It’s that time of the year…where everything is about goals (and reindeer!).
Career goals, life goals, business goals, and, of course, resolutions.
There was a time, not so long ago, when I lived by goal setting — and told others it was the way to go.
But I have to tell you a secret. I found something better to help achieve whatever you want to do and go wherever you want to go.
Sure, nothing beats a goal when you want to get things done. But an intention goes way deeper than that: it’s a powerful tool to boost your inner strength. And if you’re determined to grow through your actions, then an intention could be the key to unlocking a lifelong habit of excellence.
Here’s why setting intentions is the way to achieve your goals.
Goals or intentions?
Let’s have a look at definitions.
Goal: “An aim or desired result”.
Simply put: what you concretely achieve.
Intention: “Something that you want and plan to do”.
In essence: the process you go through until you get to “what you concretely achieve”.
I like to see goals as a practical, efficient way to see the future. Want to stay on track and hit a result? Then set a goal!
Setting goals works so well because it’s part of a cognitive process of planning and analyzing. It gives you full control over how you’re going to move from A to B. And your brain loves that. It rewards you with feel-good hormones such as dopamine each time you engage in the process.
Sounds great? But in the meantime, life happens. You find it hard to increase willpower and self-discipline and stick to the plan. When the time comes to evolve from motivation to resilience, it’s difficult to follow through.
If you’ve ever been stuck and found it difficult to embrace a positive perspective, then setting intentions could be a magic shift for you. Because your intentions support goals from the inside.
Setting intentions is the act of stating what you intend to accomplish through your actions. It’s a commitment to what you want the journey to be about as you move on or move up.
When you are intentional about something, your focus is in the moment: who you are, what you do, why you do it. And it requires presence along the way, checking inside as you work on the outside.
This is why setting intentions is the way to achieve your goals. Intentions bring a special quality of focus. They act as a powerful reminder of the bigger perspective. And they trigger introspection: result aside, what am I hoping to gain from the process?
The difference between setting intentions and defining goals
Let’s be practical. I will use one of my favorite examples (because I hear it every week): “I want to stand on my head”.
[If you’re not into yoga, believe me, people do want to do that. Badly.]
Let’s set a goal: achieve Shirshasana (aka headstand) and balance on your head for a good 30 seconds.
With that end result in mind, you’re going to practice hard, try (and fall, many times). Experience frustration (why others and not me) or even fear: what if the upside down is full of monsters? (Not kidding. For your brain, body upside down = scary thing).
Weeks, months or years later, high fives and champagne out, you’re finally upside down, noticing that (1) there are no monsters out there and (2) you need to carefully adjust your eyesight otherwise you squint.
How many of you would say “I made it!”? And think of the next thing to run after?
How many of you rejoice and then deconstruct the process: building upper body strength, overcoming fear, or developing the grit to stick to something that matters to you?
Now, let’s see what setting an intention would look like: simply to know how it feels to balance on your head.
You’re likely to pay attention to each moment where you get one inch closer to the end result. Notice that split second where you could lift your feet off the ground? What was missing to do more than 1 wobbly second? Is it balance? Strength? Lack of focus? Fear of monsters in the upside down?
Bear with me: we haven’t achieved the full 30-second headstand yet. But part of the result is real already. You’re in it. You have a high degree of awareness of the whole process. You integrate the benefits as you work on your target, no matter what the end result looks like, no matter when it becomes real. Your intention supports your goal 100%.
I’ll say it again, goals are great to get things done. But I know human nature well enough to tell you that they can be a trap. A trap where you focus so much on the outcome that you ignore the journey, its lessons, and the joy of going through it.
That’s why I think setting intentions is the way to achieve your goals.
How to work with intentions
Let me share with you how I do it for myself. Usually, setting intentions is for me a process that follows 4 principles:
- Always a positive affirmation
- Always on the back of a wider goal
- Always at a regular frequency
- Always part of a small ritual
Each month, I have a bit of quiet time (check this infographic 5 minute mindfulness rituals for leaders to know what to do). Then I have a look at my goals and I get to work with my intentions.
As my holistic view of life is to align whatever I do with body, heart, mind, and soul, I tend to do that with intentions, too.
Goal: go to bed at 10 pm 4x / week.
Body intention: I am rested and energized.
Goal: end a relationship with a partner in business who doesn’t meet my standards. Nicely.
Heart intention: I am compassionate towards people who don’t share my values
Goal: secure a new contract with a wellness supplier.
Mind intention: I am focused and address one obstacle after the other.
Goal: stop for 5 minutes each day and do some breathing work.
Soul intention: I am in tune with my feelings.
I remind myself about my intentions every day. I review progress on my goals every week.
Setting intentions on the back of your goals can act like magic. Because you bring a wider perspective of growing through your actions. You get into a self-exploration routine. And you do so each time you analyze your results.
How? By giving your inner leader a voice to ask ”is there another way to do this?” each time you feel stuck.