We are taught within our society to set goals for ourselves. We are encouraged to know what we want for our future, to have hopes and dreams to aspire to. Not having a goal is often associated with being unmotivated, lazy, a “slacker.” But I think there is much value to be received from replacing goals with intentions.

Goals and our plans to achieve them are mental constructs. Setting a goal presupposes that we know exactly what we want for ourselves, not just right now, but also six months from now. This is a ridiculous notion. In six months, we will no longer be the person we are today. How can we possibly know today what we want our life to look like in six months? This keeps many of us from deciding what we want in the first place. The threat looms that we just might get it – and that once we’ve reached our goal, it won’t be what we wanted, after all.

The setting of intentions is very different than goal-setting. When we create an intention, we don’t have to come up with the details of what we want in our future. We provide merely an outline, perhaps tapping into a few specifics we think we may want.  We can be as vague as we like! The purpose of the intention is in connecting to the energy of what we wish to create, rather than the specific outcome itself.

Setting intentions involves a lot less pressure than setting goals. When we create a goal for ourselves, our mind attaches value to the achievement of our goal. It introduces the concepts of “success” and “failure.” If we reach our goal, then we “made it.” We are successful. Having an intention, on the other hand, allows for shifts and changes, for new and previously unconsidered possibilities. There is no attachment to a definite outcome – we set an intention, but understand that the Universe will interpret our intention according to our highest good. We know that it is quite possible that the Universe will manifest something far better than we could have ever imagined. There is no success or failure, merely a result. The result informs us about the level of alignment between our intention and our highest good. If an intention fails to manifest itself entirely, we recognize that we connected to an energy that is not currently in our highest good. If an intention manifests itself practically overnight, we recognize how immediately available that energy is to us. Neither is good or bad. It is simply a result that informs us of our highest path and purpose.

Just like a goal assumes that we know what we want for ourselves in the future, a plan assumes that we can actually predict how we’ll get there. Our minds will have us believe that we know exactly what the outcome of our actions will be. In the short-term, this may be true. If I pick up the phone and dial a certain phone number, I will reach a certain person. Or at least be able to leave a message. But how often have you implemented a plan with a slightly longer time-frame than the next five minutes that actually manifested itself exactly “as planned?” How many of us have ever planned a party, a vacation, or a marketing strategy that yielded exactly the results our mind had predicted? We’ve collectively come to realize that things rarely go according to plan. And yet, we keep planning. We come up with “plan B,” even though plan A didn’t turn out so well.

On the other hand, we set our intentions with the understanding that the “how” of manifesting it isn’t up to us. Instead of investing time and energy on a plan, we open ourselves up to receiving the opportunities that the Universe will bring our way, based on our intention. Because we do not know exactly how these opportunities will manifest themselves, we remain vigilant and open to receive the outcome of our intention. We take one step and then the next step as they reveal themselves to us. Each action energetically support our intentions, rather than yielding a specific result. For this reason, setting intentions anchors us in the present moment.

Through goals and planning, our minds prompt us to live in the future. Our present is focused on where we think we want to be and how to get there, rather than where we are. Never mind that the first thing we usually do when we reach our goal is rush out and get new goals, with barely a moment’s time to reflect on our accomplishments.

The mind uses goals and plans in order to stay in charge. Our minds do this in order to protect us from the fear of uncertainty. But that protection comes in the form of lies. The mind lies when it tells us that it knows what life we will want in one month, six months, or three years. The mind lies when it tells us that it knows the exact consequences of our actions. But they are seductive lies that give us an illusion of safety. In exchange for this illusion, we allow our minds to keep running the show.

As you begin setting intentions and letting go of goals, the mind will want to treat an intention like a goal. The mind will want to be specific, so that it knows exactly when the intention has manifested itself. It will want to make sure that the process of setting intention has worked. It will expect results. But when living through intention, there is no “there” to get to. It is an ongoing dance of setting our intention and witnessing the response of the Universe, so that we may then refine our intentions. This is how we hone in our highest path and purpose. By letting go of knowing exactly what this path will look like and how we will get there, it reveals itself perfectly, one moment at a time.

What goals of yours can you replace with an intention?  Leave your comment and share!

Blessings,
Andrea

23 Comments

  • Ooh, I dunno Andrea – I’m a big advocate for constructing goals and objectives and breaking these into tasks so I can work efficiently towards achieving them. Yes, I like the word ‘intention’ and can see how it can be useful in some areas of my life – personal, spiritual, and through creative expression. But where work is concerned my left brain kicks in and wants to lay out plans in an organized fashion. And using the word ‘goal’ doesn’t mean I can’t be flexible or change course. Would the work get done if I set intentions instead of goals? I wonder… It’s a good challenge; good food for thought!

  • Andrea says:

    I know, it’s kind of scary. Goals and plans make us feel very productive! But you’d be surprised how productive we are when we’re not constantly thinking about how we are going to get where we are trying to go, or what will happen if we do this or that. Observe your mental activity, and how much is tied up in the future. If that same amount of energy were invested in actually moving out of the present moment into the next moment, it’s stunning how much you can get done.

