Don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions? Set both goals and intentions to focus on tangible future outcomes and the intangible present moment.
Many New Years’ Resolutions are a fuzzy mix of wishful thinking, outlandish goals and vague intentions, coloured by guilt from all those prior resolutions we’ve messed up on! Effective goals and intentions are distinct and mutually supportive. Like the shadow of the roadside photographer in this image, your intentions shape every step of your journey toward your destination.
Goals and Intentions
A recent client wanted to establish the credibility of her new team—and herself—as she led them in making the difficult transition from marketing support to sales. To do this, she set both goals and intentions. One goal was to meet the annual sales target. A key intention was to motivate the team through enhanced soft leadership skills and personalized mentoring.
Most of know about and are held to account for achieving goals. A clear goal describes a tangible, objective outcome that will be achieved at a certain point in the future. It describes the destination. A clear goal is SMART; Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timebound. Some goals are also behavioural, e.g. improving your golf stance. My behavioural goal this year is to align my walking gait with toes pointing straight forward, so my knees don’t hurt so much!
While goals are objective and future focused, intentions are subjective and present focused. They may describe your purpose, or reflect your values. They may be intangible, but need not be fuzzy. Intentions describe your journey.
Goals and Intentions Work Together
Goals and intentions should be mutually reinforcing. Some people are energized by their goals, e.g. I want to lose 7 pounds by March 15, then evolve intentions to support them… So I will eat healthy delicious foods to feel energized and good about myself.
Others start off with intentions, e.g. I want to establish the credibility of this new team, then evolve relevant goals … So I will need to meet the annual sales target.
How to Set Intentions
There’s a lot of good material, particularly in the project management literature, on how to set good goals. [click_to_tweet tweet=”How to do you set clear intentions that move beyond wishful thinking? Remember Specific, Positive, Stretch, then Get Mindful.” quote=”But how to do you set clear intentions that move beyond wishful thinking? Remember Specific, Positive, Stretch, then Get Mindful.”] Your intentions should be;
- about a specific action or attitude
- positive, for yourself or others
- a stretch for you, at the edge between realistic and slightly crazy.
My client wanted to motivate her team through soft inter-personal skills, so she set the intention to start off every meeting on a positive note, even when sales numbers were lagging. I want to avoid painful knees, so I set the intention to be aware of my foot positioning, particularly on stairs.
Get Mindful with your Intentions
Since intentions are subjective, it’s easy to lose focus, or not bring them into your lived experience. Bringing mindfulness to your intention setting is a way to make them very specific, personal and flexible.
Here’s a simple mindful awareness practice to support your intentions.
Take a period of 5 minutes daily to bring your intentions vividly to life in you. Recall your intention, in general terms. Then, sitting quietly;
- See It.Visualize yourself enacting the intention, in whatever way seems relevant. Athletes visualize their ideal play all the time, as a way to perfect ‘their inner game’. If you’re nervous doing public speaking, visualize yourself speaking calmly or passionately with your audience
- Hear It. Repeat a short phrase to yourself that supports your intention. “I have what it takes.” “They want to hear what I have to say.”
- Move It. Make a slight physical gesture that embodies and symbolizes your intention. It could be a slight arm movement for an athlete, or a straightening of posture for the public speaker. This should be something you can readily do anytime during the day, to remind your body of your intentions.
You would think that this kind of mindful intention practice would be a lovely, blissful experience. But, you could be wrong! It is quite common to feel the opposite reaction. If you want to feel calm, you may experience anxiety. If you want to feel l like a winner, you may experience doubt.
Do NOT take this opposite reaction as a sign of failure, but as a sign of successful growth. Think of it like an inoculation, where you allow yourself to experience the dark shadow side of your intention, in a safe contained way.You allow yourself to experience some dissonance and stress, as a way of building resilience.
If you do experience an opposite reaction, take it in stride, bring some equanimity to it, and tell yourself that your intentions are coming from a deep core inside you.
How Will You Know if Your Intentions are Effective?
Like mindfulness practice, you know whether your intentions are effective NOT by how you feel when you do intention practice, but by its effect on your life. Here are some ways of checking whether your intention practice is effective.
- Did you do the mindful intention practice today? This week? Before a critical meeting or situation?
- Are you doing the mindful intention practice, even when it feels awkward?
- Is your intention having a positive effect on your relationships? On your attitude toward others?
- Is your intention having a positive effect on your actions and behaviours? On shaping your goals?
- Is your intention becoming a source of energy, creativity, joy or calm?
Let 2019 be the year where you bring together both your goals and intentions, and interweave both the journey and the destination. Happy New Year to you!