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What’s the Difference in Intentions vs Goals?

What is the difference in intentions vs goals? Though the two are different, they can be successfully intertwined. Intentions are a large concept that you try to work your actions around. Goals are concrete actions that you want to accomplish by a certain deadline. When considering what to set (intention vs goals) it does not have to be one or the other. I will tell you how I have used both of these in harmony together in a minute, but first let’s look further into exactly what each one is.

What does it mean to set your intention vs setting a goal?

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An intention is broader. A goal is a specific action. For example, I have both an intention set for this year as well as goals that revolve around that intention. (You may have heard of intentions described as choosing one word in regards to starting off a New Year.) My word, or intention, for this year is GROW. That’s a pretty broad intention and applies to many areas of my life. A goal would be more specific such as “I want to grow in knowledge this year (intention) and I will do it by reading 2 books per month for a total of 24 books this year (goal).

Why is setting intentions important?

Setting intentions vs goals give you a broader starting point. Intentions are also usually positive words and with an intention, there are no concrete actions so there is no failing. Since my intention for this year is GROW, there’s no way that I can’t grow in some capacity as a person over the next year. However, if I focus on growing, then I will likely see more growth than I would if I had I not set the intention. Setting intentions narrows our focus and helps us to work on one broad category at a time. It gives a central word to revolve our goals around.

What is a good intention?

A good intention is one that is phrased positively and that has personal meaning to you. Intentions have to be very personal to give them weight. Sometimes with New Year’s Resolutions, we set the ones that we think are expected or that we “should” set. That’s not the case with intentions. With intentions when you are asked to share them it’s not quite as daunting because that one broad word can have many different meanings. Even when you share it, you still don’t share everything that’s on your heart about it. GROW might mean something totally different to you than it does to me.

Related: The Secrets of Sticking to New Year’s Resolutions

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What are positive intentions vs goals?

Intentions should be a positive word that improves your life in some way. That’s one of the differences in intentions vs goals – goals do not have to be phrased positively. Most of them are overwhelmingly neutral. Goals are cut and dried, which may explain the bad feelings that some people have towards them. Intentions, on the other hand, have no set deadline and are usually broad and vague. That is not always a bad thing. A positive intention should be something that makes you feel good just thinking about improving it. It should have some personal meaning to you and your life.

What are some examples of intentions vs goals?

Now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty and look at some examples of intentions vs goals. They are not the same thing, but they do pair nicely together.

ForgivenessI will email someone that has wronged me in the past and tell them I forgive them by next Tuesday.
LoveOnce a week for the next 3 months, I will reach out to someone I love using one of the love languages that means the most to that person.
(See Best Ways To Show Someone You Care for advice.)
FaithI will pray nightly before I go to bed each night for a month. (By which time it can be made into a habit.)
PatienceI will learn 3 techniques to respond instead of reacting when I get mad this week and apply each of them as often as I can next week.
PerseveranceThings may be tough right now, but I am going to concentrate on one thing at a time for the next month so that I don’t get overwhelmed.
GratitudeI will write down 3 things that I am grateful for every night for a week in my journal.

Do intentions always have to be one word?

No, intentions do not always have to be one word. I like the one-word intentions, but if that does not work for you, then make something that does. Your intention could be something like:

  • improving athletic skills.
  • decluttering the house
  • learning to sew
  • learning a new language
  • reading more
  • getting a project done

If the one-word intentions do not work for you, or you find them too broad or vague, then revise it to what works for you. Intentions are very personal.

What is turning intent into reality mean?

In order to turn your intention into reality, you have to take action on it. Those actions need to be specific things that you can do, such as the goals in the table above. This is where it becomes intentions AND goals instead of intentions vs goals. Goals will take your intention from a vague word that sounds good and make you feel warm and fuzzy to a word that has power behind it. Goals take your intention and turn it into reality so that you can live your intention.

How do you turn intentions into actions?

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I’m so glad you asked! In order to turn your intentions into actions, you have to first decide what actions you want to take. You can do this as formal goal setting or you can leave it more loosely defined. I suggest starting with a small action. Small consistent actions add up to big results. For example, if you wanted to declutter your house, then you could designate a 15-minute time frame to work on it every day.

If you opt not to do formal goal setting with SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely), I do suggest you at least put something on your schedule that aligns with your intention. All too often I find that I do not get around to things that I intend to do if I never put them on my to-do list.

What does living with intention mean?

Living with intention means that you are mindful of how you spend your time. This does not mean that you spend all your time chasing your goals and working. This means that you take time to be mindful and enjoy leisure activities and time with your family, as well as work hard and pursue your goals. Our brains are not designed to be on “work” mode all the time. We simply cannot be productive 100% of the time. Our brains and our bodies need rest too. Live in the moment and enjoy those times when you are engaged in leisure activities or spending time with family and friends. Work hard, but remember to balance it with rest and soaking in all the good times.

How to use your intentions to guide your goals

I think that goal setting has gotten a bad name because with a goal you either accomplish it, or you don’t. At least, that’s how most people approach it. My viewpoint is that there is nothing wrong with modifying your goals as needed. Goals help to move your intention into action. I had the intention to increase my fitness level for years. I would do small things like go for a walk when I could and try to not over-indulge. But I didn’t see real progress on that intention until I got serious about setting the goals that supported it.

Why it should be intentions with goals instead of intentions vs goals

Goals give strength and structure to your intentions. Without goals, intentions are nice ideas. You can’t fail at them, but often you don’t see real progress until you make goals to support them. Think of your goals as the “framework” that is covered by your intention. When a room is built, first the foundation is laid, then the floor built, and then the walls are framed. When you see the finished room, you don’t think about the boards in the walls that support it. You just see the finished room. However, that’s what’s holding the whole thing together. Our goals are the supporting structure that holds up and gives shape and definition to our intentions.

