Updated: May 3
Goals and intentions are similar in that they refer to what a person hopes to achieve or attain. However, there is a subtle difference between the two. A goal is a specific, measurable, and time-bound outcome that a person wants to attain. Goals are typically more concrete and defined and are often used as a benchmark for success. Intentions, however, refer to a person's underlying mindset or attitude when approaching a situation. Intentions reflect what we find meaningful and what we aspire to. They provide a sense of purpose or direction in life. Intentions often reflect our values or deeper motivations. They describe why a person wants to attain a particular goal rather than the goal itself.
In summary, goals are specific and concrete outcomes, while intentions are the underlying motivations, aspirations, or reasons behind them.
A North Star Intentions can be thought of as similar to aiming for a north star. As a north star directs navigation, wise intentions guide mindfulness practice on and off the cushion. Like a north star, wise intentions will help to keep you on course and focused, even when the journey becomes challenging.
"As we learn to apply and reapply the intention, our capacity to sustain attention grows. There is a simple formula underlying this process: where there is interest, intention follows; where there is intention, attention follows." ~Feldman, Christina; Kuyken, Willem. Mindfulness
Wise Intentions & Mindfulness Practice
In mindfulness meditation, at the beginning of a practice session, we often set a wise intention to help us focus our attention on cultivating mindfulness and the attitudinal factors that support deepening mindfulness. Setting wise intentions with mindfulness practice is classically one of the first steps in understanding the mental continuum of thoughts leading to more thoughts, which can lead to actions resulting in consequences. Therefore taking a moment before meditation to establish an intention that aims toward kindness and care and establishes the renunciation of bad habits, reactivity, auto-pilot actions, or ill will is a wise move and helps to 're-wire' the brain. So instead of just sitting down to meditate to check it off the task list; or doing it because of an "I'm required to do this for this class" or "someone told me this is good for me" attitude, one takes the opportunity to counteract any habitual tendencies and reset one's mind towards more profound wisdom and kindness for all.
Examples of Wise Intentions
In mindfulness meditation, at the beginning of a practice session, we often set a wise intention to help us focus on cultivating mindfulness enriched by wholesome and supportive mind states. Some wise intentions one might set in mindfulness meditation include:
Openness: “I intend to notice any thoughts, feelings, and sensations that arise without judgment or attachment.”
Acceptance: “I aim to cultivate a non-resistant and accepting attitude towards experiences, no matter how positive or negative they may be.”
Curiosity: “May I approach experiences with a sense of wonder and curiosity, rather than a preconceived notion or expectation.”
Compassion: “May I cultivate compassion and kindness towards myself and others.”
Letting go: “I intend to let go of negative thoughts, emotions, or habits that no longer serve me.”
Gratitude: “May I cultivate a sense of gratitude and appreciation for the present moment and my life experiences.”
Self-Reflectiveness: “I wish to develop more awareness of the transitory nature of my own reactivity, thoughts and feelings.”
These are just a few examples of wise intentions that can be set in mindfulness meditation. The most important thing is to find a wise intention that resonates with you and aligns with your most meaningful values and aspirations.
Altruistic Intentions for Mindfulness Practice
In mindfulness, altruistic intentions refer to intentions or motivations that benefit others rather than just oneself. Here are a few examples of altruistic intentions that one might set in their mindfulness practice:
Compassion for others: “May my practice support cultivating compassion for others by wishing them happiness and well-being.”
Loving-kindness: “May my practice support me in developing kindness towards all beings.”
Service to others: “May the development of mindfulness help me to serve others in a more effective and compassionate way.”
Empathy: “May my practice support the cultivating of empathy and understanding for others to develop a more compassionate and connected worldview.”
Generosity: “May the practice of mindfulness cultivate a more generous and giving mindset, in which one is more likely to help others.”
These are just a few examples of altruistic intentions that can be set in mindfulness practice. By focusing on the well-being of others, one can not only benefit others but also cultivate a more meaningful and fulfilling life. And when teaching mindfulness, one should include instructions on the practice of Intentions.