deeper than actions versus feelings.

For one, goals mean we’re focusing on the future. However, we need to consider the meaning behind the actions:  when we are focused on the future, we are absent from the present. Goals move our consciousness away from effort and toward results.

It’s hard to recognize this. Culturally, our mental energy is permeated, to a large degree, by the non-present. We concern ourselves with the future, wondering and questioning events or outcomes continuously. Humans fear the unknown, so it’s no wonder that too much focus on the future leads to anxiousness and overwhelm.

Still, goal-setting is the method by which we create change in our lives. We want change; we need change. We recognized the need for change amidst the discomfort of our present-day reality.  But change can be scary.  

How Much Will We Take?

Everyone has their own level of tolerance for the distress in their life, but eventually a painful existence escalates to a point at which something must be done. It’s our breaking point that pushes us to make a change, i.e. set a goal.

Our personal levels of tolerance, start with our early life experiences. The discomfort that we felt in our formative years laid the foundation for the bandwidth for the things we will or will tolerate today. Years later, the mind may have forgotten these early experiences, but the body has not which leads to unknowingly projecting our pain on others.  

Projection can look like any number of unproductive behaviors.  A lack of attention in our youth may playout as seeking an unhealthy amount of approval from colleagues or clients today.  A lack of recognition may show up as perfectionism that damages our present-day relationships.   

Intentions Get to The Root

Intentions put us in the present moment.  It is here that self-awareness can be applied to recognizing and addressing the behaviors causing our distress and habitually holding us back.  

Intentions are about being.  Goals are about doing.  Intentions are the glue that holds our goals together.  No matter how hard we try, nothing changes until we change.  When we start to understand our way of being, then we can set goals that lead to sustainable change.  

For example, two of my top five values are relationships and vitality.  I noticed the more caffeine I consumed the more irritable I got.  Irritability is not good for relationships and too much caffeine is not a healthy choice.   

Detached from outcome and resolved to have better alignment with my values, I recognized other ways I could still enjoy my favorite hot beverage without all the caffeine – half-caf, decaf, caffeinated drinks fewer and farther between.  

Intentions leave room for the unknown.  I had no idea there was even such a thing as half-caf until a barista nonchalantly asked me if I wanted my drink prepared that way.

Have a pain point that you’re ready to resolve?  Begin by identifying where your behavior is in conflict with your values.  Your values are a trusted guide because they help you grow into the person we want to be.