Goals vs Intentions: Dealing with the New Year reality hit

January is almost gone. What has happened for you regarding your goals and plans for this year? Or more importantly, who are you being each day based on your intentions? Hmmm – goals vs intentions.

I believe there are some misunderstandings about intentions and how they relate to goals and plans.  That’s why there are quotations floating around such as: “People will judge you by your actions, not your intentions. You may have a heart of gold – but so does a hard-boiled egg.” (Author Unknown)

I agree that goals and plans are important.  They give us a destination and direction – something to achieve, accomplish, and create.  Goals are tangible things we can check off the list and say, “There, I did it.”   Typically, a goal does not define the experiences we have on our way to achieving it.

The challenge?

For me and many people I know, we set huge goals (especially at the first of the year). As the days and weeks go by, even though I’m accomplishing lots of projects, I may not be gaining traction on the big goals I set.  I plan my calendar for the week, and by Monday noon, everything must change to fit in other things that have come up.  I feel honoured doing the additional tasks, and being in service to others, yet those tasks were not in the plan.  It seems the harder I work; the further I am from the goals I set. 

life challenge

Sooner or later, I begin to feel victimized, as if I’m out of control and don’t have choices.  “The world has done-it to me – again.” 

Been there? Recently?

A story:

Carol and I had our annual beginning-of-the-year business/personal retreat on January 3rd and 4th.  We reviewed the last year and celebrated our accomplishments (the goals). We examined the intentions we’d set in June at our semi-annual retreat, and how we felt about how we “showed up” in the world. We talked about our future, what we wanted to accomplish this year, and most importantly, how we intended to think, speak, and act each day.  Yes, we butted heads on some goals, aired our differences, and our egos got in the way (or at least mine did).  Through respectful, constructive dialogue (most of the time), we agreed on powerful steps moving forward – as a team.  At the end of the retreat, we felt super about what we’d done and where we were going.


In the next 2 weeks, we accomplished 2 months-worth of work.  And then….  And then… 


Early Friday morning, Carol received texts from her siblings.  Her 93-year old Mom (who lives 5 hours away) had experienced a concerning event. Thankfully, there were no major health effects, but care was needed, some decisions had to be made, actions taken, and who knows what was going to transpire – or how long it would take.

We reallocated our plans, renegotiated coaching sessions and meetings, scrambled to get some critical things done, and Carol drove off. In our retreat, we had talked about needing to be nimble for things like this, because to us, our families are super important.

Carol is the kindest, most respectful, helpful, and genuine person I know.  I love her for her willingness to support and help others, especially family.  I don’t know what she was experiencing as she headed off. 

I was feeling overwhelmed. Most of our work is now done from home, either by emails, electronic meetings, or phone. Where Carol was going, there was no internet connection, so on top of my fully booked days (and nights), I was now taking care of many of the tasks Carol had agreed to, including multiple trips to town to handle community obligations.

Yes, I was a bit frustrated and disappointed about the situation.  So I pouted. 

  • Did that help with my effectiveness and productivity? 
  • Did that support me to treat others with kindness and respect? 
  • Did that help me enjoy my tasks and experience happiness and joy? 

The check up from the neck up

A client called with the typical, “Hi, Dan.  How are you today?”  Thankfully, I’ve developed some habits that are congruent with my intentions about how I choose to experience each day.  Without a thought, my response was, “I’m exceptional, thanks.”

Although I was totally present with my client on the call, the deeper observer-of-my-thoughts part of my brain was processing what had just happened for me.  Based on goals I’d set, I was not proceeding as fast as I had planned, yet I was moving forward incrementally. Because of an unplanned situation, I had allowed myself to waste several hours of my precious life with thoughts and feelings that were not congruent with the intentions I’d set for myself.

Coming back to where we started, where do I choose to place my focus – on the goals I set for myself to accomplish in the future, or the intentions of who I am each moment of the day?

My intention is to experience joy, happiness, and love in everything I do.   We are relational creatures and I know that having high quality relationships makes it much easier to experience what I intend.  So, I choose to use every interaction with others to enhance my relationships.  I may not like what I, or someone does, yet I can love myself and them totally for who I/they are as a human being. 

Goals vs Intentions? 

I believe we are all doing the best we can to achieve our goals.  How we choose to cope with our “stuff” indicates our intentions – or lack of. 

  • What are your intentions about how you choose to show up each day? 
  • What situations block you from that?
  • What habits can you develop to get yourself back on track when you’ve slipped?

Intentional choice creates freedom.  The choice may not always be easy, yet it is empowering.


Linda Maul

So very human Dan….and a wonderful nudge to be ‘who I am in each moment’. Easy to move to that victim place even when we know we are accountable for our own ‘way of being’. This story may have taken place in our house over the past three months as well….the same but differently. Thank you for sharing so we can all learn.

Dan Ohler

Thanks for your comments, Linda. I continue to need nudges – and it’s all good. I love you.


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