The Difference Between Intentions and Goals (And Why You Need Both)

Often during The Anti-Burnout Club challenges, I ask people to set their intentions for the course or to create some goals. Sometimes, I ask members to do both! However, there’s often some confusion as to what the actual difference is between the two. What’s an intention? And how is that any different to a goal? To make things clearer, here’s what I believe to be the main differences between goals and intentions.

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What’s a Goal?

Let’s start off with perhaps the easier of the two to define. There’s a good chance you’ve been asked to set goals at some point in your life; whether at work, during a fitness programme, or when doing a challenge with The Anti-Burnout Club! Goals could be something like:

  • I want to get a promotion
  • I want to complete a marathon
  • I want to complete one of The Anti-Burnout Club wellbeing courses

With a goal, you tend to have something in mind that you want to accomplish in the future. Sometimes, we can set goals that seem far out of our reach or are just totally unrealistic. Other times, we work more on SMART goals that are measurable and achievable (more on those later). 

Or, if you like dictionary definitions, then a goal is:

“The object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result” according to the Oxford Dictionary.

What’s an Intention?

Okay, so if we know what a goal is, what exactly is an intention? I think intentions can be slightly harder to define and everyone will have their own take on it. When I think of intentions, I think of them as a way of being, a way of living; “Who Am I?” or “Who Will I Be?” 

We can set intentions when we wake up in the morning as to who we want to be that day or even set intentions before a yoga practice as to what we want to get out of the session. An intention is all about being in the present moment and taking part in the journey. 

They might be something like:

  • I intend to feel motivated and driven
  • I intend to bring more mindfulness into my days
  • I intend to appreciate this experience (whatever it may be)

The Difference Between Intentions and Goals

There are some key differences between goals and intentions, as you may have already gathered from their descriptions. For example, goals are very much more future-focused than intentions. They’re things you want to achieve in the future and you’ll likely care more about the destination than the journey. On the other hand, intentions are set in the present and allow you to enjoy the journey.

Another difference between goals and intentions is the way they can make you feel. We can often lose motivation or get disheartened when setting goals, especially as we’re so good at moving the goalposts for ourselves! However, when we set intentions to be present and enjoy the process, we find ourselves feeling more fulfilled along the way.

I believe that both goal setting and setting intentions have their merits, as long as they’re utilised in the right way. 

When to use Goals and Intentions

So, we know the differences between intentions and goals, when do we actually use them? I’ll go through an example:

Let’s say you want to run a marathon. Your goal is to run that marathon. Your destination is to cross that finish line and get your medal.

Your intentions, however, might look something like this:

  • I intend to appreciate all of my progress in my training
  • I intend to commit to my training wholeheartedly
  • I intend to celebrate my achievements however small they may be
  • I intend to pick myself up even when I fall
  • I intend to take in all of the sights and sounds around me, whenever I’m training

As you can see, the intentions are far more about the journey and there’s a really important reason for that.

Goal Setting Without Intentions

Let’s go back to that example of running a marathon as your main goal. Without intentions, your goal is to reach that destination – but what if you fail? What if you train for months and then sprain your ankle at the last hurdle. You never crossed that finish line and you’re now a failure, right?

Or, perhaps you achieve your goal! Congratulations! But then the goal posts move and we decide we want to run another marathon or we’ve moved onto the next thing. Very few of us will celebrate for very long after achieving our goals, deconstructing the process that went into getting the marathon medal. Instead, we’ll pat ourselves on the back and move on.

When we set goals without intentions, we forget to enjoy the journey that got us to where we wanted to be. If we don’t quite achieve that goal, then we may instantly assume we’re a failure. By setting intentions, we can appreciate every step we took, every time we fell and picked ourselves back up, every second we got closer to our Personal Best. We fully enjoy and appreciate all of those moments when we focus on the present moment. 

How to Achieve Your Goals by Setting Intentions

Now we truly understand the differences between setting an intention and goal setting, it’s time to bring these powerful forces together. Here’s how:

Step 1: Decide on your goal or goals. I like to do this by starting off visualising the person I want to be and then working out what that person’s goals might look like.

Step 2: Make sure those goals are SMART! Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Based. That’s a whole other article to come in time but focus on Measurable and Achievable at the very least.

Step 3: Create your intentions based on those goals. Make sure you frame them in a positive tone and focus on the present. For example, “I intend to bring more peace into my life today” as opposed to “I will stop being stressed out.”

Step 4: Focus on those intentions throughout your journey. Wake up in the morning and remind yourself of your intentions. “I intend to feel motivated today.” Remind yourself throughout the day and while you’re working towards your goal, what your intentions are.

Step 5: Remember to experience every single aspect of your journey towards whatever your goal(s) may be. Be present, be mindful, accept the hurdles as well as appreciating the wins. 

Setting goals and intentions together are the key, I think, to being able to achieve whatever it is you want from life. Using these two powerful mindsets together can help you achieve your goals, but also enjoy every aspect of working towards them. It can help us feel more motivated and give us a willingness to keep going when we might have felt like giving up in the past.

Useful Resources for Goal Setting and Motivation

Want to dig even deeper into your goals and intentions, and get motivated to achieve them? Here are some useful resources that might help:

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