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Why You Need to Support Goal Setting with Intentions (and How to Do It)

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Goal setting is a mighty motivating force.

It helps trigger new, helpful behaviors, guide your focus, and promote a sense of self-mastery. But there’s a catch: According to the self-determination theory (SDT), a macro theory of human motivation and personality, it isn’t wise to make goals “just because.”

More specifically, SDT maintains that the achievement of self-concordant goals (i.e., goals aligned with one’s values, passions, and authentic self) has been related to:

On the other hand, achieving heteronomous goals (i.e., “socially prescribed” goals) has been linked to burnout, depression, and a lack of experienced meaning.

This raises an important question: How can you go about setting—and achieving—self-concordant goals that’ll grow your business and enhance your well-being as a fitness or nutrition coach?

The key lies in clarifying your intentions. First, though, let’s cover the basics and get everyone on the same page.

Learn what it takes to become a Health & Wellness Coach!

What Are Intentions? What’s the Difference Between Goals and Intentions?

A common misconception is that goals and intentions are the same thing. But they’re not. Instead, they are two distinct concepts:

  • Intention: A commitment to yourself. It’s something you aspire to be rather than something to achieve. Put differently, it’s a representation of your deepest desires. It’s open, flexible, and fluid—and is also something you can embrace immediately.
  • Goal: Something to achieve. A goal is very specific, narrow, and outcome-oriented. It’s clear, time-bound, and in the future.

In short, an intention is why you want to do something, and a goal is how you’ll do it.

Intentions breed goals, and goals help pave the way to specific actions you need to take to help push your intentions to fruition.

To further illustrate, here’s an example about Lisa (pronouns: she/her), an AFPA-Certified Personal Trainer. She intends to use her business to help make fitness more welcoming to pregnant individuals.

Getting certified as a Prenatal and Postnatal Fitness Specialist is thus a goal that’ll bring her closer to her overall intention. She could also consider getting certified as a Holistic Nutritionist to help pregnant clients get the most out of their workout sessions through tailored nutritional advice.

What’s the Value of Setting Intentions?

Beyond guiding you toward setting self-concordant goals and enabling you to run your business in a way that reflects your true self, intention setting also does the following:

Prevents You from Feeling Lost After Goal Attainment

Have you ever achieved a big milestone (e.g., breaking a certain income level), only to find yourself feeling lost and disappointed?

You’re not alone.

Psychologically speaking, goals affect our overall sense of connection and purpose. We tend to associate positive attributes (e.g., intelligence, perseverance, and independence) with being active and engaged in something. We feel like we’re valuable contributors.

So, when you achieve your goal and suddenly have all this free time again, it’s only natural to feel unhappy, dissatisfied, and let down.

And that’s where intentions come into play. They serve as a reminder that you’re not quite done—you still have an overarching purpose in life to fulfill. This keeps you going.

Research agrees.

According to this 2014 meta-analysis of 85 studies published in the Journal of Happiness Studies investigating the relationship between goal pursuit and subjective wellbeing (SWB), researchers found that progress consistently beat accomplishment in eliciting improved SWB.

Helps You Live in and Appreciate the Present

When you’re in the process of striving for your goal, you may see a stark contrast between your “actual self” and “ideal self” (note: concepts rooted in the self-discrepancy theory):

  • Actual self: Consists of the attributes you believe you possess
  • Ideal self: Consists of the attributes you would like to possess

While, theoretically, the discrepancy may motivate you to close the “gap” between your actual and ideal selves, it could also lead to feelings of agitation, including guilt, weakness, and a sense that you’re falling short.

These negative feelings are especially salient in long-term goals because the discrepancy is often large.

Thankfully, intentions may help prevent these disempowering feelings by helping you draw connections between your daily actions and overall purpose in life (e.g., “I’m working my way through this textbook, so I get the knowledge I need to get certified as a Certified Holistic Health Coach. That, in turn, allows me to help others live healthier, happier lives.”)

Thus, in that way, intentions also allow you to fully enjoy the present moment, to find awareness and value in even the smallest, most mundane moments.

Now, isn’t that just a wonderful way of living?

How to Harness the Power of Intention-Driven Goals

Here’s a disclaimer. All that isn’t to say that intentions are “better” than goals—or that you should set intentions instead of goals. Setting intentions without a calculated action strategy isn’t helpful. In other words: Intentions and goals work in tandem.

Both are valuable in keeping your business decisions aligned with your values and moving you closer to living your authentic life.

But how, exactly, do you go about harnessing the synergistic powers of intention and goal setting for your business? The following steps may give you a sense of a good starting point.

#1: Clarify Your Intentions

As mentioned, intentions are essentially your deepest desires. That means they’re unique to you—nobody else can, nor should, determine your intentions.

