Goals without intentions is like air without oxygen

Goals without intentions are like air without oxygen

Imagine a car. It is filled with gas. But if you don’t have the key, what’s the use of it? That’s how goal setting process is. It helps you find out “what you want to achieve tomorrow?” But it doesn’t help you with constant motivation to get there. Hence, you start feeling from inside. 

Let’s take another example. You want to achieve a goal of moving up the corporate leader, i.e., a manager. You will create all the to-dos for the first few days. And once the reality sinks in, you will start wondering: What do I do now?

This concept was coined by a Harvard positive psychologist, Tal Ben-Shahar, who named it the “arrival fallacy.” If you think goal setting will result in happiness, you are mistaken. It will lead to a mindless or stretched game of fetch.

And if you fail to achieve your goal (which is the case mostly), you will seriously feel like a failure. Hence, the feeling of being empty from the inside further removes you from your goals. However, if you add intention to the mix, you will rely more on “what you are feeling right now?” It’s like focusing on the process than depending on happiness which is a by-product of the outcome of your goals. 

With intention, you will start considering the following:

  1. What is going well now in my life?
  2. Are there any areas in that I can progress?
  3. What do I wish to become? 

Unlike goal setting, which is an outward-driven approach, it is more inward in nature, and you begin with the question, “What is my purpose for this year?” In simple words, goals are more about tomorrow, and intentions help you stay focused on what’s happening now.

While we aren’t ignoring the importance of goal setting, here is why you must never go ahead with goal setting without intention.

The downside of goal setting: Why you should be mindful?

As we mentioned, your goals are often about something you want in the “future.” Usually, goals are something you can measure. But this will make you present more in the future, which isn’t yet here. But you will have no feelings in the present.

For example, goals like hitting a particular salary by the end of the year or hitting that promotion are great, and it’s understandable you want to achieve them. But humans want connection and purpose in life. Reaching such goals won’t make you feel connected.

This is why when you reach a goal. You stop feeling connected since you never addressed any core needs. In simple words, goals can be limiting. Intentions, on the other hand, can be more expansive.

Let’s take a few examples to help you understand the difference between goal and intention.

  • Goal: I want to grow financially and reach a salary figure of “X” two years from today.
    Intention: I want to be financially secure based on my current spending. 
  • Goal: I want to lose 15 kgs in the next 6 months.
    Intention: I want to feel energized and comfortable with my body. 
  • Goal: I want to become a manager in the next couple of years.
    Intention: I want to develop a mindset of upskilling and learning new technology to stay updated to be ready for the future of work.

That’s how goals and intentions can be. Goals are more like “what you should do”, while intentions are more like “whether it feels right” for you.

Honestly, it’s not your fault. Our brains are wired to feel rewarded when we achieve an outcome. But think again, what did you feel when you achieved a goal? Did the feeling last? If you did, how much time did it last, weeks? Days? Hours? Minutes? 

You will start chasing after another goal to get that feeling alive. This is why the intention-driven approach is the best. They are like wholesome meals that will make you feel satisfied while you chase your weight goals.

Here are some more reasons why intention setting is the best.

Intentions: Why You Should Consider it?

  1. Intentions are limitless: By now, you already have an idea that when you put in a conscious effort, it will impact positively. For instance, if you start making an intention towards positive choices, it will never stop you from achieving your goals. It’s about everyday choices to feel content and make it worthy. 
  2. Intentions are expansive: Intentions aren’t goals. Instead, they are about who you want to be, what you wish to contribute and how you choose to touch the lives of others. 
  3. Intentions can make you more effective: If you intend to be productive, you will find yourself in power to do things that will result in higher productivity or desirable states. You will keep an open mind towards gaining insights to achieve that intention.
  4. Intentions can help you get things out of your head: When you start working on your intentions, you will stop thinking about problems or limitations. Instead, you will focus on things that will help you positively impact your life.
  5. Intentions help you spot things you might have missed: You often get so absorbed by things that you stop noticing what’s happening around you. But such things can lead to wonders and might shift your perspective. So, when you start with an intention setting, you will know what you need and get started with the next steps.

So, it’s time to know more about goal setting with intention.

Let’s go ahead with “GOAL SETTING WITH INTENTION.”

If you want to create SMART goals, include “intention” in this concoction. It’s like goals will give you a destination, and intentions will provide the “why.” It’s like the feeling you will experience towards the end result. In short, it will give you purpose, drive, and desire to “SHOW UP” daily. 

Here’s how to set intentions

  1. Begin with stating your intentions: When you set your goals, say them and write them down. This would make you accountable. Now find small or repeatable actions to help you move towards that goal. While doing so, state your intention to accomplish every task.
  2. Be clear about your intentions: It is necessary to be clear about what you wish to achieve. The key here is to be mindful of your choices. That’s how you can make them a reality. The intention will remind you to remind what you want and the results you desire. 
  3. Keep your intentions positive: Anything in your life can be an intention. The role is merely to give you a focal point so that you can redirect your energy. Whatever your intention is, it must be something positive. For instance, the intention could be something like, “Today, I will be present or eat healthy things.” Don’t use negative emotions like, can’t, won’t, and so on. 
  4. Keep your intentions simple: Your intentions must be realistic and feasible. Set the intentions that can help you feel good about the typical part of your day. For instance, you can have intentions like “I want to get into my Monday staff morning more relaxed and connected to others.” When you get more accustomed to daily settings and intentions, they will be more like a daily routine than a far-fetched dream. 

Here’s an intention-setting exercise that can help you redefine your 2023. 

Begin by choosing a word (a noun or verb) that will define your year ahead. For example, 

Your word for 2023 could be consistency. So, the intention could be like, “My sole intention is to remain consistent with my upskilling and implementation of knowledge. I won’t think about the outcomes but will ensure to get on with it for professional growth.” Another example could be, “My word is depth. And I intend to gain knowledge and dive deeper into acquiring technical expertise for the future of work.” 

It could be anything like a word, purpose, or theme. Honestly, that doesn’t even matter. What’s important is that you are mindful of this word and use all the approaches to achieve it. 

Remember: Intentions are the driver of building habits.

You will enjoy the change that comes from changing your habits. Goals will only limit you towards one single outcome. Intentions are more about changing mindsets and habits to be open to different possibilities.

So, which one of your goals would you transform into your daily intention? What’s your word for 2023? If you are still wondering, let’s help you get started with intention setting!


Shikha Bhat

Shikha Bhat is a content strategist, content writer, and LinkedIn personal branding consultant. She writes books about leadership, DEI, psychological safety, mental health, and career-related topics. Before she started writing, she studied masters in biotechnology. Her love for writing led her to change her career and has 7+ years of experience in writing such topics.