goals vs. intentions

Fact #1: I have run two marathons.

Fact #2: I have trained for five marathons.

Why the huge difference in completed marathons versus training attempts?

It all comes down to the difference between goals and intentions. 

You see, during the first few training attempts I had two very heavy weights on my shoulders. The first was a “goal” and the second was a healthy dose of perfectionism. Combined, these two elixirs made for a cocktail far worse than failure; a fear of trying.

When I went into training for my first few marathons I had set a goal to run 10 minute miles the entire race. This meant I needed to finish in four hours and twenty-two minutes. Notice that I said needed? That’s where the perfectionism came into play.

For me a goal was a benchmark that differentiated success and failure. And my inner-perfectionist could not handle the thought of failure. So I put a tremendous amount of stress on myself to do things perfectly when it came to my training. Kind of like my years of incessant calorie counting.

I was quite good at being obsessive and goal oriented.

Therefore, each time that I would train for a marathon early on I would do my best to run at exactly 6mph. As any runner can attest to, some days my runs were easy and some days they were hard for no reason at all. No matter how hard anyone trains, marathon distances can be tricky for so many random reasons like weather, hydration, hills, and pain.

So over time, it became clear to me that running 26.2 miles at exactly 10 minute pace would be a challenge was near impossible. And rather than accept that fact and continue training, I eventually stopped training altogether.

In my mind when I would think about the race, I imagined myself at mile 18 unable to keep my Perfect Pace. And in my mind I could see myself walking off the course and stopping the run. I could see myself quitting.

Over and over I trained for marathons only to get to a point where I imagined myself quitting mid-race and then I’d quit my training. I didn’t want to face the fear of failure to meet my pace goal or the fear that I might actually not complete the race at all.

However, as I’ve stated at the beginning, I have indeed overcome these fears and completed two marathons because I did one simple thing differently:

I created an intention instead of a goal. 

Now there is obviously semantics at play, but please stick with me. To me, the idea of an intention represents something much different than a goal. An intention is something that is a guiding principle or value that I have which I can return back to at any moment. And a goal is a benchmark that is either met or unmet.

So while training for my two successful marathons, I created the intention to run 10 minute miles during the race. But if I was unable to keep that up, I gave myself permission to slow down, speed up, take my time, or walk if I needed. It was a soft gaze on 4:22, not a white knuckled death grip.

As Tal Ben-Shahar likes to say, I gave myself the permission to be human. 

And that permission to slow down and “fail” at my intention allowed me to run two great marathons – in neither of which did I hit 4:22. In fact, in both races I was about twenty minutes over my goal. But that didn’t dull the success of ultimately focusing on what what was truly most important all along: finishing the race.

As you can imagine, marathon training taught me a lot about expectation, intention, and perseverance – just like Jess LC. And the blessing out of all of those miles is that I now approach my whole life with the paradigm of intention.

So now whenever I get bogged down and discouraged that I’m fulfilling my intentions as quickly or well as I’d like, I gently return back to the intentions and commit again. Straying from an intention or not reaching it in a certain time frame is not a “failure,” but simply a chance to come back and begin from where I left off.


This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Lindsey

    Thank you so much for your honesty! I have had the same issue with two marathon attempts… It’s that goal of the quick times that always got me too… I am happy to say I’ve completed two marathons since the change in attitude! And completing those marathons was such a great feeling!

  2. Laura

    thanks so much for sharing. i started training for a half recently and due to a knee injury couldn’t run for 2 weeks so I’d given up and now haven’t training any more because I’d gotten several weeks behind the rest of the group. as always your posts are insipring and i think i’ll look for another race with a date a little farther out and get back on the training wagon.

  3. Kate

    This is awesome. You make my little perfectionist heart so much happier.

  4. Thank you so much for writing this. I also recently “gave myself permission to be human” and stopped trying to be perfect at everything in my life. I have a marriage, two kids, a career, two blogs and am training for a half marathon – way too much on my plate to be perfect all the time. I had to accept that I will run my race in two weeks, even though I will not hit my goal time, I will still cross the finish line. Then I will celebrate with my kids who could care less how fast I ran…

  5. Jess

    Thanks so much ladies!

    Lindsey, congrats!!

    Laura, that’s awesome! Just keep going… ; )

    Azure: : )

    Stephanie, I don’t know how you do all that! It makes my head spin…

  6. Jenny

    Well said, Jess, well said. I too have fallen into the “fear of trying ” trap because I was afraid I couldn’t reach my goals. I am still learning that it’s okay to do the best you can and that things dont have to be perfect.

Leave a Reply