Defining Goals and Intentions

Happy New Year! 2020 was one for the books, full of ups and down, uncontrollable factors, unimaginable adversities, and here we are now. The circumstances have not changed, but we have adapted and grown to create a new version of ourselves, one still facing challenges but perhaps with added optimism.

As last year ended, there was a surge of mixed messaging online regarding goalsetting for 2021. The different viewpoints ranged from stringent resolutions to kickstart the year, to having several back up plans, to not having any goals at all since everything can change at a moment’s notice. I, too, got caught up in what to do and what not to do, leading to the ultimate negative solution: doing nothing at all, and instead stumbled into January with the same chaos of the months prior. Now, as I complete my reflections, I realize the problem is not the mixed messaging, it is the definitions of all the different goal-related words thrown at us, the implications, and whether they align with our own personal values.

Reflecting on the Past

Let’s start with this one – how many of you took some time to sit with yourself, think, and possibly journal about the past year? Did you do this with a friend, peer, guide, or alone? Here’s the thing – it’s okay if you didn’t. Even those who journal, reflect, and meditate regularly may sometimes struggle with this as it can bring us face-to-face with certain realities we may be avoiding, or trigger unwanted emotions. One part of the reflection process is accepting the negative and changing the narrative to a positive one, which can be difficult to do on your own and may require extra support.

For those of you who were successful in your reflection process, I applaud you; it is not an easy feat and you pushed through. For those who did not do any reflections, be kind to yourself. We have all collectively gone through a year full of sudden changes and I personally did everything possible to avoid having to think about any of it until I felt it was right. If you do want to start laying out a foundation for the year(s) to come, however, you may have to open the vault so you can forgive the past and re-evaluate your values.

The way that reflections are a personal journey, so are goals and intentions. Both words are frequently used interchangeably but are quite different in their meanings and results. A better understanding of the differences may help you figure out how to make it happen for you.


If you are looking to get things done, then setting a goal is the recommended practice. The process entails deciding on one or many desired outcomes, and then figuring out all the little elements that come into play so you can achieve said goal. The acronym SMART is a common one attached to the term, implying goals need a great amount of detail and analysis. Goalsetting is very much future-oriented with little or no focus on internal factors. An example of a common new year goal is:

“I want to walk 10,000 steps every day. I will do so by waking up earlier than usual for a walk I will use my Fitbit to measure my performance”.

The question to ask here is, what happens if you aren’t able to do this one day? If you get sick or sleep in, or just wake up not wanting to go for a walk? Will you be comfortable forgiving yourself or will you try to double down with 20,000 steps the next day? Truth is you won’t know how you will react to a situation until it appears in front of you, but this is where Intentions come in to play.


While goals are focused on the future, intentions bring us back to the present moment. This allows you to decide exactly how you wish to be right now, regardless of what is happening to you and around you. The intent comes from deep within you, attached to your values, your level of awareness of self, and your relationship with your mind and others around you. I frequently use the term “Intentional Mindfulness”, which to me means being fully present in whatever I might be experiencing.

You might ask if the above example about 10,000 steps can be used as an intention, and it absolutely can, however, the analysis would be quite different. Setting a fitness goal as an intention begs the following question: Why is this important to me? Once you are able answer this you discover a value, which can then enhance your experience and provide you with alternatives if your goal is not successful.

So, which is more important? Ideally, you set both goals and intentions. Combining the two allows you to be authentically yourself, giving you a clearer vision of what you need in your present moment, ultimately paving your path to a desired future. If you are looking for a place to start, take a moment to write down five things that are important to you in your daily life, practices you would like to carry with you to your future, and guiding principles you see in yourself and loved ones. Once you visualize these words in front of you, you may perhaps start developing an image of how you intend on living your life and where you see it going. This entire process can be daunting, so take your time, ask for help if you need it, and be kind to yourself.

Of course, don’t forget to breathe.

I welcome you to reach out if you would you like to chat about your values, intentions, and goals, or need an extra push to get started. 

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