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5 Reasons Why Setting Intentions Is Better Than Setting Goals

Posted by Melanie Fisher on
5 Reasons Why Setting Intentions Is Better Than Setting Goals

"So what goals have you got for the year ahead, Mel?" An innocent question. It was New Years Day 2021 and I'd already battled my headache by braving THE coldest swim in the sea and was now sat down ready to battle my buckwheat pancakes. "Erm.." I mumbled something about money, something about making my own cosmetics and possibly something about moving out of London before quickly redirecting the question.

New Year Resolutions feel like a mandatory exercise. This question is almost as bad as those cringe conversations about all the ones you'd set last year but have failed to achieve. Studies have shown that as many as 92% of people don't actually achieve their New Year's Goals when they set them, so at least I'm not alone. 

This got me thinking though. If we're setting goals around living more sustainably, surely there must be a better way to ensure they actually happen and that we are fulfilled by them, rather than frustrated. An important undertaking for the planet as much as for ourselves. 

So what is the solution? Setting intentions. 

I like intentions because instead of being set in the distant future they're set in the present. They're a guideline for positive action that allows us be curious, to accept opportunities and to feel fulfillment in the process - rather than just at the end.

Now, don't get me wrong goals are extremely useful and I do still use them. They help me set a destination and give my life milestones, but intentions are also powerful, helping me choose a direction in the day-to-day and giving me purpose. They help me remain consistent and consistency is the key to success. 

5 Reasons Why Setting Intentions Are Better Than Goals.

1. Intentions are set in the present.

Setting an intention encourages us to be present and content with where we are today, which in turn makes us happier, more satisfied and grateful humans. By setting intentions on the here-and-now, we become more aware of what we have and the small actions we're taking towards becoming someone we want to be. 

And, with that being true, there really is no deadline on an intention either, removing the pressure to achieve X by Y.


2. They don't come with a success/failure metric.

I remember when I was taking my driving test and my goal was to pass with no faults so I could win back £500 of my tuition fee. My goal was clear, measurable and time-specific, but looking back it was a tad ambitious. I got one minor (the insult) and felt totally deflated afterward, despite it being a near-perfect score. Had I set an intention earlier in the year to become more independent, or to simply do my best, the effect on me would have been different.

With such a black and white metric it can be easy to be discouraged by our goals, or to feel like a failure when we don't reach them. With an intention, the stakes are lower and the rewards are accessible at every stage of our journey.

3. Intentions are about becoming, not achieving.

"A well crafted intention starts with your values and becomes a statement about how you want to show up in the world. They are a guidepost for who you want be...instead of what you want to 'do' or 'accomplish." - Christie Inge. I love the idea of becoming rather than achieving. In fact, who you become is the true value of a goal. Instead of the goal of 'doing 100 burpees' you become someone who prioritises fitness. Instead of 'never buying new clothes' you become someone who values their current wardrobe. 

It makes room for the grey areas, for curiosity and the deeper sentiment behind our goals to come through and thus it also motivates us to continue down our path long after the goal has been achieved.

4. Intentions widen our potential for growth.

Your intuition is all about intrinsically knowing what is best for you, and those things often don't show up as a binary goal. When you sit down and think about an intention for the year, you're opening yourself up to opportunities and experiences that can happen at any time, anywhere and therefore you increase your own opportunity to grow. The person who has become a climate activist is someone different from the person who attended x3 rallies.

5. Happiness isn't a leverage.

The Arrival Fallacy is a term coined by Harvard Positive Psychology Lecturer Tal Ben-Shahar who studies happiness. He describes it as "the illusion that once we make it, once we attain our goal or reach our destination, we will reach lasting happiness.”

We've all been there, we've assumed that when we earn 6 figures, achieve our dream body or complete a lifetime goal, we will finally be, and importantly remain, complete. But that does not appear to be true. Indeed both achieving the goal and not achieving it can be equally as unrewarding.

With an intention however, your happiness is prioritised and enhanced throughout the year and isn't held at ransom by achieving your goals. The words of Thich Nhat Hanh ring true in that “there is no way to happiness, happiness is the way.”

So, if you're convinced, follow these quick and easy steps to creating your own intentions:

1. Find a quiet space to sit where you won't be disturbed and, with a notebook and a cup of your favourite hot drink take a moment to look at the year ahead.

2. Jot down some thoughts around the following questions:

  • What do I need?
  • Who do I want to become?
  • What kind of people do I admire?
  • What is important to me?
  • What do I want more or less of?

3. Find a simple phrase, or just word that defines you intention for yourself this year. Don't worry about it too much. You can refine, it change it or develop it as you go. The idea is it to feel like an authentic, true expression of how you'd like to live this year.

5. Act on it. Go out into the world and act on your intention moment after moment and you might be surprised at all the things you achieve!

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