It’s that time of year! The time of year when your email box is filling up with the idea of planning the next year, when managers are busy with performance reviews and when you might be so buried in getting the holiday season planned for everyone you’re already losing sight of those big goals you had for yourself this year.

I do like a plan, there’s no denying that, and when I left the corporate world I realized that my own goal-setting could be somewhat…. More flexible shall we say, than it had to be inside the corporate environment. I like flexibility. I like to roll with the punches and I don’t like to not achieve my goals.  (Competitive much?)

So what about intentions? Intention-setting vs. goal-setting is what I’m exploring this month here on the blog, and how setting intentions allows for those detours that can crop up in business, and life – while still helping you get to your goals – even with the detours.


What is the difference between intentions and goals?

Not to get too buried in semantics, indulge me for a moment while I explain the difference between intentions and goals. When I work with my clients we start all coaching engagements by defining clarity around what it is the client wants to achieve. Why did they hire me as a coach? What is it they are wanting for themselves? What would make all the difference to them to do… or become…in the next year? Often, the client comes with goals that they believe they want. But do they really? I like to explore the “why” underneath the “what” before we get too far down the path.

Intentions explore the WHY and the goal is just one way, or the WHAT that might get us there – intentions allow for a lot more flexibility in the HOW.  Have I confused you?

Let’s dive in.

Goal setting =Red sports car could be reminderExample – perhaps you’ve had a longing for a fancy red sports car. All good, nothing wrong with that. So if you’re writing a goal statement, you might write something like: I will know I’m successful when I can afford to buy myself a fancy red sports car.

Now, why is it that the fancy red sports car defines success for you? Perhaps the real intention is how you expect that fancy red sports car will make you feel. It could be something like: “I am proud of myself that I can afford whatever I want to buy.” or “I am enjoying the freedom that monetary wealth can bring me.’ or “I am embracing a lifestyle of luxury that I am proud of.”

Notice that none of those intentions – that start with I am statements, as though they’ve already happened –  include the specificity of purchasing the fancy red sports car.


How intentions and goals complement each other

In my annual CEO Day that’s all about intentionally setting yourself up for Aligned Success for the next year, we spend considerable time getting clear about the “why” underneath the “what” so we can design action items that support reaching those goals.

That’s how the goals get created – and then the action items come out of that. For you naysayers out there who believe in linear planning, trust me – the non-linear path can get you there too, and often more effectively.

In my intention-setting process, we take a deep dive into clarity first. So you can design those intentions with real data – that came from you – not from what the world told you needed to have to achieve success.

And then, for you goal-setters out there, we get to craft some ideas of what that success can look like in a tangible form – or not. 😉  It depends how open you are to allowing the universe to deliver the success you said you wanted. But trust me, you will know it when you see it.

  1. Gain Clarity
  2. Design Intentions
  3. Create Action Items
  4. Get started
  5. Manage the detour
  6. Keep going. 🙂

Will you recognize success when you see it?

Dealing with Setbacks: Modifying Your Intentions

So here’s the hard part – you’ve all heard of quotes like “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” and “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

So what happens when your specific goal doesn’t come true? In the corporate world – you’ll be graded as though you didn’t achieve (aka don’t get your full bonus!) or need to work harder to get to your goals.

Intentions allow for a lot more flexibility with how you achieve those intentions. Does everything always go exactly as planned or exactly as you imagined it? Definitely not.

What’s top of mind for me right now is a personal situation. If you’ve been following along you will know that my family and I are on a family gap year! Woo hoo!  Years in the dreaming and months in the hardcore planning, we designed a gap in our regular lives to spend a year together, with our two almost adult daughters, traveling, living differently, working in a new environment and experiencing life from the other side of the world. If I had written a business plan for this, my intention might have looked something like:

I am enjoying new adventures and a location-independent lifestyle with my family.

Ok, so in our heads we knew where we wanted to live, knew what work we wanted to do and had a rough idea of how long we were going to be gone from Canada.  And then we arrived in New Zealand. Turns out rentals where we wanted to be are hard to come by. As my husband and daughter start working we also realize that it’s best if we’re living closer to their work from a daily commute and lifestyle perspective, and what’s more, one of my daughters decides to do quite a bit of travel with friends vs. us ;-).  OK, so what part of my intention hasn’t come true? With an intention as outlined above, none of it, but if I had defined my goal super specifically, we might feel like a failure, like our dreams weren’t coming true, and negate the experiences that will come from living somewhere that makes more sense, between my daughter traveling on her own  and us potentially forcing decisions into a pre-determined goal that actually needs us to be adaptive vs. prescriptive.

How often does this happen for business? Uh… pretty much every single day.


Using intentions to stay motivated 

I find reassuring myself that there’s value in the detour keeps me motivated and moving forward. So what if you didn’t achieve everything you thought you might in a program year – perhaps something took a lot longer than you expected, or a team member you hired suddenly had to go on long-term sick leave leaving a project stranded, or it took you 18 months instead of 6 to record that entire business program? (um, me!)

It’s OK! You’re still moving forward. You’re still moving towards your intentions and goals, and you’re still bringing value to the work you do.


Why reassessing and modifying your intentions in the face of failure is a healthy approach

So many of us beat ourselves over the head when we don’t accomplish what we had decided we wanted to accomplish. (Hello high-achievers!) I can’t tell you how many people in my practice are recovering high-achievers, or recovering in their expectations of themselves. When you run your own business, YOU get to decide what high achievement means. And guess what? YOU call the shots! Sure, you can strive BIG – and… if it doesn’t go as you first expected… change the plan!

I actually don’t believe in failure – I’m just using that word for the bots. (hello SEO!) So what do you do when things don’t go as planned?

Well, here’s what I do:

  1. Beat myself over the head – what did I do wrong? Why did this not go the way I planned? I’m an excellent planner!  And then quickly….
  2. That’s OK – this is good too. I can make it good. Things don’t always go as planned. What’s the silver lining in this situation?
  3. Ok, let’s regroup, what’s the best plan from now? 
  4. LET’S DO IT!!
  5. All go

The result? At the end of the process (as often this is what happens ‘on the fly’ – activating my Crisis Communications Response and dealing with the most important thing at the time) I do a Post-Mortem assessment of what happened so we can improve for next time.

  1. What went wrong?
  2. What went well?
  3. What we do not want to repeat?
  4. What do we want to do again next time?

And then we proceed.

I believe in setting intentions. It’s so much broader than goal-setting and so much more expansive and productive! Most of my clients achieve their 12-month intentions in six-months or less. Why? Because you can achieve more in less time than you think, AND because our intentions are never as far away as we think.  Setting intentions that align with your goals enhances your productivity, and your happiness. Integrating your intentions with your goals, to me, is the ideal roadmap to success.

To your success,

Susan Elford

Susan Elford is a Leadership Coach and Business Mentor who especially loves to work with women who want it all: a fulfilling career or business while living a full and satisfying life. Through powerful career coaching and business mentorship to get their career or business to the next level, Susan helps her clients get real about their strengths and celebrate and promote them so they get more of what they want: success at work; success in business & success in life.


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