When we see the finished successful result, we often do not think about the steps needed to get there. However, without those steps, we would not see the finished result. Intentions and goals can work beautifully together.

Related: How to Set Your Priorities in Life

Why You Need to Define Your Core Values – What they are and how to do it

How to set goals that support your intention

So how do you actually set the goals that support your intention? Let’s look at the steps below. I will use my intention for this year (GROW) as an example.

1. Define your intention and what it means to you.

I already shared with you what my one-word intention was for this year (GROW) but I did not tell you what it means to me. There are many areas of my life that I want to grow in. Some of these areas include:

  • the blog, Contentment Questing
  • My knowledge and application of personal development
  • my closeness to God and my spiritual life
  • in my relationship with my husband
  • blogging how-to (It’s a never-ending learning process)
  • fitness

2. Instead of intentions vs goals, think “How can I apply my intention?”

Now, since I have identified a few of the areas I want to grow in, I ask myself “What can I do to support my intention and turn it into actions?” Some of these may be to continue doing things that I am already doing. Some of them may be new things I want to add in. For this example, I’m going to take one of the above categories to focus on.

My knowledge and application of personal development – I ask myself, “How can I grow in this area?” I come up with several ideas:

  • Read books
  • Practicing what I read (like mindfulness, not worrying, reacting instead of responding when I get mad, filling my cup, avoiding overthinking, not taking things personally, etc)
  • Writing blog articles on what I read and learn – sharing it helps me to process the information and learn it better and it helps you as well!
  • Using teachable moments to convey the concepts to my kids. (You remember 80% of what you teach and you better believe your kids are watching your walk and measuring it with what you say.)

3. Pick one

Some people stop with step 2. That will get you farther than just naming your intention. However, if there is a specific area that I really want to concentrate on growing in, then I will set goals for that area. It’s important to not set too many goals at once. If you are new to goal setting, then just pick ONE to focus on. It’s much easier to make small consistent changes to achieve one goal than to try to make many big changes at once. That almost never works.

We are going to pick just one for our example. “Read books” is a great idea. I like reading and I need to do more of it. While I have made progress in the other 3 bullet points above, the reading books one still needs work. So let’s set some goals for it.

4. Set SMART goals that align with your intention.

SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely. When you set a goal in this format, it helps set you up for success because it plans specific action in a certain time frame.

For our example, I want to read 24 personal development books this year. Now, let’s run it through the SMART goal test.

S – Specific – Personal development books

M – Measurable – 24 is a measurable number

A – Achievable – Is it possible to read 24 books in one year? That averages out to 2 books a month, so yes, I can do that.

R – Relevant – yes, reading books is a relevant way for me to grow in my personal development knowledge. It’s one of the best ways that I learn.

T – Timely – yes, there is a time frame on it. I have to be done by December 31, 2020.

5. Break it down into smaller, more bite-sized goals

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Sometimes thinking about the big picture that’s far ahead in the future overwhelms me. Instead of thinking about “I have to get all this done by the end of the year?! Ack!” and procrastinating, I break it down into more immediate bite-sized pieces. Small consistent actions done over a long period of time can add up to tremendous results.

Thinking of reading all 24 books at once might seem like a lot. However, if I break it down into 2 books a month, that’s much more bite-sized. I can read a book every 2 weeks. If I find myself procrastinating, I might break it down even more. Think of a smaller action that you could do once a day, for example, you will find yourself at your goals before you know it. If I needed to, I could say that I will read for 15 minutes every night after supper while the kids are cleaning off the dinner table. It’s something that happens almost every night, and there is a behavior of finishing supper for me to anchor it to. It makes reading a part of my routine.

6. Follow-through

All the planning in the world and setting goals will not do you any good if you do not follow through. Action is what gets goals accomplished. No amount of wishful thinking is going to get those books read this year. I have to actually follow through and do what I say I am going to do. Remember why you set your goals and your intentions in the first place. That will often get you through the action, even on the days you don’t feel like it.

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The last thing you need to know about intentions vs goals

When I had the intention of getting into shape, I did not make much progress towards it until I set concrete goals to support it, about four and a half months ago. I would go for a walk every now and then or eat one or two healthy meals. I even bought a smartwatch to track my steps. However, when I decided that I was tired of shying away from mirrors and decided that I needed help, I started to see progress. I decided that the intention alone was not powerful enough to carry me through to the results that I wanted. Since setting goals that support my intention, I have seen significant progress.

I want this for you too. I want you to see tangible results in your life. Don’t just set your intention, leave it as a vague idea, and walk away. When you think intentions vs goals you do not see nearly as much progress as when you combine the two. I want you to LIVE your intention in order to have a life that you love and enjoy more. What is your intention or one of your goals? Leave me a comment below! I’d love to hear from you.

4 thoughts on “What’s the Difference in Intentions vs Goals?”

  1. I love this! Because really, how many of us set a word of the year *raises hand* and then forgets about it. Oi!

    This gives me another way to think about this idea of intention and it’s relationship to goal setting. I had never connected the two. This changes a lot in my brain about how I am creating and attempting my goals. Thank you so much for this different handle to hold this idea. ?

    1. I’m so glad this helped! I have also set a word and forgotten it by February. You are not alone on that. You are going to slay your goals this year, Beth!

  2. aprilatshapelyways

    Great post and so true! I often either set intentions without goals or goals without intentions. Gets me in trouble every time. Such a good reminder to make sure both are in place for a more positive outcome.

    1. Thanks, April! I have found that using both really helps both intentions and goals. I’m glad to hear that you have had the same results!

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