Intentions, More Important Than Goals?

This morning I want to talk about intentions.

In one of the classes I’m currently taking, (I’m almost always taking a class of some sort. I believe continued education and exposing yourself to new ideas is an important part of over-all wellness.), we’re talking about the difference between “goals” and “intentions.” The course instructor is making the point that it’s possible to have a goal that you don’t really believe in, and maybe don’t really intend to keep. The point boils down to the fact that goals are a mental thing, while intention is emotional/spiritual.

It’s something I’ve never thought of before, but I suppose it’s true. Let’s say you go to your doctor for your back. Doctor says that he can prescribe this medication, and carrying around extra weight is probably making your back pain worse than it has to be. The doctor then recommends you take the prescribed medication, and lose 50 pounds.

You leave the doctor’s office and go fill your prescription. Along the way, you think the doctor might be right, maybe finally losing those extra 50 pounds might improve your health, so you decide you’re finally going to do it. Losing weight becomes your new goal.

The question is, do you really intend to do what’s necessary to lose the weight? Do you intend to change your eating habits, and move more? Are you into making this change heart and soul?

It might sound obvious, that if you lose weight you’ll feel better, but if your emotions aren’t invested in losing the weight, if you don’t INTEND to lose weight it’s much easier to justify not taking action. Think about how many times you’ve set a goal, and then justified not taking action toward that goal. It might look or sound like these:

  • “Just one piece won’t hurt.” (this is my big one)
  • “I don’t want to overdo.”
  • “I’m tired today, I’ll pick it back up tomorrow.”
  • “I’ll do it later.”
  • “This is dumb, it’s not going to help anyway.”
  • “Uncle Steve has the same back problem. Losing weight didn’t help him.”
  • “It runs in the family, there’s little I can do.”
  • “But, it’s a party, and I don’t want to be left out.”
  • “I don’t want my diet to be extra work for the host”.

In each of these cases, you allow yourself to make excuses for not taking actions that will lead to the success of your goals. There are lots of reasons people do this. Fear is the biggest one. Fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of success; there are as many reasons for sabotaging your own goals are there are people on the planet. We ALL do it.

And that’s the point here. Everybody struggles with this. One of the reasons we all struggle to meet goals is because we are not emotionally and spiritually invested in that goal. Maybe it’s something we’re undertaking because we thing we should, or because someone we respect or admire has told us we should. But, we are not emotionally invested in the outcome or the process.

That’s where this idea of intentions comes in. Intentions are different from goals in that they are emotional. Look at the word “intend.”

  • In– inside, within, etc.
  • Tend — something you take care of, something you nurture. You tend to a garden, you tend to your children.

I also just finished reading The 12 Week Year, and it’s changed the way I think about my yearly goals. This year I’m approaching my year planning a little differently than I have in the past. I wrote down all of our goals for 2020, just like I do every year. Then, I looked at each goal and made decisions about what could reasonably be accomplished in 12 weeks, and when in the year those things could/should be finished. For each 12 week goal I took the time to figure out WHY I wanted to accomplish it. What emotional benefit would I gain by doing the thing?

For example.. one of my health goals for 2020 is to (finally) lose those last 30 pounds for good. I’ve lost and regained the same darned 20 pounds for the past three years. It’s time to let go of the extra weight. I know I will feel better, have more energy, experience less inflammation, have fewer asthma problems, and feel better in the clothes that I love, if I drop those last 30 pounds.

Of course, I can’t lose 30 pounds in 12 weeks. But, I can lose 10 pounds in the next 12 weeks. That’s totally doable.

My intention statement looks like this: Over the next 12 weeks, I intend to lose 10 pounds, so that I weigh 170 lbs by April 12, 2020, in order to gain more energy, experience fewer asthma and MS symptoms, reduce systemic inflammation, and fit in my clothes better.

What I’ve done is identify my intention —what I am going to take care of within myself, defined the time frame — 12 weeks, and a deadline.. by April 12, 2020. I’ve also addressed the all important “why.” WHY am I doing this? What will it mean for me, for my life, if I do this thing?

For this to work you have to put thought into it. Intentions are internal. They matter to you for emotional reasons. What do you want to tend to or take care of inside yourself? Why?

Those are your intentions.

Personally, I break things up into categories. I have yearly goals along with 12 week intentions for every area of my life.

  • Health/Wellness
  • Family
  • Homeschooling
  • Marriage
  • Social
  • Finances
  • Home and Homesteading
  • Spiritual
  • Continuing Education

Your categories are probably different, and they should be, because they depend on your life, and what’s important to you.

The important thing is to take the time to recognize what’s important to you, and why. Many would say that the why is most important. If you can’t identify why you desire something, maybe it’s not really your desire. Maybe it’s someone else’s suggestion, or maybe it sounds like it makes sense to do it. Those are the things that become unfulfilled goals.

Figuring out what you desire, and what your ultimate intentions are isn’t always easy. Oftentimes desire and intentions are buried deeply in your emotions. One way to drill down to get the answers you might be seeking is to repeatedly ask yourself “why” until you get to something that is simple, and that you can act on.

Here’s one example from a coaching session I had with a client this week.

My client desires to eliminate processes sugar from his diet. He has diabetes, and his doctor has told him that oral medications aren’t working. The doctor has told my client that if he doesn’t make diet changes to accompany the medication he’s looking at taking insulin shots. My client (let’s call him Q) is also experiencing some of the more serious consequences of uncontrolled diabetes — he’s got sores on his feet that won’t heal.

Q emailed me earlier this week. He said he was having a serious chocolate and sugar craving, and asked me what he should do. He’s already removed all the sugar and chocolate from his home. Satisfying that craving requires driving into town.

First, we talked about the many nutritional needs that could trigger a craving for chocolate and/or sugar.

Then, I asked him to take a few minutes and journal about the craving. I suggested that he be really honest with himself about what he was feeling. Answer the question, “Why am I craving chocolate?”

His ultimate answer was that he felt bored.

“Why do I feel bored?”

Ultimately he answered that he felt bored because he was frustrated and out of sorts.

“Why am I frustrated and out of sorts?”

The ultimate answer was that he was angry with a family member.

“Why am I angry with this family member?”

He used this method to drill down and eventually understand what he was feeling that was causing his emotionally-driven cravings.

Notice, in each line I reference the ultimate answer. This was not a quick process. It was not an easy process. Q did a lot of thinking, and writing that day. But, he was able to push through what seemed like pointless examining in order to find the root cause. Why? Because he’s emotionally invested in removing processed sugar from his life. He INTENDS to remove the sugar, and because it’s an internal process he’s willing to do whatever it takes to get there so that he can avoid taking insulin shots, and avoid losing part of his foot.

This process of intention, and drilling down to understand why works in many ares of life, not just health. I know a business coach who uses a similar process with her clients, and a psych coach who uses the process with his clients. So, experiment and see if you can apply these techniques to other areas of your life.

Tell me your thoughts.