Intention, Goals, and What's the Difference?

Monday, July 10, 2017

In the last post, which I lovingly refer to in my mind as "Intention 101," we looked at what intentional living is, albeit in a rather vague way. Today, in what I'm sure will end up being referred to personally as "Intention 102," we'll be going deeper and looking at some common misconceptions about intention, particularly as relates to goals. Because really, what's the difference? Friends, the difference is subtle, but it will change your life.

Say you walk into a yoga class and, not quite sure of the difference between intention and goal, set your intention to be mastering crow pose. You begin class fired up, eager to master the pose and check it off the "done!" list. You're a little distracted as class starts slowly, easing into a flow. You keep thinking about the pose you just know the instructor will call any minute. And then, she calls it! You've totally got this! You will nail this and be so excited and so affirmed in who you are! And you start to tilt into the pose, but your arms collapse. Determined, you try again. And you just can't get there. The class flows on to the next pose. Suddenly, you feel angry. You feel like a failure. You had one intention. One! And you messed it up!

What was the problem in your class? Simple. You confused intention with goal.

Here's the thing. A goal is something you'd like to accomplish in the future. It exists outside of you, and results in either success or failure. An intention is something that exists inside of you, and remains constant no matter what happens outside of you. Here are a few examples.

Goal: to retire at age 65 with an abundant retirement account
Intention: grace and gratitude through all ages and circumstances

Goal: to run a half marathon next year in under 2 hours
Intention: courage and curiosity through tough situations

Goal: presenting a convincing presentation at work so everyone agrees on the outcome you foresee
Intention: truth and kindness, respect for everyone; constant learning

Goals are wonderful, and we definitely need them in our lives to motivate us to achieve desired outcomes, but we should not live life simply jumping from one goal to another without intention. Goals never end; we never quite measure up. And if we don't come from a place of intention, we might be pursuing the wrong goals. I like to look at intentions as "I" statements. "I am kind." "I am resourceful." "I seek joy in life no matter the circumstances." "I look for good in others." "I do things that keep me healthy and happy." Intentions are intrinsically who we are: our deepest essence. If you're still not sure, ask yourself who you want to be. Not as in doctor, fireman, teacher, preacher, but as in courageous, gentle, spiritual, encouraging. Intentions don't have to be one word adjectives. They can be phrases that describe who you are deep down. They become guidelines, road maps to how you react to situations. It takes time to figure out which values or intentions truly describe you, but once you understand them, you start to understand yourself.

The more you understand about yourself, the more you learn. You'll learn that you don't always act in a kind manner. That you don't always look for the good in people. But if those values define you, then kind and positive is who you truly are, even when your ego tries to take over the driving. It's a fine, never-ending balance between true self and the ego, but that is another conversation. For a deeper look at intention, take a few moments to sit with this article from Yoga Journal. It's a difficult read with a lot of Buddhist philosophy, but the concepts are quite applicable to people of all faiths or of no faiths.

Let's take a moment to redo the yoga class at the beginning of this post.

You walk into a yoga class with the goal of mastering crow pose. You find your place on the mat, eager and a little afraid, but determined. The instructor prompts you to set an intention for your practice, so you pause a moment and think to yourself, "I am grateful." The flow begins. With each breath, you think, "I am grateful." And then the instructor calls crow pose! You've got this! You begin to tilt into the pose, but your arms collapse. You try again, but can't quite get there. The class flows on to the next pose. You're disappointed, but you remember your intention: "I am grateful for the opportunity to have tried. I will try again later." You finish class calm and relaxed.

A simple adjustment, living life from intention rather than from goals, can make all the difference in the world. Have you ever confused intention with goals? What happened, and what did you learn?

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