It’s human nature to dream of a better future, and to aspire to become a better version of yourself. If you’re looking to bring change into your life, what’s going to work best for you to realize it? Do you need to establish a goal, create a vision, make a resolution, or set an intention? Maybe these are all the same creature to you, maybe understanding how they differ can help you find the practice (or the best combination of them), for your needs. Here’s one way to break them all down.
Goals are defined by desired future outcomes, and imply that effort must be put forth to reach them. They are important to have when you want to achieve specific, stated results. They can range from bigger (e.g., completing a marathon, opening a business) to smaller (e.g., saving money for a trip, de-cluttering storage spaces). Establishing goals isn’t the only way to improve your life or get you to where you want to go, still, knowing a thing or two about how to succeed with them can be helpful. Here’s some time-worn wisdom about goals:
- To maximize the effectiveness of having goals, make sure they have all of the elements of a SMART goal (i.e., they are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound). This article on mindtools.com gives a great summary of what these are and how to create them.
- To maximize your satisfaction with them, ensure they also have some meaning and will contribute to authentic growth for you or those around you.
- Once your goal is clearly identified, shift your primary focus away from it and train it instead on creating and sustaining the actions and behaviors that will get you there.
- Get friendly with failure, resilience, and starting over. The path to achieving goals is never linear or perfect; find a way to hold on, and maintain compassion for yourself, when it zigs and zags you away from your destination.
- If you’re having a hard time defining a goal, sometimes coming at it from the opposite point-of-view – what you don’t want – can prove useful. Andrew Wilkinsin writes about his life-changing experience with that tactic in his article, The Power of Anti-Goals.
Creating a Vision
If you want to manifest something in your future that is more complex than a goal, you may want to create a vision. When you do this, you use your imagination to paint a picture of your desired future in rich, comprehensive detail. What are you doing and why? What is the effect it’s having on you and other people? How does it feel when it’s successful? As the picture gets clearer, you’ll start to recognize the elements that are at its core, which will help you distill the whole vision into a statement, quick narrative, or image that can guide you as you go about making it reality. Experiencing your success clearly in your head and feeling what it feels like to live in this future world helps to keep you motivated and on track. It also sends messages to yourself over and over that you belong in this vision, what you have set out to achieve is possible.
Creating a vision can work in your personal and professional life, and can apply to short- and long-term projects. Athletes use it before an upcoming race or game to visualize how they’ll win, businesses use it to align people around growth, individuals use it to make big changes in their life. In all of these cases, the vision alone will not get you to your destination. You will need to strategize and produce action around achieving your vision – goal work can help you here. The magic of having one comes from the mental models that are created by seeing yourself realizing your dreams.
Interested in giving this practice a try? The Zingerman’s organization, a family of businesses in Michigan, utilizes an exercise called visioning to create a visceral picture of future success that helps them grow and innovate. Follow these links to read how Ari Weinzweig, Co-Founding Partner explains their philosophy (click here) and outlines their specific method (click here). If you’re creating a vision for a team, business, or yourself for the first time, consider using a life/org/leadership coach or consultant to facilitate the process, this will free you up to contribute the content for it.
A resolution, in this context, is a decision or determination to do or not do something. The idea of making resolutions can easily invoke ire these days, mainly because people know we usually fail at keeping them which makes us feel terrible and stuck. What makes resolutions so ineffective? They are often not tied to anything greater than themselves. They’re usually wrapped up in simplified illusions like “willpower is all you need to keep them,” and harmful assumptions that your ability to stick with them makes you “good” and you’re “bad” if you can’t. Resolutions aren’t all bad though, if you want to find success and meaningful change by making them, here’s an article by the New York Times to get you going. Spoiler alert – the art of forming or breaking habits will be in your future, and you’ll be utilizing SMART goals.
Setting an intention is a practice that is closely tied to mindfulness and living in the present moment. It involves pausing to reflect on what you want to cultivate for yourself or others, and focusing your energy on that idea or thought so that it can be realized. The intention itself is untethered to a rigid, future outcome. Instead, it creates a space to invite actions and behaviors that will organically bring about whatever you are seeking.
How you phrase them can vary, examples include
- My relationships will be filled with trust and a sense of belonging
- I will respond to uncertainty with curiosity and compassion
- Resilience and peace for my friend who is going through a hard time.
Whatever works for you, works for you.
Setting an intention does not absolve you from direct action, it’s not just about putting something out into the universe and hoping it comes back to you. You’ll need to develop a way to consistently reflect on your intention so that you can sustain awareness of it and show up in accordance with it. Yoga and meditation are common methods for this, if those don’t work for you experiment with different ways to quiet your mind which will allow you to connect with your intention.
Intentions can be set daily, weekly, annually – you name it. Need some examples of this practice or some inspiration? The internet is full of both. To get you started, check out this article by Marla Tabaka about setting daily intentions; geared toward entrepreneurs (yet relatable to everyone), it offers several examples of different intentions and lots of actionable advice. For a broader approach to this concept, try Deepak Chopra’s 5 Steps to Setting Powerful Intentions. Want to turn intentions into goals? You can do that, too! Read this article on medium.com by Hilary Jane Grosskopf for her insight on that.
Figuring out the best way to create what you want in life is an ongoing journey. You’ll be well along that path if you continuously try all of these practices out, reflect on which ones were satisfying and effective, and discover why they succeeded or failed. Learn what works for you, and grow from there. Go out and get started today!
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Video – 30 min duration (includes full transcript, 20 minute read)
If you’re on a path to finding more satisfaction and significance in your life, or you’re curious to learn more about living life with purpose and meaning, there’s a good chance you’ll connect with something useful in this link to Psychology Today which includes an interview between leadership coach Peter Bregman and Emily Esfahani Smith, author of the book The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life that Matters.
In it they discuss how happiness and meaning are related to and distinguished from one another, and what the differing effects are of pursuing them in your life. They also explore some of the main components of her book that describe a life with meaning as one that has belonging, purpose, storytelling, and transcendence.
While you won’t come away from this with all of the answers for living a richer life, you might gain new insight or discover what your best next step is toward living yours.