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Intentions versus Goals and Resolutions

Posted Sep 29 2008 1:04am

I never did set New Year resolutions. But I have set many goals at regular intervals, and then struggled with them. Over the course of 2007 I paid attention whenever I was struggling with a goal, and I have revised my own personal ethos around goal setting in general.

Now I’m no longer such a big fan of goals – sacrilege to my coach training! I haven’t given up on them completely – for really driven people who decide to do a thing and then single-mindedly pursue it, goals are definitely the way to go.

But I’m not one of those people. When I set myself a goal, although it’s usually something I really do want to achieve, it often starts to feel more like a “should” and less like a choice. And what I have learned about myself in recent months is that I actively avoid anything that feels like a “should”.

Shoulds drain my energy and don’t inspire me, even when I was initially highly motivated and energised by the desire that originally spawned the goal. This has posed many the dilemma for me. I had to find a way to go for what I want without turning the process of achieving that into a pressure that would cause me to procrastinate.

What I hit upon was intention setting.

Setting intentions is different to setting goals. It’s about getting to the underlying reason why we want to achieve our goals, and aligning our actions with those feelings. For example, if you want to lose weight, why is that? To be healthier, fitter, feel more attractive? By identifying what it is you really want, and setting the intention to be that way, you’ll find yourself acting accordingly with more ease and less struggle.

If you take a goal centred approach, it’ll typically be something like this:

Goal: To lose half a stone in 8 weeks

• One hour work out three days a week
• Thirty minute walk daily
• Cut out white bread, rice and pasta
• Drink two liters of water daily
• Eat low calorie meals
• Cut out all sweet snacks

You get the idea – one goal, lots of things you “should” do in order to achieve it.

An intention centred approach would look more like this:

Intention: To be fit and healthy

• Remind myself daily that I intend to be fit and healthy.

That’s it! Really!

When you remind yourself daily of your intention to be fit and healthy, you’ll find yourself acting as a fit and healthy person does, and making the choice to exercise more, and eat more healthily, rather than telling yourself you “have” to do it. The more often you make those choices, the more it becomes a habit, and before you know it you will indeed be a fit and healthy person.

Sounds too simple? Many’s the “too simple” technique that I’ve tried (with an open mind) only to be very pleasantly surprised by the effect. All of my family and friends were shocked at how much weight I lost last year when I set the intention to lower my cholestorel. They all wanted to know how I did it. I told them of the changes I made in my diet and exercise regime, but that wasn’t the secret to my success at all.

Whenever I set myself the goal of losing weight or exercising more in the past, I never succeeded. But this time I was focussed on improving a health issue and I just did what I needed to do without any inner struggle. I never had to push myself to do it, I just did it because I was completely in touch with my underlying desire. And there’s still no effort now in keeping it up.

If you’re similar to me and have always struggled with your goals, why not try this approach instead and see how you get on? The key to identifying your intention is to focus on how you’d like to be rather than what you’d like to be doing or having. Once you’re clear on this, then remind yourself daily of that intention. With that at the front of your mind you will naturally behave in a manner that supports that intention.

However, with my New Year Intentions I have gone a little further. I have made a list of some of the actions I could take (keeping them strictly as an option rather than a “should”) to help align me more with that way of being.

Here are some examples of my intentions for 2008:

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