Friday, January 31, 2020

Intentions or goals? What's the Difference and Why Does It Matter?

Intentions or goals? What's the Difference and Why Does It Matter?

I have never been one who put much stock in setting New Year resolutions. Setting them never made much of an impact on my life, or took me very far into the year. Yet, I have been one who has continually sought change in my life. Not change for the sake of change itself, but rather a continual desire to become who God desires me to be. To me this is at the heart of spiritual formation. Over the years the practice of choosing a word to guide me through the year has been a significant tool to help with the goal of "Christ being formed" in me. (Galatians 4:19)

In conjunction with using a word as a lens on life through the year, has been the practice of setting intentions. A few weeks ago my friend, Bernice Hopper, asked me what I thought was the difference between intentions and goals. Here was my answer to her:
"I think the main difference between goals and intentions is in how you view them. Goals are usually specific in nature and are future oriented. I want to save 100.00 each month or I want to lose 20 pounds. Intentions are usually focused more on daily living in the present moment and lean toward habit forming and lifestyle. Both play a role. In fact intentions can help us meet goals. But I tend to prefer intentions because I think they help create a lifestyle or mindset instead of just completing tasks. Intentions can help us become the type of person we want to be. So instead of simply setting a goal of how many pounds I want to lose, instead my intentions are to eat healthier for my overall health. As I work on that I may or may not lose the pounds but will gain so many other health benefits. If I simply have a goal of losing ten pounds then every time the scale doesn't change I feel like I have failed."
Today I would like to expand on my answer to Bernice and explore a bit deeper into the topic. Here is a brief, basic rundown of goals and intentions from various definitions I found online:

Future oriented
Present oriented
Concrete, tangible, specific
Aspirational, values-based characteristics
Action oriented
Way of being
Usually have a fixed outcome
Often ebb and flow as you grow
Generally more outwardly focused
Generally more inwardly focused
Usually focused on an end result
More focused on day-to-day living

I think both goals and intentions are valuable. However, I do tend to lean more toward using intentions, and here is the main reason why. To me, setting intentions is about making choices in my daily living that focus on who I want to be, more so than on what I want to get done. And this is based on a value for me: Doing flows out of being. Who I am is more important than what I do, and I want what I do to flow out of who I am. Who I am is about my character and my heart. I can change behaviors or habits and still have no change in my character or outlook. Because I also value authenticity - I want what I do to reflect who I am, or put another way - I want my actions to reflect my heart. And my heart is continually being transformed as I intentionally seek to be formed in the image of Christ.

So, I focus on intentions when looking at how I want to live out my word of the year. And I keep my values before me as I set those intentions. Then setting goals can help me put action to my intentions. But all of it is determined by my "why" - the values that guide my life. 

Some of my core values are:
  • Faith first. Matthew 6:33 "Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness" has long been a guiding verse for me. 
  • Doing flows out of being. Who I am guides what I do. You see this principle laid out in many of Paul's letters in the Bible. He gives a doctrinal foundation of who we are in Christ before he goes into instructions on how we are to live.
  • Wholeness is the goal - seeking health in spirit, mind, body, emotions (Luke 10:27). Over the past few years I have used each of these areas as a guide to set my intentions.
  • Authenticity. I highly value honesty and being real. I want the outside to match the inside. It may not always be pretty, but it is character shaping.
  • Life long learning. Especially in the pursuit of spiritual formation, but other areas too. I am always curious!
So, then, each year when I have chosen a word through reflection and prayer, I set intentions for my word to be lived out through the year using my values as a guideline. I shared my mind map for my word a few weeks ago.

In keeping with the theme of my word, fruit, I used agricultural words to head each of my areas of focus. And my areas of focus are divided into the four areas of life that make us whole beings. 

Spiritual: This is a big focus for me this year. Since fruit is not something we can produce ourselves, my desire is to focus on being more dependent on the Holy Spirit. It is He who produces the fruit of Christ in our lives. I continually battle my stubborn, independent, I-can-do-it-myself personality, so I need to continually be intentional about leaning into and living by the Spirit. 

Mind: For me, much of soul care is about the continual effort of training the mind, thoughts, and heart to the mind of Christ. Last year I made great strides in overcoming my doubt that I could memorize Scripture passages and am going to expand in that practice this year. Other spiritual practices such as prayer, journal writing, and reading help train my heart and mind as well.

Body: I really just added this category over the past few years as I have learned more about the body being an active part of our spiritual life. So areas of healthier eating and building exercise habits can help me grow healthier and stronger physically, and, I believe, aid the other areas as well. 

Finally emotions: Emotional and mental energy are so important to me. The more I understand my personality and being an introvert, the more I have learned to make time for self-care - the things that restore my energy and help me have a healthy outlook.

From here, setting intentions that are driven by my values, I can then go on and develop goals - action steps that will help me live out these intentions. Things such as reviewing my daily schedule and rearranging things or removing things to make time for walking at the park, which actually helps me build my exercise habit and has the added benefit of being out in nature, which I have learned is something that helps my emotional and mental outlook. I can now go through each area of focus and spend time planning steps that will help me live out my intentions and see healthy fruit produced as a result of following the Spirit's leading in each area.

Here are some questions that show the process in a nutshell:

Your values help determine your why: What are the values that guide your life? 

What are your hopes for your word this year? 

Intentions help determine your how: What intentions would help you live out your word in a manner that help you be who you want to be? Do they align with your values?

Goals help determine your what: What goals will help you move toward your intentions?

Valerie Sjodin will be also have a post today about intentions on her blog: 

Living Your Word 2020 Opportunity!
My friends Bernice Hopper, and Valerie Sjodin, and I share insights through blog posts for creatively living a word of the year. In our Facebook group, we encourage one another by posting questions and prompts to inspire living out a word focus, keeping a journal etc. It is a safe place to ask for prayer and support. If you would like to connect with others in creative ways about living your word, you can ask to join our Living Your Word of the Year 2020 by clicking on the link below.

Hashtag for Instagram:  #livingyourword2020
Check out their blogs:

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