Here are a few questions that may help you uncover and clarify intentions suitable for your business (keep a copy of your answers for reference!):

  • What do I want?
  • What are my gifts?
  • What gives me fulfillment?
  • What attributes or qualities do I enjoy expressing to the world?
  • What drives me?
  • What energizes me?
  • What am I willing to sacrifice for?

Tips on Intention Setting

After gaining clarity on your values and passions, keep the following tips in mind as you create your intentions:

  • Don’t rush through the process: Try to set aside at least 30 minutes to think through your intentions. It’s important not to rush. Consider finding a quiet space, lighting a candle, or making yourself a cup of tea to complement your planning session; these may help you focus better.
  • It’s not the more, the better: The aim here isn’t to create as many intentions as possible. Instead, focus your energy on picking a select few that most resonate with you and are crucial to you living your authentic life.
  • Keep your intentions positive: Anything can be an intention. It’s simply a focal point to direct your energy and keep you aligned with your overall life’s purpose. Just ensure that, whatever your intention is, it comes from a place of positivity (i.e., phrase it as a positive, ‘I will’ instead of a negative, ‘I won’t’). That’s because research shows negative emotions can overpower positive ones.
  • They can be as long or as short as you wish: Use as many words as are necessary to describe your intentions. There is no one best length you should hit (just ensure your intentions are clear to you). Also, your choice of words is up to you.

#2: Set Goals Aligned with Your Intention

You’ve clarified your intentions. Now, how do you bring them to life? Answer: goals. Remember? Intentions are your “why,” while goals are your “how.”

Let’s go back to the example of Lisa once again.

Because her overarching intention is to make fitness more welcoming to pregnant individuals, possible “goals” for her include:

  1. Get certified as a Prenatal and Postnatal Fitness Specialist.
  2. Sign up for bias training, plus diversity and inclusion training (so she creates a welcoming, supportive environment for all pregnant individuals).
  3. Learn how to create exercise programs for individuals being treated, recovering from, or living with chronic ailments (to tailor to pregnant individuals with chronic conditions).
  4. Pick up marketing skills to promote her services to her target ideal clients.

Why the quotation marks around the word “goals,” though? That’s because those are still a little too vague and abstract.

Ideally, you’ll have to go further to make concrete plans and identify the small steps toward them. Research suggests that doing so allows you to visualize your desired future better—and, in turn, be less tempted to engage in activities that distract you from your goal.

But how do you make concrete plans? The following tips could help:

  • Make your goal “SMART”: This could promote goal attainment. The SMART acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. An example of a SMART goal is, “I will commit to studying three hours daily for the next four months to become an AFPA-Certified Prenatal and Postnatal Fitness Specialist.”
  • Break it down: “Study three hours daily”—but what will you study? That’s where it’s helpful to break your goal down further into tiny action steps. Focusing on small actions could feel more manageable and, thus, set you up for success. And one way you could do so is to create a timeline to visualize milestones throughout those three months (e.g., “Complete modules one through three by week 4.”). 
  • Identify obstacles: You’re committed to studying three hours daily. But what if something urgent at work comes up at the last minute, preventing you from getting those study hours in? It’ll be helpful to prepare a “contingency plan” (an if-then plan) to overcome possible obstacles (e.g., “If I cannot hit three hours of study time on any given day, I’ll rework my timeline and spread out the load over the upcoming five days, like doing an additional 30 to 40 minutes.”).
  • Make it public: Public commitment to goals has been shown to promote goal attainment. Examples of how you could publicize your business goals include telling your loved ones about them and creating—plus publishing—relevant content on them (e.g., a blog or social media post outlining what you’d like to achieve).

#3: Review Regularly

While it may be tempting for you to engage in a continuous cycle of goal setting and attainment, research suggests that it may be beneficial for you to take time to self-reflect regularly.

Beyond allowing you to see that you’re on track, regular reviews also help you check in with yourself:

  • Are your goals truly supporting your intentions?
  • Is this what you want?

It’s also important to note that your intentions may grow, change, and evolve—so don’t be surprised if your current intentions no longer resonate with you a few years later.

Reflection is personal, so take time to figure out what works best for you. A good place to start is to choose a time frame: Do you prefer revisiting your goals and intentions daily, weekly, monthly, or annually?

Takeaway

Setting goals for your health and wellness business can motivate you, but problems (e.g., negative feelings, like disappointment and lostness) can arise when these goals are misaligned with your values, passions, and authentic self.

Thus, to set your business up for growth while enhancing your wellbeing as a health and wellness professional, you should ideally strive toward self-concordant goals.

But how do you do that? Clarifying your intentions is a good start. They’ll guide you into setting goals that’ll help you run your business in a way that supports you in living your most authentic, fulfilled life.

Note that your intentions aren’t set in stone. They may evolve and change over time, so be sure to dedicate time to regular reflection sessions, where you evaluate your intentions and goals—then set new ones as necessary.

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