Recently, I researched the top five most popular personal goals that people have for this year. After thorough examination, here are the results:


Enjoying Life

Being Healthy

Being Happy

Having Emotional Intimacy

Pursuing Ideals and Passions


These five concepts are also ones that I work on with my clients.

What stands out, both in the research and in my practice, is that only two are actually goals. The other three are intentions. Most people confuse the terms, goals and intentions, and that misunderstanding can influence your life make-over.


When I work with clients, we set both goals and intentions.

Knowing the difference between the two is what makes my clients successful. Goals and intentions sound like they are the same thing, but they aren’t. Each requires its own method for achievement.

Let’s look at definitions first.

Goal definition

The object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result.


Intention definition

A determination to act in a certain way.


The biggest difference between a goal and intention is how we view the results.

Goals are about achieving specific outcomes, while intentions are about behavior modification.


Goals and intentions also differ according to the time required to work on each.

Goals are either short-term or long-term.

A goal can last anywhere from a day to years. A goal is achieved once it produces the desired outcome. Goals require step-by-step actions. Each step builds upon another. There is a clear order of action. Achieving the goal requires a clear plan, and it usually follows a schedule.


Intentions are set up to last a long time, often a lifetime.

The intention is a pursuit that requires behavior modifications. Intentions require that all thoughts and actions are measured against the desired intention.


Let’s go back to the list:

Enjoying Life – Intention

Being Healthy – Intention

Being Happy – Intention

Having Emotional Intimacy – Possible Goal

Pursuing Ideals and Passions – Goal


The first three are intentions because they are lifelong and require constant monitoring of thoughts and actions.

In order to live the intention, you would explore every aspect of your life and make adjustments as necessary to achieve the intention.


The fourth item on the list, Having Emotional Intimacy, may be an intention or a goal depending on the situation.

The fifth item, Pursuing Ideals and Passions, is a goal (though it’s quite vague), because it is based on outcomes. However, it could easily become an intention if it were intended as lifetime behavior.


Let’s go deeper in our discussion of goals and intentions.


Let’s use “Being Happy” as an example since that’s my area of expertise.


“Being happy” is an intention because a person will never say, “This year I want to be happy, but I don’t care if I’m happy next year.” People want happiness to last forever.


There are a lot of components to being happy, right?

In order for a person to be happy, they must experience wellbeing and contentment in equal shares in all significant areas of their life.

The most common areas that create happiness are:

While these areas of life don’t need to feel perfect, they do need to provide contentment.  People need to sense that they have a handle on these areas and are making solid progress in the improvement of each area.


If a person’s intent is to be happy, they’re probably taking an informal inventory of their life regularly.

They are mindful of each of the eight areas. They focus their actions and thoughts in a manner that produces contentment. They do this consistently over a long period, and the consistency is what produce behavior changes.


Goals are born from a person’s intentions.


Let’s say that while doing a life inventory, a person notices that their clothes aren’t fitting well, and this is making them unhappy when their intention has been to be happy.

They jump on the scale and see that they have gained ten pounds.

In order to return to contentment, this person must evaluate how they gained the weight to prevent future weight gain and lose the ten pounds.


During the evaluation process, they realize that they’ve been eating too many snacks during the day.


Now comes the goal: Lose the ten pounds.

In order to live by the intention they set, they must lose the ten pounds and modify the snacking behavior.

They’ve learned something that will help them be more content in the future. Snacking makes them happy, but gaining too much weight negatively impacts that temporary moment of joy.

The first step is to set up a goal (outcome): Lose ten pounds in the next six weeks.

Next, they set up a plan that clearly defines each step needed over the six weeks.

Once the outcome is achieved, they return to normal life. Using their intention “to be happy,” they modify their snacking behavior so that they don’t have go on another diet.


If you’re ready to do a life make-over, using intentions and goals is the way to achieve your desired results.


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