As the year 2020 rolled in a few months back, I had the strong intuition to not set any goals. See, I had gone into 2019 very gung-ho, very eager to get things moving and moving fast. I had all these things I wanted to achieve and get done. Projects to roll out, a business to grow, a life to set up. It was a slow start to the year, but I trudged along. Until August happened.
For the next 6 months, I was in constant physical pain. Pain and discomfort that kept me mostly house ridden and confined to the couch. A lot happens to you and in you when you are in that state. When despite your best intentions, and all the plans you make, something from left field hits hard and there’s nothing you can do.
During that experience, I realised a couple of things. Perhaps chief among them, not to take any of this too seriously. By this I mean life, and our cultural obsession with achievement. Sure, I still have dreams and things to pursue, create and explore. But with the randomness that is life, with so much outside our control, don’t take things too seriously. Stretch yourself and grow, but be sure to have fun.
So, I came into 2020 with a more open ended perspective, I decided I would simply set my intentions and hold those, acting and responding to what life gave me, as opposed to pursuing highly specific goals of things I wanted to do or achieve.
They say ‘Man plans and God laughs’. Well I’d rather plan, tell God, have a good belly laugh about it together and then figure out what her plan is and then respond to that’.
The limitation of goals
Goals are powerful and useful. But they are especially effective in a restricted system, where the rules are clear and there isn’t much variance. If you know exactly what the parameters are and what to expect, you can set a target and hit it reasonably.
However in dynamic systems, where the rules and goalposts change all the time, goals fall apart.
Goals are also limited in the long view of things. What happens after you achieve your goal? On to the next one? Does your life then become a constant reach for a goal after the other? What happens when you get close or you achieve the goal and find out you don’t want it anymore, or that you have been climbing a ladder leaning against the wrong wall?
Setting goals in a dynamic system is like saying once the game whistle starts, you are going to run straight down the field with the ball and score. But you are not the only one on the field, there are many other players, there are so many different factors. You cannot completely anticipate what will happen and where. Chaos ensues once the whistle blows, and all you really can do is adapt and try to control the flow of the game until you score on the other side.
Everyone has a plan until they are punched in the mouth. — Mike Tyson
Then you have to adapt.
That is where intention comes in, offering us a more flexible approach.
The flexibility of intention
A goal says I want to lose ‘x’ pounds, an intention says I want to live a healthy and active life.
A goal says I want to earn x amount. An intention says I want to have an abundant and healthy relationship of money.
One is rigid and overly focused (which is useful), the other is more flexible and diffuse, allowing your desires to show up in ways that you could not have imagined. And that is the point, allowing the flexibility for things to happen in new ways, instead of forcing them to manifest in a particular format.
I see it like this, as a homing device, or like searching for coins with a metal detector on a beach. Your intention moves you in the direction of the things you want. It might not give you specifics but it will put you in the ball park, giving you a general direction in which to move.
You want to live a healthier life, so you just begin by eating better — consume less junk, get more sleep and do whatever exercise you can manage. Nothing too hectic or rigid, just a continuous tweak and improvement to move in that direction. It allows you to align gradually over time with the person you want to be. And when curveballs come your way, as they definitely will, they are easier to navigate.
Oh there is a virus running through the world right now and you can’t make it to the gym. Guess I can make up for it by investing in some equipment and doing my workouts at home. Heck, its even more convenient to pop into the garage and workout than hop into the car and go the gym.
Intentions give us flexibility, allowing us to learn and adapt and we move towards that which we desire.
Making them work together
But goals are important still. They do hold us more accountable and apply more pressure than intentions would. Whereas intentions are more concerned with the general direction you are headed, goals are binary. You either get it or you don’t. They are effective when you approach them in shorter bursts within the larger scheme of an intention.
You set the intention first, and make small but consistent changes. You start to limit your junk food intake. You cook a bit more often. You do a few exercises before you hit the shower everyday. You make small changes that slowly move you in the direction you want to. You make it easier for yourself to live the life you want.
Once the intention is set and in motion, you can begin to really set targets to hit. At this point, you are already in the ball park and things around you are aligned so you have everything you need to go for it. You spend 3 months really pushing and working hard towards a set goal. Working with a trainer and eating a strict diet. You put in focused and consistent effort and eventually you achieve your goal.
And once the goal is accomplished, you can make another one, or you can ease off and relax into your original intention. Living a more chilled life and routine, but still staying generally healthy.
Goals are phenomenal. But they work best when the factors are known, when things are generally stable and all you have to do is work the steps till you get there. Intentions allow more breathing room and space for chaos. They allow you to tackle the nebulous until you get there.
And in these trying and uncertain times, they just might be the more useful tool.
- So why do I think going the intention route will work better? Well, because intentions are more fluid and flexible, done correctly, I should always remain in range of what I want, regardless of what happens thats outside my control. It gives me a sense of resilience I wouldn’t ordinarily have.
- Working with intention means paying attention to flow. Instead of trying to force certain things, you so what is appropriate for the time you are in while staying in the general range of what it is you want. Maybe you cant pull the trigger on a certain plan, so you focus on something else, or just refining your ideas before it’s go time. You save your energy, you go with the flow and you stay alert for your opening.
- When it is time to move, you move and fast. If you have been holding intention correctly, you should be more or less ready for anything. Your base lifestyle and habits should be keeping you warmed up and ready to double down and go in. You don’t have to get ready, if you stay ready. You just blast off like a bullet towards your goal.
- So in that way, I think I might achieve more. Intention keeps me with the basic habits I need to have some sort of systemic movement towards my desired result. In a way that is focused, but flexible, reacting to the world and environment around me. Instead of being rigidly focused on one outcome, I am able to recognise opportunities I may not have paid attention to before, and once I see it, I can seize it and achieve more than I thought possible.
Originally published at https://otoabasibassey.com on March 31, 2020.
I am an brand strategist, designer writer and entrepreneur using my skills to help people and businesses live up to their potential.
If there was an overarching theme to what I do, it would be “The art of being + the act of creating + the space in-between“. I am interested in how we live, how we create and how the two interact and inform each other
My obsession with personal development and constant growth sparked in my early teens remains unabated and now I share what I learn as I build a life by design.
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