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Goals Versus Intentions: Setting Conscious New Year’s Resolutions

Jeff Shuck
December 31, 2023

With a new year upon us, we’re bombarded with messages about change and self-improvement. Make this the year that you lose ten pounds! Finally look the way you’ve always wanted to! Learn a new skill in the new year! Set a course for a different you!

Implicit in those messages, of course, is the idea that we’re not already everything we could be — that we’re somehow defective or flawed. Equally inherent in those messages is the conceit that we are fully responsible for everything that happens to us.

I’ve come to believe that neither of those messages is true. I have seen that we each have a reservoir of potential within us that is vastly more powerful than we can imagine. There have been times in my life I’ve been able to draw on that reservoir, finding insight and talent in myself that seemed to come out of nowhere — potential that seemed richer and deeper than my usual way of being.

I’ve also come to believe that the Universe — or God, or Fate, or Spirit, or however you conceive it — has a way of working its own designs into our decisions. Despite what we might want to think, we don’t control everything around us. If we control anything at all! Seemingly random accidents and blind strokes of luck are as likely to impact us as our carefully laid plans. Traffic accidents, letters that come out of nowhere, random mistakes that lead to breakthroughs, and chance encounters with old acquaintances play a huge role in our lives.

During my last ten years at Plenty, these evolving beliefs have fundamentally changed much of the way I approach work and life – so much so that we just wrote our first book, Leading With Light, about how to lead with less control and open to the flow of the universe. 

Still, I also believe in the power of habits, repetition, and goals. 

So where does that leave us as we approach the new year?

Obviously, the new year is a natural time to consider our goals. January 1 is the perfect opportunity to take a fresh start — an invitation to hit reboot, to let go of what hasn’t been working, and to commit to a different way of living. As we move into a new year, we have a chance to slow down and envision how our lives could be not only twelve months from now, but ten years into the future.

How can we set a course for ourselves consciously, aware of our own power and yet also humble and graceful about the role of the Universe in what we hope to manifest?

This year, we encourage you to add something deeper to your New Year’s resolutions. As you reflect on your goals, think about your intentions, too.

Goals and intentions are related, but different. Simply put, goals denote what you hope to achieve with your life. Intentions denote how you hope to be as you live that life.

We're taught a lot about goals: I'm going to achieve this, or I'm going to do that. Goals can be great, because they can help us channel our choices and focus our effort. Goals can help us walk with purpose instead of stumbling down the path.

But goals are only a part of the story. Goals are outcome-oriented. Goals focus on what you want at the end. Intentions, on the other hand, are based on inputs — what you want to bring to the process. If goals describe what you hope to find at the end of the path, intentions describe how you’d like to feel as you start walking.

Alas, in our achievement-oriented world, goals garner most of the publicity. But as I get older I've learned that that intentions are much more powerful. Outcomes, in many situations, are beyond our control. Intentions, however, are always our own. We can always determine how we want to be, regardless of what happens around us.

And goals, ironically, can sometimes work against our own desires. Goals can take us away from the present, shifting our minds always into some supposedly better future state. Intentions bring us back to the now, encouraging us to create that future in every moment. 

For the new year, try supplementing your resolutions with some intentions, or perhaps try replacing your goals altogether. Instead of saying, "I want to lose ten pounds," (a common resolution after the holidays), try, "I show my own body respect every day in how I treat it and what I feed it." That intention may do more good for you than any fitness regimen. 

Instead of saying, "This year, I finally want to find a better job," (a noble goal), try, “I intend to put my full heart into everything I do.” You may find your satisfaction is only partially dependent upon who signs your paycheck.

Instead of resolving to find a better relationship, try, “I treat myself with grace and love, and expect others to do the same.” You may find that you develop a self-love that makes a relationship with someone else seem a lot less necessary.

Hopefully it goes without saying that I don’t assume to know what’s best for you. I don’t. But I have a feeling that you’re more incredible than you know, and that by setting an intention for the year ahead you may find something bigger and more beautiful than any goal you can conceive.

It sounds trite. But it isn't. In our focus on goals, we can miss most of the journey. Intentions help us stay right here, in the present, where life can actually find us. The wonder comes in the walking.

It’s great to consider what you want to achieve this year. But don’t forget to ask yourself a more important question: What do you want to experience this year?

Editor's Note: This article was originally posted on January 1, 2020. It has been revised and updated for January 1, 2024. 

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