    My case in point: I wrote one book, and two levels of my professional training program this year. And the training programs were basically another book each, plus about 10 hours of audio lecture each. And all the production issues that go along with big products. And I’ve grown my business and my blog, done publicity radio interviews, started a new coaching program … it goes on and on. And I only work part-time, because I have a two-year-old. And I’m NOT stressed! If all that had been a “goal,” I think I’d never even gotten started! So, I had a goal-less and intention-full year, and it was definitely the most productive year of my life, work-wise.

    Try it out! It’s kind of scary at first, until you get used to just putting one foot in front of the other. And then you suddenly realize that you’ve come miles and miles on your journey!

    Blessings,
    Andrea

  • Wow, this is one tough one for me!

    Setting goals has gotten me to where I am today. In my earlier years, I did not set goals and was basically just goofing around. I had many intentions – to be rich, to be famous, to be popular. Well, none came true…

    But I think I understand where you’re coming from, Andrea. Sticking to goals simply for the sake of sticking to them doesn’t make sense. Sometimes, situation develops and we have more information to make better decisions. As such, we should have the flexibility to adjust our goals accordingly.

    My 2 cents worth.

  • KL says:

    Andrea,

    I love this article. And I LOVE your amazing year – congratulations. Your book rocks, so you’re definitely on to something there!

    Setting goals hasn’t worked for me for awhile…. but I’ve also felt like I was drifting somewhat. I can see how using intention melds this process together so there is still intuitive flow with some direction. Kinda the difference between floating on a lilo down a river, and being in a canoe with a paddle. Both ways use the current… but the canoe can work with it more effectively!

  • Mags says:

    Andrea, you have a knack for explaining things so clearly! I’ve always battled with the word “intention”, because I was told as a child that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” 🙂 As a result, I’ve tended to associate intentions with vague amorphous things that just get you nowhere! But, now, after reading your latest blog entry, I have an entirely new take on intentions. I feel like I can let that old script go since I have something to replace it with – thank you!

  • chickpea says:

    Hi Andrea

    Can you explain a bit more about how to differentiate between setting a goal and setting an intention.

    For example, if I were to write a list and choose between, say, setting a goal or setting an intention of writing a novel next year, it could just appear a question of semantics. Is there a different way I could phrase it (I\’m a list writing kind of a person!).

    Thanks

  • Todd says:

    GREAT stuff Andrea. I love posts like this and will think about how I can do this personally!
    Todd
    Founder We The Change

  • Andrea says:

    Lawrence – I knew this one would be a hard one for you! I so appreciate you reading it past the first paragraph … 🙂 I think there’s a definite difference between having intentions (as in, one day I’m going to be rich and famous) and setting intentions. Setting intention is a definite act of will. There is determination and certainty attached. But there is no attachment to the outcome. So I’m definitely not advocating just wafting around life with no direction whatsoever.

    And I agree with you – “stick-to-itiveness” within our goals can lead us nowhere sometimes.

    KL – awesome analogy, thank you so much for bringing that awareness here! You have such a great way of putting it. (And I’m so glad you like the book – hurray).

    Mags – Like I mentioned to Lawrence, intentions can definitely be, as you say, vague amorphous things (great image!) in the back of our brain that say “one day …” But defined intentions are unbelievably powerful.

    Thank you, as always, for these awesome comments and for adding to the discussion.

    Blessings,
    Andrea

  • Andrea, this is a great challenge to consider. One pattern that I’ve noted working with clients (particularly creative people – artists, writers, actors, musicians – whose sense of purpose and spiritual identity is interwoven with their work) is the confusion between a Purpose, a Path, and a Project.

    A sense of meaning and purpose is a vibration, an energy, operating at a higher level, across any situation, scenario, goal, or time-frame – a Purpose is a source of energy on a boundless scale – this is what I hear as the Intention you describe.

    Setting an Intention – manifesting the What and not the How – is not the details, the action steps, the goals or the Project you use energize with – from – that Intention.

    Now, I do believe you can use that Intention as a source energy to fuel all kinds of things – goals, projects, opportunities, relationships, endeavors – an Intention is something like a battery.

    Think of the difference between buying a pack of AA batteries at the store and selecting the devices these little energy packets will power… Some devices – projects/goals/actions – may take two batteries, some may require four…

    And of course you can take your camera or your iPod or whatever it is and say “I’m going to use this device!” – the Project, the Goal – and it doesn’t work without the batteries. Sometimes, the batteries need to be recharged, replaced…

    For me, the energy you establish with an intention is a Charge – with any number of applications. Setting that intention, filling your well, energizing, refueling, gearing up, receiving – this is not the projection. It’s not the challenge you will “zap” with the power or turn on.

    I feel that we approach Goals as devices *batteries not included, and drive ourselves nuts wondering why “it won’t GO!” We assume the device, goal, action itself is broken…

    So, when I work with someone to identify what’s “missing” – it could be the Energy/ the Intention, it could be something to use that energy for, on, some way to release the power.

    You can’t really fail at a sense of purpose – Purpose is imminent, inherent – you need to check your batteries. If your batteries are “fresh” then you can ask “What’s my Project?”

