Many of us begin each new year by making resolutions, and for many with whom we have spoken recently, these goals are related to things that did not happen in 2020, but that they hope will happen in 2021 as we learn to better control and live with COVID-19.
While goals are good, mindfulness is often more focused on intentions. There is a difference between goals and intentions, and there is a time and place for each.
Goals, by their nature, take us out of the present moment, which runs contrary to the fundamental principle of mindfulness. This usually happens by creating a discrepancy between what we are experiencing now and what we would like to happen, and this discrepancy can lead to feelings that we are not good enough until the discrepancy is resolved.
Intentions on the other hands are centered in the present and, by their nature, suggest that at the moment you set the intention, you have accomplished what you set out to do, almost like an instant success. An intention cannot fail, because it happens right now, and thus does not lead to a discrepancy. For example, if you set an intention as you begin a mindfulness practice along the lines of “I will just start the exercise and see what happens” you invite curiosity and remain open to whatever you find, rather than setting an expectation.
Another difference is that Intentions are generally internal, and related to our state, whereas goals tend to be focused on something external, and involve many things outside of the self. When we focus on intentions, our satisfaction rests only on ourselves rather than being contingent on something outside of ourselves.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that things external to us are never guaranteed, and so practicing setting intentions may help leave us in a better place to maintain a sense of normalcy and consistency when the world around us becomes full of uncertainty. So, while it is good to have some goals for 2021, let us also begin the practice of setting intensions, which will be the focus of today’s exercise.