Intentions vs. Goals
What’s the difference between intentions and goals? Here’s a story that hopefully illustrates the point:
Let’s say that today, I have the goal to go to the gardening store and get onion bulbs to plant in my garden. Underneath this goal is an intention: to be closer to nature, to be more self-sufficient.
Now maybe, on the way to the gardening store, a three headed monster pops up out of the earth. The monster provides me with secret seeds that when planted will lead to an ecological utopia. If I am focused on my little goals, I will say to the monster: sorry, no thank you, no time. I have to buy these onions.
But if focus on my intentions, maybe I can let go of my goal and take the seeds.
The fantasies our brains dream up are just so flat and boring compared to the unexpected realities that come. When we fetishize and grasp goal number 1, we shut off possibilities 2, 3, and 4.
Wash the dirt off your intentions
It takes a long time to make a fake
We night swam down in the lake
Washed the dirt off our intentions
Prattle on ’bout bad inventions
-Modest Mouse, I Came as Rat
Mainstream society often worships fame and money and looking good. It’s hard to be free from wanting these things. One way to wash the dirt off your intentions is to state your intentions publicly. If you write your intentions on the walls for everyone to see, then you are more likely to adhere to them.
For example, with this blog I had the desire for fame and money for a time. But then I wrote my intentions for the blog on my about page. When I get side-tracked, I can read this page and say to myself, “Oh yeah, that’s why I am doing this.”
Pure intentions are useful
Let’s face it, we can’t control outcomes. But we can control our intentions to an extent. And having good intentions is quite useful. Here’s why:
1. Intentions give you a general direction to walk. It’s helpful to have a direction when you set out walking, or you can end up in some pretty dark swamps.
2. Intentions motivate. As a doctor, I work in a stressful environment. Sometimes in the rush of things, I forget why I’m doing the job. So I write my intentions down on a card. I tape this card up above where my white coat hangs. It puts me out there. And it motivates me to study and to listen.
3. Intentions help you understand why you want what you want. Sometimes, the goals we have come up unconsciously and cause stress. Focusing on intentions helps deconstruct them.
Recently, I had this goal come up in my head: “I want to have 2 kids.”
“Why do I have this goal?” I asked myself. Here were some things I thought of:
- I want people to care about me in my old age
- It would be cool to pass along my values
- I want to pass on my chromosomes
- I like playing with kids
- I don’t want so many kids that I destroy the environment
Some of these are my real, deep intentions. Others, I think, are intentions that passively diffused into my head and they don’t feel good for me. So I can now start the process of purifying these intentions, washing off the dirt.
Also, I need to trash the specific goal. Maybe 8 kids or 0 kids will be in my future, but as long as I’m walking roads guided by my intentions, then I’m walking good roads.
Trash your goals
In college, I saw people growing up too fast, going towards careers like little packages travelling down pneumatic tubes. I wrote this poem about it:
Ode to the Unambitious
The arrow of your life is not locked, yet
Thoughts within your mind still freely swim
The key to make you speed has not been turned, yet
You look up at the tall plants as a seed
You have not been pressure-packed and shipped, yet
There is no single place you want to be
Wishes that stream out from you have not been capped, yet
There is no need for practicality
You stand above the helpless souls
Who kick their way to some small goal
My friend, you watch the arrow sway
And delight at the directions
If we don’t grasp goals, and instead have clear, but general, intentions, then we we can walk the journey with delight. We know generally where we are going, but where we end up will be a surprise.
The key to all story endings is to give the audience what they want, but not the way they expect. — William Goldman