If you’re anything like me – January is a time to slow down, reflect, and think about what I want to accomplish and change in the next year. If you’re also like me, when asked, “what are your New Year’s resolutions?” I tend to freeze up, feel the tension paralyze my shoulders, and the social pressure to list off specific goals in various areas of my life—career, health, relationships, financial, social, etc.
It feels overwhelming.
The goal-setting process can be painful. I can’t tell you how many times I have cringed and gotten stuck when trying to set SMART goals—specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. Goal-setting involves analyzing, planning, and reasoning to figure out all of the steps to make it happen. It takes concentration, focused energy, and time. After we’ve set goals, we tend to feel more in control and like we have the ability to carry out “the plan.”
Yet the process can be extremely challenging if we don’t enter into it with a broader sense of purpose and clarity.
Spending time identifying personal values and creating meaningful intentions helps guide the goal-setting process. Getting clear on what your values are and how you want to act in the world is an incredibly worthwhile endeavor. It can give you a sense of purpose and clarity about your life.
So… what’s the difference between values, intentions, and goals?
All three are important for living authentically and intentionally. Each word is interrelated. Yet, they are distinct. All three are important concepts to understand to live a rich, fulfilling, and meaningful life.
Values are things that are most important to you and a personal expression of your universal needs. When you are acting in line with your values, you feel more satisfied and at peace with yourself. Life is more meaningful. When your values are clearly defined, decision-making is easier.
Values are typically defined by single words or phrases like:
I’m a researcher and word-lover, so take a deep breath and bear with me…
There are many ways to define “intention.” Here are some of my favorites:
a determination to act in a certain way
what one intends to do or achieve: an aim or purpose
a process or manner of healing wounds
Setting intentions comes from a place of vulnerability and clarity.
Intentions represent your true self. They act as a compass—a “true north” to guide future goal-setting and planning. They represent the way you aspire to “be” in the world.
Furthermore, intentions allow you to be successful right now—they are achievable in the present. Goals, however are created for future success or failure. Developing intentions involves reflection and big-picture-thinking instead of detailed, step-by-step preparation.
A well-crafted intention starts with your values and becomes a statement about how you want to show up and be in the world. These statements are not what you want to “do” or accomplish—those are goals. For example, if one of your core values is authenticity, a couple intentions might be:
I choose to live congruently—I will do what I say I will do.
I will be honest and clear with myself and others about what I need.
Goals are different than values and intentions in that they are externally focused, future oriented, strategic, specific, and focused on tangible outcomes. Goals change as our understanding of ourselves shifts and grows. An example of a goal that aligns with a value and intention is:
Intention: I choose to live congruently – I will do what I say I will do.
Goal: I will meet with a career counselor within the next month to help me make a career change to something that aligns more with my wants, needs, and abilities.
How do you identify values and create meaningful intentions?
Make time and commit to doing some self-reflection.
Get clear on your personal values. At Bridger Peaks Counseling, we love Brené Brown’s list of values from her book, Dare to Lead: https://daretolead.brenebrown.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Values.pdf
This process can take some time. You will need to put some space into this activity. Here is some direction for moving forward:
Find a quiet time when you are calm and centered and read through the above list. Notice what words resonate with you.
After you’ve read them, circle up to 20 that are most meaningful to you. They represent you. The “you “that is inside you. Not the “you” that someone else expects you to be. If you find that one of your values isn’t listed, feel free to add it.
Once you have 20 write them down on another piece of paper.
After they are written down, review them. From those 20, select 10 that are most important, most significant to you. Yes, get the list down to 10.
Write those 10 down in a separate list.
Take a break from the list. The break could be several hours or a couple of days. Give yourself some space with this activity.
Come back and review the list of 10. Notice how they feel.
Take your list of 10 and reduce it to 5. Yes, this will be difficult, but not impossible.
Finally, put those 5 values in a list by priority (1-5). Which value is MOST important, most essential to you and your life? That would be #1.
Breathe and pat yourself on the back. Identifying your core values is an amazing first step to gaining more self-awareness and clarity. It also helps you connect deeply with your true self.
Consider sharing your personal values with someone close to you. This activity can create a strong sense of connection when done with your partner, as a family, or in a professional team setting.
Okay, onward to creating meaningful intentions for the new year…
Again, you’ll need to commit 20-30 minutes (or however long you want to spend…) to reflecting on your year.
With your core values and the future year in mind, ask yourself:
What do I need to live out that value?
What do I want?
Who am I when I’m being my best self?
Who do I want to be?
How do I want to be remembered?
How do I want to feel?
Brain dump. Think. Write. Whichever you prefer. Try to come up with 1-2 simple intention statement for each value. Here are some examples:
Value = courage
Intentions = 1) I will acknowledge and work through my fears. 2) I will embrace feeling uncomfortable.
Put your values and intention statements up in a place where you’ll see them often.
Once you’re finished—give yourself permission to breathe, rest, and relax!
These strategies are meant to be used as a guide to help you start self-reflecting and living more intentionally and congruently with your true self. Increasing self-awareness in pursuit of personal growth is challenging. My hope is that the energy you expend on these activities is worthwhile and helps you uncover a sense of purpose and clarity as you move into the new year. Remember to be gentle with yourself.
If you need additional support or would like to meet with a therapist to help you on your journey, contact Bridger Peaks Counseling at 406-595-1374 or go to Bozemancounseling.org
This blog post was inspired by the following articles:
Bardo, N. (2018). Why you need to be setting intentions instead of goals. Retrieved from https://itsallyouboo.com/setting-intentions-instead-of-goals/
Inge, C. (n.d.). The difference between values, intentions and goals and why it actually matters. Retrieved from https://christieinge.com/difference-between-values-intentions-goals/
About the Author:
Caitlin Brandl is a Professional Counselor Licensure Candidate working with Bridger Peaks Counseling. Caitlin specializes in working with adults addressing traumatic life events. To learn more about Caitlin visit her bio at: https://www.bozemancounseling.org/caitlin-brandl-professional-counseling-intern/