Why it’s good to think about intentions and not just goals

At the Lucky Things Meet Up in January 2017, we heard from one of the world’s leading mindfulness experts and neuroscientists Dr. Tamara Russell . She shared everyday tips on looking after ourselves. Tamara also talked to us about the value of setting intentions. When Tamara and I first planned our talk together, hearing her views on why intentions are helpful made sense. It completely changed my own outlook on setting goals.

Here are some highlights from the talk and why Tamara encourages us to focus on our intentions rather than goals. I’ve also shared how I’ve started to use intentions more. As a intro, here’s what Tamara’s has to say about intentions in her book Mindfulness in Motion (Watkins, 2015).

“Setting intentions is very different from setting goals. Consider the difference in the words intention and goal. First, drop the word goal into your mind and observe any words, thoughts or bodily sensations that arise in response. Repeat the word a few times.

Now do the same with the word intention.  The experience of doing this exercise really surprised me, so much so that I now try to work exclusively with intentions in every realm of my life. Goals have a rigid, external feel. They are ‘out there’ and we either achieve them or don’t achieve them. If we apparently appear fail to reach our goals, we tend to discard the successes we make en route.

Intention, on the other hand, has a softer, more flexible, dynamic feel. It has scope for modification and updating. Intention connects us to the stages of the journey, not just to a fixed end point, so success and failure are immeasurable – there’s only the journey itself.”

When Tamara talked about her views on intentions at the Lucky Things Meet Up, we then asked the crowd to share how the words goal and intention made them feel. Many agreed that the word goal made them feel…

  • under pressure
  • a bit tense
  • stressed out
  • there could only be one outcome.

On the flip-side, the word intention felt..

  • more supportive
  • more flexible
  • it was OK if things had to change along the way
  • you had a bit more control over what you were trying to achieve.

In many cases, it’s hard not to set goals but focussing on intentions can help us to be easier on ourselves when things don’t go to plan. I wrote about this in my recent blog post on Why failure can be a good thing. I was inspired by what Tamara mentioned about noticing the “stages of the journey” (or tasks or steps in my projects when it comes to my working world). Tamara reminded us that setting intentions can help us to deal with failure in a more positive way. We will be less harsh on ourselves as we will be more likely to acknowledge our successes (however small) along the way.  Intentions can also help us to be more productive as we are able to move on from any setbacks more easily.

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At the talk, we also asked the crowd to think about their own nurture wish or intention for the month ahead. I wanted to encourage people to come up with a manageable wish rather than asking for a commitment for the rest of the year. Tamara reminded us that it as cool if we didn’t get to fulfil our nurture wish, whether it was having a massage or eating healthily.

What is important is our intention to move closer to or even thinking about looking after ourselves better. I liked this approach as we feel less pressured to tick something off.

The months are flying by and so I’ve decided to set myself a few intentions each week and month. They give me direction and keep me focused on what I need to do when juggling work and family life.

As I’ve been thinking about my plans this year, intentions have come in handy. It’s an exciting way to broaden Lucky Things to encourage more women and men to network, build supportive connections in real life and invest time in themselves. I guess there are three intentions right there. I don’t see these things as three set goals as I feel it’s more of a flexible vision. I know I may need to tweak my plans as things progress. Thinking about intentions takes the pressure off if I can’t find the right date (at first), or things have to flex a bit when working with online spaces instead of venues.

Over to you…What do you think about setting goals? How does the word goal make you feel? Do you prefer to set intentions instead? Do you prefer to set number-focused targets or more qualitative targets? How do you feel about not meeting goals?

Sunita is a trained Business, Career and Confidence Coach and CIPD qualified HR professional with over 20 years in her field. To find out more about her recommended coaching services click here or you can browse forthcoming online meet ups and masterclasses right here. Need some expert advice on your CV or LinkedIn profile? Check out the options here. 

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Sunita loves running the Lucky Things®️ Meet Ups and Masterclasses – Since 2016, they’re known for being inclusive spaces all about looking after our confidence, careers (whatever we do in our week!) and wellbeing. Sunita’s colourful career kicked off in fashion and media, working with brands like Liberty, The Body Shop, Nike, I-D magazine and Italian Vogue. Her coaching and professional development career now focuses on helping others to feel confident so they move forward with their aims, ideas, plans or businesses.

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