“Intention” is a word I use a lot. Living life with intention and being intentional about how we design our days are principles I live by. And I’m seeing this idea more and more. Along with “unprecedented” and “resilient,” intention is one of the Words of Our Current Moment.
Still, even though I have a sense in the back of my mind that I know what intention means, I recently realized I’d never really stopped to articulate it to myself. And as I thought more about it, I came to see the value of taking time to reflect on what intentionality means to each of us. In fact, that might be the first step in living with intention. So here are some of my thoughts on intention and what it means to me.
It’s important to distinguish between intentions and goals
Our goals are things we want to accomplish, but our intentions represent our core values and beliefs — the things we truly care about. Goals are often future-oriented — a milestone or marker pegged to a certain time down the road. Intentions are more about the present and the here and now, about how we show up in the moment. They’re about who we want to be, what we’re passionate about, what gives us joy. Though they play a huge role in our lives, intentions don’t have to be elaborately thought-out ideas about the universe — they can actually be quite simple.
That’s not to say that intentions and goals aren’t connected. Intentions are a way to help us achieve our goals. If goals are about the mind, intentions are about the heart. While our goals might be tied to external definitions of success, intentions are about who we are internally. They reflect who we want to be, not other people’s expectations of who we should be.
Intentions are more forgiving than goals
They’re about how we want to live our lives as opposed to whether we’re doing it right every single day. Intentions are an expression of our humanity. And as humans, we’re all perfectly imperfect, so unlike goals, our intentions allow us to give ourselves more grace and accept ourselves for who we are.
Intentions help us set boundaries
In fact, without clear intentions, it’s almost impossible to set boundaries at all. Intentions are about our non-negotiables. In that way, intentions aren’t just about adding things to our lives, or doing more — sometimes living life with intention will be about taking things away, or saying no, which is essential to self-care and well-being. After all, when we say no to something, we’re also saying yes to something else.
It’s important to connect our intentions to our “why”
That is, our underlying motivations and values. Even though intentions are about being in the moment, they’re also how we create long-term sustainable change. They’re our North Star, which keeps us headed in the right direction. For instance, we might have a goal to lose 10 pounds so we can better fit into a pair of jeans. But the “why” of eating in a healthier way might be more about living a long and happy life to be around to watch kids and grandkids and nieces and nephews grow up.
It makes perfect sense why intentions are so relevant right now
When the pandemic hit, we were forced to ask ourselves, “OK, what do I really care about? How do I make sure I don’t lose those things that matter the most to me?” We had to find new ways to connect with people we’d normally see during the course of the day. For those of us lucky enough to work at home, we had to remind ourselves to take breaks that used to happen naturally when we’d been working in an office. If we weren’t intentional about something, it just didn’t happen. So we’ve had to make it happen.
On the other side, the pandemic has allowed us to shed practices (and sometimes people) that drained us of energy. That hasn’t always been easy — technology has become very good at filling the vacuum when we become unmindful and unintentional with our time. If you want to describe living life unintentionally in one word, it’s hard to come up with a better one than “doomscrolling.”
As horribly tragic as it’s obviously been — and continues to be in much of the world — the pandemic has presented us with a blank canvas, allowing us to rewrite the rules of our lives. It’s a time to take stock, to look at our lives and ask: Is this really serving me or not? We can see this happening all across the country in what’s being called “The Great Resignation” — the unprecedented numbers of people who are either quitting their jobs or considering it. Not all of those decisions are about money. Many are about people discovering the joy of living with intention and refusing to go back to a life, or a job, that’s misaligned with their intentions.
Finally, intentions bring us clarity
We’re finally beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel, and offices are reopening. But it’s also a time of uncertainty and renewed disruption. Some companies are bringing everybody back to the office five days a week. Some are continuing to go fully remote. But most are going with some version of the hybrid model. This lack of clarity creates what I call expectation anxiety — we’re moving into a life we’ve never lived before.
And that’s why the clarity of being in touch with our intentions is so valuable. This isn’t New Year’s — and intentions are not resolutions — but it’s still a time of renewal and transition. And we can make the phase of life we’re transitioning into more fulfilling if we use this moment to think about what our intentions are, how they’ve evolved over the past year, and how we can continue to live and work in a way that reflects them.