One of the difficulties in learning or cultivating a meditation practice arises when we begin to set goals and acknowledge the difference between where we are and where we want to be. While learning something, you are naturally lacking certain skills, the very ones you are learning to exercise! Naturally, you envision what it will be like to fully embody and possess these skills and attributes, and this can be part of setting goals. If you had no goals, you wouldn’t be pursuing something new. At the same time, you’ll often hear that you’re perfect the way you are and not to have expectations or imagine things to be different than they are. How can you possibly reconcile these disparate points of view?
Goals and intentions aren’t really different at all, but by naming them differently we’re emphasizing two different ways of approaching learning and growing. Goal setting is often associated with creating Specific, Measurable, Accessible, Realistic, Time-bound targets and then getting about the business of measuring your progress.
“SMART” goals are effective and powerful means of achieving targets because they force us to break up nebulous conceptual desires such as “better” and “more” into detailed pictures of how we will arrive at a certain place. Instead of imagining “going to Paris,” they force us to imagine the day we wish to arrive, what we will be wearing, and where we will be staying and how we got there, and to imagine the plane or ship that will take us there and booking our passage and packing and how long we will stay and more. We can then “measure” our progress towards “going to Paris” by whether we’ve saved “x” amount of money, booked the flight, bought the luggage, packed the bags, reserved the hotel room, etc.
Too often when we set goals, however, we are trying to squeeze our bodies, lives, careers, and hearts into arbitrary forms. We’re trying to lose 20 pounds by Stephanie’s wedding or sell a million bucks worth of widgets this year because of what it will look like, not because it’s intrinsically related to who or what we are doing right now. We then set landmarks for achievement that become flogging posts when they are not met, or in the harried meeting of them. We by-god lose the two pounds a week, but some weeks it means we feel tired all the time and not nurtured or cared for. And when February comes in as a $45,000 month instead of $50,000 we tack the $5,000 onto March, knowing deep down that we’ve set an unrealistic target.
When working with intentions, the idea is to create a very specific feeling, picture, and description of what you intend to bring into being and to commit to giving attention for a short, specified period of time each day, being mindful of how various activities support or detract from the realization of that state of affairs. We can use “goal” to describe that feeling, picture, description, or state of affairs, and that’s okay. When setting intentions, though, it is important to cultivate a lightness and openness to seemingly spontaneous or accidental movement or growth in the direction of your desire, and to remain alive to the synergy of changing desires and random connection in supporting your personal growth.
Goals and Intentions are not mutually exclusive and can be practiced in conjunction with one another for maximum support. The goal mindset keeps us accountable and realistic, while the intention mindset constantly reminds us to have a sense of humor and lightness about what we want and create.
Affirmations for success are concrete methods for bringing together your goal and intention mindset. Set your SMART goals and create your milestones. At the same time, create a sentence or phrase that vividly expresses the specific quality you seek in the realization of your goal. For the period of time you are pursuing the goal, include or simply devote your daily meditation practice to concentration practice on this affirmation. Repeat your phrase over and over again, returning to the phrase any time your mind wanders to any other thought, even thoughts about the goal and actions you’re taking to get there. Use your meditation time to practice letting go of control and simply giving your attention to what you want to cultivate.