    Hope I haven’t commandeered the discussion, missed your point entirely, or derailed the thought process too far along my tangent here.
    🙂

  • Andrea says:

    Chickpea – since you asked … I had to write a whole new post! Thank you for the inspiration! Here it is: http://www.empoweredsoul.com/blog/?p=159
    Blessings,
    Andrea

  • Andrea says:

    Slade – What an AWESOME analogy! Thank you, thank you, for adding this comment here. Yes, the intention is the “fuel” … and that energy can express itself in so many ways, none of which are really important in and of themselves.

    I’d love to add that, when the “batteries” meet the appropriate “device” or project, the batteries themselves get recharged, expanded. Maybe they become a “D”-size battery when before they were “AA.” But then they’ve outgrown their original devices, and need bigger projects, new expressions.

    Thank you so much for adding this perspective!
    Blessings,
    Andrea

  • Dreamsenshi says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this one! I think so many people, particularly in my age group where we had all these goals and plans for ourselves in high school, then went off to college and realized we didn’t know what we really wanted at ALL . . . we tend to get wrapped up in this, “Oh no! I’ve lost my goals!” And, when you watch even one of your friends succeed with their long-term goals, you feel like you somehow have failed, even though you haven’t at all! You’ve discovered something new about yourself, even if your goals don’t end up the way you had planned. I think this is so important to knowing who we really are and not just losing ourself in some identity we feel is the only one which is acceptable (like you mentioned, not having goals tends to be associated with laziness).

    Anyway, thank you again! It seems like whenever I read your blogs/e-mails, it’s just the answer I was looking for in that moment to figure out how to get passed the obstacle I’m at in my head. =^–^= Sometimes I guess I just need an objective thought from someone else to help me get through to myself. :}

  • I like intentions a lot better than goals. I look forward to reading your second article.

  • I enjoyed this post. Personally, I have found setting intention and then paying attention has led me down some wonderful life experiences. Our intuition will lead us to our highest good if we can get out of the way.

  • […] I found what I need for the coming year in an article by Andrea Hess, provocatively titled ‘The Value of Tossing Out Your Goals‘. In it, she talks about the difference between goal-oriented planning and setting […]

  • Liara Covert says:

    Thanks for reminding us of new value to be discerned in impermanence. Since human beings are constantly changing, it is useful to learn to be accepting of things we’ve done in the past. Who we are now isn’t the same person. I like how you also underscore the value of unconditional love and compassion and how they transcend time and space. Your reflections can assist people to learn why they may judge others and be their own harshest critics. We can all evovle to rise above whatever holds us back.

  • Andrea,
    A friend recommended that I read these two posts and I am glad I did.
    It rings true for me. Experience has taught me that when I set an “intention” I can feel the energy of the flow and I am guided. Whenever I set a “Goal” the competitive mind took over and too often I would get caught up in the “what do I do next?” rather than the knowing that is always present if I just get quiet and listen.

    The Energy of an “intention” feels much more loving and compassionate than the energy of a “Goal”.
    For me the words and semantics really make a difference.

  • Andrea says:

    Dreamsenshi – I’m so glad you brought up the point of comparing ourselves to others when it comes to goal-setting. You’re right – wherever we end up is a success because we’ve learned something new. And we cannot possibly use someone else’s journey as a way to measure our own success. Thank you so much for bringing up this topic! And I’m so glad my articles seem to be timely for you! 🙂

    Patricia – thank you!

    Deborah – yup, the “paying attention” part is the greatest benefit to moving forward this way. Because all the good stuff really does happen right now.

    Liara – thank you so much for your insightful comment! You’re right, there’s an important aspect of impermanence in this work. We can’t get attached to who we were, because we’re no longer that! What’s the old saying – the only constant in life is change?

    Karen – I’m so glad you stopped by! You have a lovely blog! To me, goals and intentions have a completely different energy attached, also. I don’t think it’s just the words – we truly work differently with these concepts. Perhaps because one is more receptive, whereas the other is more aggressive?

    Thanks as always for the comments!
    Blessings,
    Andrea

  • […] talked a great deal in recent articles about letting go of goals and and setting intentions, instead. But there is another side to this way of flowing through life that I’d like to […]

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  • Jen says:

    Well I’ll be….I currently describe myself as a petal blowing in the wind. People ask me what am I going to do with myself – my mother in particular – ‘set some new goals’ she says. Funny that I can’t…don’t want to…but I do have intentions and have had them for 6 months! I intended to get better – that is happening, intended to lose weight, get fitter – that is happening, intended to widen my social circle – that is happening, intended to find my self confidence – that is happening. None of these have an end point or outcome – I won’t suddenly stop my diet and exercise on reaching the goal of 60 kilos! Instead I will continue to eat healthy and exercise. If I crumble to pieces in my job, my relationships, i will learn what i can from the moment and continue from there – there can’t be fail if there was no intended specific outcome. I am now wondering just how many of my students would be able to answer the question ‘what is your intention’ instead of ‘what is your goal’ in completing your VCE…Thankyou.

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