What Creates Success: Goals or Intentions?

Our society is obsessed with goals.  Gurus in all shapes and sizes preach about the power and importance of goal setting for success. Many suggest that without goals, your life will stall and you will never achieve your full potential. But is this true?  I would suggest that while goals are important, they are only one half of the equation. The other, seemingly ’forgotten’ half, are intentions.  The difference between goals an intentions may seem like semantics, but it’s not. The title is misleading because in fact personal success and happiness come when intentions and goals are used together, in balance.

I had been curious about goals and intentions for a while when I had the opportunity to listen to a long-time hero of mine, Jack Canfield (of “Chicken Soup for the Soul” fame) give a keynote address. He talked about success, goal setting, focus and hard work.  At the end I thought, who better than Jack to ask about the difference between goals and intentions, so I did.  He replied that goals are powerful and intentions are not; goals are focussed and intentions are wish-washy and when you set an intention, you set yourself up for failure rather than success.  His answer left me feeling somewhat perplexed.  It just didn’t sit right.  Like a rock in my shoe, his answer continued to irritate me, even though it was completely consistent with the prevailing theory. I knew there was some juicy truth in this somewhere, but in that moment I couldn’t figure it out.

Perhaps ironically, I set an intention to discover the difference.  A few weeks later, in the middle of the night, I had an epiphany.  Setting intentions and setting goals are both powerful modalities, but useful in different situations for different purposes. When faced with a nail, a hammer is the tool of choice.  Conversely, using a hammer when faced with a screw just doesn’t work.   I realized that goals work better for jobs related to the realm of ‘doing’ (Divine Masculine), while intentions work better for jobs in the realm of ‘being’ (Divine Feminine).  Goals and intentions are complementary tools and neither is better than, or subordinate to, the other. So Jack, while my overall respect for you remains, on the issue of intention I must respectfully disagree!

Proponents of goal-setting like Jack Canfield emphasize the need for goals to be focussed, specific and measurable.  For things in the realm of doing, achieving or having, goal setting works perfectly.  It is a great tool when the outcome you desire is known or specific.  You can have a goal to be a certain weight, by a certain date and then on that date you either are or are not that weight and you either did or didn’t achieve your goal.  You can set a goal to get a specific job or a new car.  Simple.  Logical.  Rational.  Straightforward. Goals relate to things that are external and physical; things within the realm of the Divine Masculine.

When you set a goal, metaphorically you put a stake in the ground at some future date and the stake becomes your point of your focus.  You narrow your field of vision and move towards it.  You make the goal as specific as possible.  Then when you ‘arrive’ at the stake you can measure the extent to which you achieved your goal. End of story, right? How simple and straightforward. Clearly intention plays no part in this process.

But what about the things that can’t be defined, aren’t measurable or the outcome isn’t known?  In other words, things that are in the invisible realm of the Divine Feminine, like life purpose or qualities of being, such as patience or love.  This realm of ‘being’ is where the power of setting intentions shines through!  In contrast to goals, when you set an intention, you activate a magnet where you are and begin to attract that which you desire to you.  Whereas goals require you to ‘do’ and take action, intentions require you to be ‘open’ and receive.  While goals require focus; intentions require you to let go.  With intentions you don’t set specifics or dates; you ask a question or identify the quality of being, attract experiences, grow and learn and open to receive the intention. When you set an intention, you tap into the very fabric of the Universe.

Another difference between goals and intentions lies in the place from which they originate.  Goals come from the ego and intellect since you choose the outcome you want and work towards it.  By contrast, intentions come from your heart and you need to be open and aware to receive them; you don’t know what the outcome will look like or in fact when it will ‘arrive’.  Goals lead to physical outcomes at a point in time, while intentions put you on a path in a particular direction.  Goals lead to something specific (masculine) while intentions take you on a journey (feminine).

Perhaps an example would be helpful.  Many people want to know their life purpose.  You can’t really set a goal to ‘know’ your life purpose by a certain date.  It doesn’t make sense.  How do you measure it?  What ‘actions’ do you take to achieve the knowing?  Most importantly, how do you know when you have achieved it?  By contrast, if you set an intention to discover your life purpose, you set the magnet and then let it go.  You open yourself to receive, you observe and see what shows up, you notice what you notice, and you begin to attract experiences that will further your journey towards your life purpose.

By the same token, it would make no sense to set an intention to go on a vacation at the Grand Hyatt resort on Maui in September 2016.  Since you know what you want (i.e., the outcome) then you can plan your actions accordingly to achieve the goal.  I think this is what Jack Canfield was actually talking about when he said that intentions were weak.  When you use the wrong tool for the job, it generally doesn’t work.  He’s right about that.  Setting a goal that isn’t specific and measurable is like setting an intention and not letting go.

Here is another important aspect to all of this.  Not only are goals and intentions complementary, two sides of the same coin, and used for different types of jobs, but real personal success comes from using them together, in balance.  If you only set goals you are likely to be very dissatisfied with your life. You will be so focussed on the external world you will miss the magical inner journey.  By the same token, if you only set intentions you will be similarly frustrated because without acting on the intuition you receive, you miss the opportunity to stretch and grow and experience the outer world.

Whenever my clients want a change in their life, which generally stems from a desire to change the quality of their being, I always invite them to begin by setting an intention.  Then, as they draw towards them the opportunities, experiences and knowing which appear on the path they can begin to set goals along the way to bring it into form.  Success arises from the dance between Divine Masculine goals and Divine Feminine intentions.  When we powerfully use both and allow the dance to flow within us, we can create a magnificent, beautiful life and world.

How to set an intention

With the hyper focus on goals in our society, information about goal setting methods abound.  This is not so with intentions; so here is my quick start guide to setting intentions.  Know that setting an intention is quite a different process than setting a goal.  You use your intellect to set a goal whereas you use your heart to set an intention.

The first step is to quiet your mind.  Meditation, prayer or walking in nature are good ways to create that quiet space. Once you are in that state of relaxed awareness, shift your focus to the centre of your forehead, and ignite your imagination.  Picture and feel your intention in your mind’s eye and mentally activate the magnet.  Then shift your awareness to your heart and ask for it to open.  When you feel complete, open your eyes and get on with your day.  Know that if you remain open to receive that indeed you will.  Enjoy the journey!